World Cup Reports from Kiva Fellows Around the World

By Kevin Henderson, KF11, Mongolia with contributions from Austin, Sally, Alexis, Leah, Cheney, Kati and Eva

When I found out I was going to Mongolia this summer as a Kiva Fellow, I thought I’d probably have a tough time catching much of the World Cup. It hasn’t been the case at all. Like many Kiva Fellows, I’ve found the World Cup really is a global event. With a few exceptions it seems like there are celebrations just about everywhere.

In Mongolia there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the World Cup. The contestants on Universe Best Song (the Mongolian equivalent of American Idol) have even recorded a Mongolian version of the song “Waving Flag.” Here in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, Irish pubs are a popular concept, and are the best place to see a game. At the Grand Khan, the largest Irish pub, there’s a Coca-Cola-sponsored tent called “Cup Land” where locals and expats watch the games and enjoy popular Asian beer Tiger and local beers like Chinggis.   Hot dogs and French fries are on the menu along with local favorites such as khuushuur – a type of fried pastry filled with mutton.

Most Mongolians are supporters of Germany, a relationship that goes back to the Communist days. About 30,000 Mongolians speak some German and many of the elite class are still educated there. At a lot games it’s been difficult to discern allegiances apart from small groups of expats working here with NGOs or in the mining sector, but there’s always been a good turnout. There was a small but dedicated group of self-described “Mozzies” (Mongolians who have studied in Australia) at the Australia games and the African teams were all popular.

I asked the Kiva coordinator here at Credit Mongol why the World Cup is so popular and she explained that 10 years ago most Mongolians didn’t know anything about it. Recently though playing soccer has become more popular (a national program began in the late 1990s) and the World Cup is conveniently at a time when people take summer vacations, so it’s really about taking a break from work and spending time together with friends.

Watching the game on the public TV along Peace Avenue in central UB

The Cup Land tent at the Grand Khan Irish pub

I checked in with other Kiva Fellows out in the field to see how they’re enjoying the World Cup. Here are some updates I received during the past week:

From Austin in Rwanda:

If I can generalize, Rwandans are for the most part a reserved group.  However, when the World Cup is on, this general characteristic no longer applies.  The excitement for the game is partly fueled by the fact an African country is hosting the Cup and by large bottles of Primus beer.  Rwandans mainly seem to support any African team that is playing.  When the Ivory Coast was tied with Portugal, bars were packed with people hungering for an Ivory Coast goal. When South Africa beat France, you could hear the roars of celebration all through downtown Kigali.

The staple dish for the matches is brochettes, or skewered goat meat, with potatoes or plantains.  These are often accompanied by Rwandan beers Primus and Mutzig.  If you are in the rural area, you can also get local beer made from sorghum or bananas.  All of it makes for a lively event, especially when there is an African goal.

Goat Brochettes

Rwandan Spectators

From Sally in Mexico:

(Written prior to Mexico’s elimination)

Mexico City is one of six cities outside of South Africa designated as a FIFA FanFest site. The giant Zócalo (main plaza) in the centre of the city has been taken over with giant screens broadcasting all of the games live. I saw Mexico’s first game against South Africa in the Zócalo, although I was almost denied entry by security when my trusty Kiva Fellows metal water bottle was deemed a dangerous weapon. Fortunately Kiva Green is very similar to the green of Mexico’s traditional uniform, and I managed to convince them that my bottle was essential to support the ‘Aztec selection’. The game ended in a draw, and my Mexican friends went straight from the Zócalo to the adjacent cathedral to pray for a win in game two.

Their prayers were answered with an impressive win against France. Celebrations throughout the republic lasted long into the night.

The head office of CrediComún, one of Kiva’s field partners in Mexico, is located two blocks from El Angel de la Independencia (the Angel of Independence), a striking monument where fans go to celebrate sporting triumphs. On my way to work last Tuesday morning there were an equal number of police and TV crews setting up, in preparation for a Mexican win. Sadly Mexico lost to Uruguay, and I didn’t get to see an exuberant celebration at the Angel. At least Mexico made it through to the second round, which is more than I can say for my home team, Australia.

It is impossible to ignore the World Cup here in Mexico. The games are broadcast at bars and restaurants, at taco stands and in taxis. A TV is essential to avoid losing customers during a big game. Aside from stimulating the sales of both LCD and portable TVs, the World Cup is also a boon for street vendors who have invested in all sorts of merchandise to support the Mexican team. Flags, jerseys, balls, face paint, trumpets, hats, tiaras, even false eyelashes in the Mexican team colours.

I have heard from loan officers that some of their clients are asking to push back their weekly meetings times if they coincide with an important game. The time difference means most games are broadcast at 9.00am or 1.30pm, and in Mexico City many breakfast and lunch meetings are strategically scheduled around the games. I wonder if productivity during the World Cup has dropped more in the Americas, where games are broadcast during the workday, or in the Asia-Pacific, where sleepless fans stay up through the night. Or does the economic stimulus of World Cup activity make up for a few less hours in the office?

