"Shut up there, what do you know about football? All you people know, is to fight." The little corner of the canteen at work erupts in to fits of chuckles. The Ghanaian cleaner is putting his Somali colleague in his place. He was basically saying that when it comes to football, or anything for that matter, Somalis should keep schtum.
One doesn't get this level of frankness anywhere else (apart from anything involving Hugo Chavez). In relations between African countries, people say what they feel. No restrictions brought on by political correctness, or worse still, politeness. The joy though, I hope, is that these sorts of statements pass by without rancour. The Somalian takes it on the chin, and grins. Ghanaians aren't perfect either, and his turn to swing for the Ghanaian's jaw will come, as surely as night follows day.
The incident reminded me of school, and the aura of devilish mischief I must have exuded. We teased each other mercilessly, and I think sometimes I may have been slightly more merciless than others. The most popular joke in school had to do with Somalia. Our good friend, G, had been caught up in the civil war which started in the late 80s. If I remember his story correctly, he'd trekked with family from Mogadishu to Ethiopia. He'd learned to sleep with a Kalashnikov under his bed, in case he had to protect his family in the lawlaess badlands Somalia had become.
And were we sympathetic to G's plight? Were we heck. The fact that he'd been involved in such drama gave us more ammunition with which to fayah him (to use a Nigerian colloquialism). There'd been pictures of Somali suffering on the news, so we had an idea of what was going on. The joke? What is the fastest animal in the world? A chicken running through Somalia.