With Jet lag heavy heads, Team Cascadia waited in a South London parking lot for the bus back to our hotel. We’d lost our first match, but risen to the occasion at the CONIFA World Cup Opening Ceremonies with every team member marching around the stadium to the tune of our anthem behind a waving Doug Flag held high. It had truly been a day of agony and ecstasy. As dusk turned to dark, the fact that our bus wasn’t returning became clear. With typical Cascadian cooperation and composure, we carried our uniforms, camera equipment and gear out to the streets of London and hailed taxi cabs back across the city.
A well dressed man appeared and cashed out each driver in turn before asking to join the last car with myself and other Cascadia supporters for the hour long journey through London’s “Pea Soup” fog. The stranger, none other than CONIFA President Per-Anders Blind, made quick work of becoming a familiar friend, and a crash course in all things Cascadia ensued. Per-Anders, who hails from the north of Sweden, made Cascadian connections around the heritage of Scandinavian migration to the Pacific Northwest and how the climate of his Nordic home facilitated tech investment in data storage centers that make some of our largest tech companies tick. My choice of taxi that night was without question a fortuitous and lucky one.
Once at our destination, President Blind proceeded to the hotel restaurant where he and the CONIFA Executive Board met for a first day debrief while Team Cascadia enjoyed a well deserved pizza party. As our numbers dwindled, the representatives from Abkhazia (hosts of CONIFA World Cup 2016) produced a bottle of homemade Abkhazian brandy called Chacha and invited all in attendance to join them in a toast to the successful opening of these games. Ever eager for a new experience, I volunteered to try the clear moonshine.
Once at the table, the Abkhazian delegation shared the tradition of Chacha; that all newbies to a table lead a toast in their own words, and then drink a generous pour of brandy as a single shot. Each toast was fascinating, as it revealed much about the culture each respective team. First, a coach from the Padania team held his glass high, and in typically emotional Italian tropes celebrated the many who had worked so hard to get his team there, while finishing in recognition of those who couldn’t be with us. A representative from the Punjab team made a toast that peace and understanding be the hallmarks of this championship, and that the people of Punjab could unite in the spirit of soccer. My toast was made in the names of the Columbia, Fraser & Snake Rivers, in gratitude for all the life that our watersheds sustain, and a call for harmony among all living things. In unison we charged our glasses and in one swig downed the boldly delicious fuel.
If nothing more were accomplished in our 10 days here in England, I’d have felt accomplished after my first fiery dance with Chacha. From this inaugural night’s interaction, the tone of the championship was set, and the tagline of sponsor Giordano/Stingz “A World Without Strangers” became true. From Italy to South Asia and the Caucasus to Cascadia, even if only around a small table, our wishes for recognition, peace and harmony were realized. With 9 more days of competition, cheers and Chacha to come, I have no doubt the winning is just beginning.
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