From Alexis in Bolivia:

(Written prior to the USA’s elimination)

Bolivia may not have a team in the World Cup but that does not stop them from enjoying the games.  World Cup fever has infected everyone, even this American (who is really a baseball fan at heart). The municipality of La Paz set up a big-screen TV on the plaza near the main thoroughfare of the city so residents can watch the games.  This TV is right by my apartment, which has its advantages and disadvantages (I can’t even count how many times a day I hear the “waving flag” and Shakira songs in both Spanish and English). Every bar, restaurant, and café is broadcasting world cup games and offering some sort of world cup special.  My office even brought in a TV to watch the games.  Let’s face it: there’s always time to check in on the score of a game (especially when a team gets a goal).  So, since there is no Bolivia team who are the people rooting for? Well, most people I’ve talked to are rooting for Brazil and Argentina.  Personally, I am rooting for the U.S.A.

The Brazil-Portugal game on the big-screen tv on the plaza.

From Leah in Togo:

As is true almost everywhere in Africa, the World Cup – “La Coupe du Monde,” or simply, “Le Mondiale” – is a big deal in Togo. Here at WAGES (Women and Associations for Gain both Economic and Social), one of Kiva’s Togolese field partners, staff are using the World Cup as a means to reach out and expand their current client base. Below you can see the cool new “Calendrier du Mondial 2010” – World Cup Calendar 2010. These calendars were printed up and handed out to thousands of WAGES clients as a “thank you” for working with the organization, and a way to attract potential new clients. This just goes to show how important the World Cup is here; its impact infiltrates even a microfinance institution’s client outreach strategy.

“This program is offered to you by WAGES”

From Cheney in Sri Lanka:

(Written prior to England’s elimination)

Upon entering any restaurant or bar showing World Cup matches here in Sri Lanka, one instantly recognizes who the favorite team is here. Any guesses which team it might be? If you’re picturing a large white flag with a red cross, you’ve got it ‘right on the button!’ (Extra points if you pictured the Queen).

Though Sri Lanka gained their independence from England in 1948, the presence of the English here is still very much felt today. The largest expat community in Colombo is the English, who fill a large proportion of NGO positions, in addition to a strong presence with their High Commission. In my conversations both with the Sri Lankans and with the English, I sense that the “suddhas” (as the English are sometimes referred to colloquially) are welcomed here. There is also a big Sri Lankan diaspora living in England, many of whom have returned after the Tsunami in 2004 to help rebuild the country. As a result, chants of “EEN-GUH-LAANDD, EEN-GUH-LAAND, COME ON ENGLAND!!!” can be heard throughout the capital city during a match.

Sri Lanka was ousted from qualifying for this year’s world cup in the very beginning stages, losing 6-0 to Qatar. Sri Lanka’s national team ranks 159th out of 202 nations. They have never qualified for a World Cup.

From Kati in Chile:

The hope was that at the time of this posting, Chile would have advanced to the World Cup quarter finals.  After beating Honduras and Switzerland in the first two games, hopes were high that Chile could triumph over Spain (the favorite) last Friday.  Like most schools, businesses, and other organizations in Santiago, Fondo Esperanza closed its doors at midday on Friday so that everyone could watch the game.  Unfortunately, when Roja met Roja (traditionally, both the Spanish and the Chilean teams sport red jerseys), the red Europeans won.  Nevertheless, Chile had scored enough points in the previous games to advance to the next round, so there were great celebrations in the streets.  Conveniently on Monday, when Chile was slotted to play against Brazil, there was a national holiday, officially Día de San Pedro y San Pablo (recognizing Sts. Peter and Paul and celebrating fishing traditions in Chile), and unofficially the day Chile was supposed to make fútbol history (not having advanced this far since 1962, when they placed third overall).  Everyone watched the game at home with family, which was ultimately a good thing because it meant that everyone had a familiar shoulder to cry on as Chile succumbed 0-3 to Brazil.

Today, as everyone takes off their “joker” hats and gets back to work, feels a bit like the day after a Christmas when you didn’t get all the presents you asked for.  Chileans certainly would have liked to see their team come home with that big gold trophy, but they won’t hold a grudge against Brazil for too long – after all, World Cup 2014 is in Brazil, and Chileans are already pricing their tickets and looking for places to stay.

Kati (leaping in back) celebrating with MFI staff

Unfortunately not all Kiva Fellows have been able to enjoy the World Cup:

From Eva in Kyrgyzstan:

If you want to seriously escape the excitement of the World Cup, head to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. As an Argentinean fan you can imagine how hard this is for me. I have seen it all: bars charging three dollars to watch the match, no TV channels even showing the game, then finding one channel showing the game but then immediately freezing. I asked countless waiters if they could change the channel from a music video to the World Cup, I witnessed the game disappearing from the screen after half time, and I even ran a kilometer frantically peeking my head into every bar until finally finding an American bar where I was able to catch the last five minutes of the Argentina-Nigeria game.

There are gaming centers in Kyrgyzstan that luckily have large screen TVs with hundreds of channels. The most delightful experience was when I walked into one of these to watch the Swiss-Chile game. When I walked in, I noticed that some kids were sitting on couches with two different flat screens depicting people playing soccer. Naturally, I was relieved to see that other people were already watching the game. They seemed excited. As I approached to take a seat alongside them I realized that they weren’t watching the game at all, they were playing Fifa Soccer—the videogame!! Clearly, this group of young men was interested in soccer, just not in the most important tournament in the world.

Thanks to Kiva Fellows Austin, Sally, Alexis, Leah, Cheney, Kati and Eva for your contributions. The World Cup really does connect people from all over the world…and so does Kiva! In the spirit of the World Cup, how about making a loan?

Kevin Henderson is serving in Ulaanbaatar,Mongolia as a member of Kiva Fellows 11th Class

About the author

Kevin Henderson