Each day the programme lineup was the same. A cartoon, the magic show, an insight to the country, 7 pm news, one informative show or drama, one sitcom, 9pm news, last programme, a 5-10 minute prayer by a Reverend or Imam then back to that annoying high pitched signal which would be accompanied by the luminescent rainbow coloured vertical stripes. By midnight it was a wrap. Nothing until 5pm the next day.
The TV routine was predictable and somewhat boring, unless you found a way to hide behind a sofa and catch glimpses of the forbidden last programme. This would be shows such as the Love Boat or Dallas which we found incredibly saucy and highly dramatic. Invariably one was caught out on account of bursting out in giggles or when one of your siblings pushed you out from behind the couch. Punishment then came in the form of a stern admonishments from the parents, their version I guess of a bedtime story.
Yes, the routine remained largely unchanged. But every four years the vertical stripes gave up their ear piercing signal at abnormal times and they were replaced by the five colored rings that heralded the current Olympiad.
During that sweet season, all bets were off with regards to TV rules, both from the state and from my folks. Los Angeles 1984, Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996. I’m not sure what was more exciting, the actual games or the thrill of being allowed to stay up until 2am to watch the ever inspiring, jaw dropping opening ceremony.
I remember sitting on the living room floor with an Atlas, eager to find out where countries with such exotic names like Kiribati, Western Samoa and Yugoslavia were. Flashing through pages my father would harangue me shouting the Pa-Ci-Fic Ocean, or next to the Black Sea in a frustrated voice as he no doubt wondered about the worth of the school fees he paid.
The countdown to the Olympic opening ceremony was just as exciting as school discussions centered on figuring out time zones and what time we needed to be up in order to watch the whole ceremony. Invariably there were those years it was at 10am which meant trying to figure out how to start claiming illness one or two days before so there was no questioning the validity of your illness on the material day.
Until today the Olympic opening ceremony remains in my mind the high point of our collective positive humanity. Every four years for at least a few hours, global focus is positive. Positively focused on the athletes that represent our nations. Our team, our flag, the possibilities our countrymen hold in lifting us all higher. The athletes walk round the stadium in teams of 2 or 100 and we cheer them all. When it comes to our flag its like the whole country automatically lights up with pride.
For those countries that were sending athletes for the first time, there is always special recognition, especially if it was just one athlete and one official. Its like we knew what they had overcome – war, disease, mad despots, in order to be there and we saluted their heroism and voiced our sympathy through our cheers. It seems like these few hours every few years really are the very best of us. Divisions, ideologies, separations, false distinctions are put aside. A global truce is called.
The games provide us all with a thrilling testament to man’s determination and ability to beat his world into submission. As if by throwing a shot-put or leaping into the air on a pole vault or breaking record on the 100m sprint proves again our worthiness and our dominance as a species. Surely the sound of ones national anthem cannot be sweeter than when played in an Olympic stadium.
I can only imagine what it might mean to the athletes on the podium as they revel for one unending glorious moment in the rewards of the years of tenacity and sacrifice.
Years after leaving my parents living room floor, I found myself standing at attention once again as I heard the national anthem on TV. This time it was on account of a young man by the name of Samuel Wanjiru who took the last gold medal of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He ran and won the marathon, and I remember as he entered the magnificent Birds Nest stadium it was pandemonium in my living room. Half a world away surrounded by my children, we ecstatically cheered him on. It was the first time we as a country ever took that gold, and as the anthem played on my TV I found myself tearing up. With pride, nostalgia, patriotism, humanity? I’m not entirely sure… but then again I know you get it. After all, its the Olympics. One of the few things that we can say is experienced in the same way by all of because its about all of us.