Budweiser, one of the festival's sponsors, has been sending
actors from its commercials out to make appearances. The "I love
you, man" guy from the Bud Light ads was, I regret to say, not a
hit. He brought a large entourage, reportedly resisted saying "I
love you, man," and did not want to be hugged. Can't blame him.
But the Burkinabe athletes--the two I met are Franck Zio, one of
the world's top-10 long jumpers, and Chantal Ouoba, an
up-and-coming triple jumper--have been highly popular around town.
The athletes stayed in a dormitory at Agnes Scott College in
Decatur before moving to the Olympic Village. Boxer Irissa
Kabore trained in nearby Doraville. Local coaches instructed
him, using Gary Gunderson, a Decatur resident who works for The
Carter Center in Atlanta, as their translator:
"Tell him to move his head, move his head, like this, like this."
"Mobilisez votre tete, comme ca, comme ca."
The team doctor, Liliou Francis, was concerned that Kabore was
eating too heartily, and sure enough, he failed to make his
125-pound weight limit, had to fight as a lightweight instead of
a featherweight and was trounced by a Czech. But the Burkinabe
minister of sport, Joseph Tiendrebeogo, assured me, perhaps
diplomatically, that Kabore had brought the extra weight with
him from home.
Last Friday, high jumper Olivier Sanou went out in the
qualifying round. Zio and Ouoba met the same fate in their
events on Sunday and Monday, respectively. (High jumper Irene
Tiendrebeogo--no relation to Joseph--was scheduled to compete in
qualifying on Thursday.) Zio, the team captain, has been living
in Paris since 1990 and "could go right to Hollywood," says
Linda Harris, and indeed, he speaks English and has a great deal
"One of [the Burkinabe] asked me to marry him," says Melissa
Kirby, who works at the Decatur Recreation Center, headquarters
for the Burkinabe delegation. "He made me shake his hand. I may
be married to him."
All over Decatur people are trying to master the Burkinabe
handshake--you raise your right hand high as if to swear an
oath, then you sweep your palm down across your partner's, and
the two of you finish by coming off each other's fingertips into
a finger snap. The shake comes from a time when Africans were
capturing and selling one another into slavery: Slaves' fingers
were broken, so the snap proved you were free.
Besides learning Burkinabe customs, a fine diversity of visitors
to the square has responded with enthusiasm to food, drink,
music (country, blues, gospel, Irish, African) and
storytelling--stories told formally to audiences and also
stories told informally among the congregants.
"You hear about little kindnesses," Randall told me, "little
nudges of the levers of power, things that people like your dad
and Linda's did for all sorts of people, black and white, that
nobody knew anything about at the time. It makes you feel like
you can't do enough."