CAMEROON 2011 – This country has always been something special; for me it holds a special value, a different taste compared to all other African countries. Perhaps it would be the fact that it was my first country on the continent and, as is known, you never forget your first love. Or perhaps it is the fact that it is a place that is representative of all the charm, colours, sounds and peculiarities of all of Africa, to such an extent that it is referred to as "Petite Afrique". The fact remains that no other voyage across this world takes on such an intense significance for me as the one I describe here, in the kingdom of the lions of Africa.
The destination of my world pilgrimage in black and blue today is Bertoua, five hours by car to the south east of Yaounde, just over 300 km from the border of Chad, the Central African Republic, and Congo (…) It is a quiet city with officially little more than a hundred thousand inhabitants and perhaps just as many unofficial ones, cut out from the forest and the typically Cameroonian red earth, but one that looms over the roads and houses, ready to take back what man has wrongfully taken from it. It is full of taxis and, like everywhere down here, people walking down the street. Who knows where they are forever going, at any time of day or night, this crowd of people, in a slow but steady movement.
Here we have described the training course for coaches, which was supposed to be for 20 and then became 48, and training for children; also the initial number of children was 40 and then magically transformed into 150. Then to conclude everything there was a mega tournament designed for 150 children, which however became 350 with the arrival of all our groups of teams from the country and, therefore, of children. A swarm of motorcycle taxi and T-shirts of the Centre Sport Camerunais, a mini bus festooned with Inter flags and banners and three honking buses inform me of the growth in numbers now taking place in the tournament, including screams, cheers and loud music, between leaving me flabbergasted by the sudden change and the belief at not ever being able to organize anything in this situation, and excited about everything I was witnessing.
When the buses opened their doors, spitting out upon the warm red earth the hundreds of children and adults who took turns greeting me, embracing me, for recognizing me and reminding me of our friendship, emotions took over, making me forget all the problems, difficulties and the extra work that we would have to take care of. And this is one of the things that excites me most when I travel; hearing my name being called, exchanging looks with familiar faces, family members, even thousand of kilometres away from home, always among friends. And also perhaps this is the thing that most touches my heart on my Nerazzurri pilgrimage; seeing children who on my first journeys were barely over six years old and hardly able to run with a ball at their feet, now grown with hair on their faces, but still wearing the same shirt. Lads like Bebeto, Issa, Sabin, who grew up with Inter Campus and now are almost men. Or Gerard, once just a child in our programme and now in his first training course – all tied inextricably to that shirt, all part of the same enormous worldwide Nerazzurri family!
Gerard is an Inter Campus success story without a doubt; coming from an extremely poor family living in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Yaounde (and according to Francis, populated only by thieves and criminals of every kind who by day flock to the capital to find a few coins in their own way, then seek refuge at night in the shacks where they reside), he started playing with us when he was eight, that is when the CSC opened the Inter Campus branch in his neighbourhood, initially involving 40 children. From there, year after year, he had the opportunity to play every day, followed by the coaches/educators of the project, and distancing himself from that almost certain future reserved for children in his neighbourhood, in order to become a youth volunteer for the CSC, and then one of our coaches. Gerard; a life with Inter Campus and a life with the Nerazzurri shirt! A life with the Inter legend in his heart, and with the pride of being part of it.