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The start of the rainy season is heralded by lightning flickering in the evening sky across Za�re—and this has now begun. The promoters were prepared for rain had the fight been held on schedule. A canopy was built over the ring, but in order for the people on the rim of the stadium looking down at the fighters to get an unimpeded view the canopy was raised high over the ring. It is almost 50 feet up, so that it affords about as much shelter as an extremely tall royal palm. The rain must fall out of a windless sky absolutely straight down for the ring to remain dry, and there has been much discussion as to whether the rain behaves this way. Government officials and promoters say that in the unlikely event rain falls, it will fall straight down, not veering in the slightest. No problem.
The Kinshasa cynics are not so sure. A wind usually precedes the first enormous drops of the downfall, and sometimes it stays and whisks the rain around. In any case, something will probably be done with the canopy—either extending it or lowering it—to afford protection, since a rain-soaked ring would be disastrous. Neither fighter would venture upon it.
Another topic to refresh the lobby dwellers is the prospect that one or both of the fighters is going to bolt the country. Reports circulate daily that Foreman is off to Paris for a day or so; that Ali is stir crazy and bridling under the over-zealous care of the Foreman-Ali Commission, and that he is thinking of paddling across the Za�re River in a fisherman's pirogue; an appalling choice, not only of conveyance but of destination, since the Republic of the Congo on the other side is at odds with just about everyone, especially the U.S., and would quite likely put the contender in jail.
In truth, it would seem for the moment that both fighters are reasonably content. Foreman thinks of himself as a "lonesome man" anyway, and is perfectly satisfied to spend evening after evening on the front porch of his villa with his dog Daggo by his side, the two of them watching the sun, a dull orange in the smoke-like haze, set into the African horizon.
Ali has predicted that Foreman will leave the country just to keep clear of him. "I see fear in the eyes of all his followers," Ali cried to a startled group of Za�rians in the president's gym. "Watch everything. Watch all strange boats slipping out onto the river. Watch the buses. Watch the elephant caravans. Watch everything. The man has troubles. He wants out!"
Each camp has been provided with a number of experts to translate this sort of thing into French for the benefit of the Za�rians. As expected, considering the complexities of boxing argot, there have been fine moments of confusion. Dick Sadler, Foreman's manager, announced at one press conference, "the cut was closed with butterflies," referring to the type of bandage he had placed above Foreman's eye. In the silence that ensued, the audience could see the translator visibly twitching while he struggled with the picture Sadler had placed in his mind. After a consultation and explanation he sighed and was gratefully able to explain what Sadler meant.
Ali's translators (usually two of them move up to the microphone when he gets under way) compete for the honor of putting his words into French. This is a dubious reward, in that the sudden bursts of hyperbole would tax the most expert of a United Nations staff. One of the Za�rians would stand off to the side and listen with a bemused expression until his companion had apparently disgraced the act sufficiently for him to snatch the mike and try it himself—starting off with a relish and enthusiasm that invariably subsided into tentative little smiles of bewilderment.
Ali's rhetoric has been up to snuff. But the officials have convinced him that his "rumble in the jungle" image is not the phrase that best serves the interest of a country on the move. Ali's vocal performances are studded with fine explosive statements that are a quantum leap from his familiar "I am the greatest." "I am an era," he now shouts. "I am an epoch." He told the Za�rians that he was so fast that the night before when he flipped off the wall switch, he was in bed before the room was dark. Indeed, he told them that if he got any better he'd be scared of himself.
The reaction to this at his workouts, where crowds of up to 300 sit in ballroom chairs, is polite and restrained, possibly because of the inability of the translators to get as much feeling into what they say as is in the original. The most response Ali produced from the audience was when he got them to chant, "Ali, nan boma ye," in unison, which means in the native dialect, "Ali, you must kill him." A sinister sentiment, especially when repeated in full chorus, but it is tempered by the sight of Ali capering around the ring, holding one hand to his ear and cocking his head to the crowd for an increase in sound like an emcee warming up the studio audience for a TV talk show. The words become as inconsequential as the threat in someone shouting kill the umpire.
Foreman's image is becoming more familiar in Za�re. In many places with limited means of communication he was thought to be a white fighter—his name in dialect sounds vaguely like a word that means "Flemish," thus fostering the notion that somehow Ali had lured into the ring the embodiment of Belgian colonial repression replete with swagger stick.