Alberto Edjogo: “Investing in soccer is not an expense, it is a commitment to the future”

Alberto Edjogo: "Investing in soccer is not an expense, it is a commitment to the future"

Former soccer player and sports journalist Alberto Edjogo gives us the keys to making soccer a driving force for the future in Equatorial Guinea and tells us about the passion he feels for his second country.

The Nzalang has just written a page in the history of African soccer. Although its dream faded in the 3-1 against Senegal, the “national red” managed to reach the quarterfinals and defeat giants like Algeria or Mali against all odds. For weeks, the national team has put Equatorial Guinea on the map, making its people vibrate and showing that the difficulties in Equatorial Guinean soccer have nothing to do with a lack of talent.

“Soccer in Equatorial Guinea is unstoppable”

For Alberto Edjogo (Sabadell, 1984), soccer in Equatorial Guinea “is unstoppable, because if you throw a ball in any neighborhood, lots of boys and girls will come out chasing it. It is a passion that comes to them since they are little, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of it”. Edjogo knows what he is talking about. His life is a tribute to “muddy” soccer, the kind that escapes the glamor of the spotlight but entails the heroic effort of playing “with the uncertainty that your salary is at stake with each play, with each ball”, because “with each goal you have to feed the family”.

Born to a Spanish mother and an Equatorial Guinean father, Alberto Edjogo has been almost everything in the king sport. For fourteen years he cut his teeth in grassroots soccer fighting for over ten clubs, including Sabadell and Olimpic de Xátiva, and in 2003 he made his debut in the senior team of his homeland. He felt the vocation of becoming an analyst from a very young age; he soon started a blog and began to build a career as a sports journalist that led him to join Gol Televisión, Radio Marca and La Liga TV.

“Equatorial Guinea is exuberant in every way: the climate, the vegetation, the energy that people have when it comes to defending their ideas”

In addition to being a great connoisseur of soccer, Edjogo is passionate about Equatorial Guinea, a land that he defines with one word: exuberance. “Equatorial Guinea is exuberant in every way: the climate, the vegetation, the energy that people have when it comes to defending their ideas.” Today, we talk to him about soccer, Africa and the future.

One of the limitations of soccer in Equatorial Guinea, as Benjamín Zarandona told us, is the inexistence of lower categories, of a league from 8 to 17 years old that allows the youth to train every week in well-equipped facilities. How can soccer be professionalized in the country?

“The first step to change soccer in Equatorial Guinea is showing the will to change things. You have to start walking before you can run”

The first step to change something is showing the will to make that change. It can’t be that a boy who is 16 or 17 years old has never competed in a league. That makes progress very difficult because you are already behind other countries in the region. To set up a grassroots soccer league, an investment is needed, which should not be seen as an expense, but rather as a commitment to the future.

It often happens that some African players find it difficult to compete: they have the speed, the technique, the stamina, the physicality, but they lack a competitive level. Not only would it be necessary to establish sub15, sub17 and sub21 teams, but also establish competitions at different levels and in different areas.

Equatorial Guinea is a small country that could organize itself with not so many resources, but it needs a good computer-based system to monitor matches, the classifications, the cards, players who also need are healthy… and it would be a shame if it had to come someone from Europe to set it up. In Africa and in Equatorial Guinea there is enough talent to carry this out.

Can soccer become an asset for Equatorial Guinea?

Soccer is a big industry; it’s an economic engine. But before running, you have to start walking. The league in Equatorial Guinea has no regularity, there is no fixed schedule. Soccer is unstoppable; if you throw a ball to roll in any neighborhood in Guinea, lots of boys and girls will come out chasing it. It’s something they feel passionate about since childhood, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of it. In a country like Equatorial Guinea, which is rich in many things and is very well located, it would become an essential asset; it can be achieved.

“Soccer is not a destination; it is a tool to transmit values"

African soccer is unknown to the general public, but this sport is the backbone of many communities in which children and young people can be seen playing with more drive, dedication and passion than in other countries outside that continent. What role does soccer play in African youth?

Soccer is not a destination, it is a tool to transmit values such as teamwork, effort or resistance to frustration. Young people identify references very quickly; they watch television, see Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mané and think “and why not me?”.

When you play football, you learn values such as discipline or respect for teammates and rivals, which is essential. In Africa we may have a tendency for chose role models who do things badly, who dedicate themselves to exploiting or filling up their pockets, but football values meritocracy; whoever does things well can reach higher.

“Africans have a spectacular inner strength”

You have written the book Indomitable, where in addition to recounting your years defending the Equatorial Guinea shirt, you wonder where the African continent got the strength to start after the experience of colonization. Where does that force come from?

Indomitable is rebellion, the inability of external forces to subdue an entire people. The African people have a spectacular inner strength that makes them overcome adversities that would be impossible in other latitudes. It has always been subjected to external interference since the time of slavery, and it has endured and resisted, until reaching the point to rebel. You know that your ancestors have had a hard time and they have endured, and you endure, but at the same time you also rebel, and I think that is a good combination.

As a son of both Spain and Equatorial Guinea, you have been able to feel what it means to be an “Equatorial Guinean in Spain” and a “Spaniard in Equatorial Guinea”. How have you experienced that duality?

Here is a very funny episode. We were in Gabon in a qualifying round, training, and some children came often to see us play. Every time I took the ball they laughed, jumped and shouted, and once I heard them say “moan ntanang, moan ntanang”. I asked the goalkeeping coach what that meant and he told me: “This in Fang means white boy; they see you as the white boy”. I was mixed and the others were not. So, I know very well what it means to be the European in Africa and the African in Spain.

I have never felt undervalued; on the contrary, I am very proud of where I come from and of what I am, because all this has forged my character. I have had to listen to very tough things on Spanish fields, but it has never affected me. I feel half European and half African and in each of my actions I have that origin very much in mind.

He discovered his African half in the summer of 2003, when he first traveled to Equatorial Guinea. Edjogo says that the first thing that surprised him when he set foot outside the plane was “the humidity in the environment, that breath of humid air permeating all the pores of your skin and even making it difficult for you to move.”

From that first contact with Equatorial Guinea, he remembers with special affection the warmth that the fans gave him while he was training with the Nzalang: “It was in the Bata stadium, the old one, and when we were about to start training I heard a great noise between the hotel Panafrica and the stadium. When we approached, I realized that the field was full of fans who came to see us, and that affection, that encouragement, that push from the fans who shouted with enthusiasm at each touch, each pass, each shot on goal, I will never forget.”

Equatorial Guinea is a safe country, full of beauties and with good infrastructures. However, its tourism is almost non-existent. Why do you think this is so?

Many times when I talk about Equatorial Guinea, I am asked if it is close to Ecuador, if it is in South America or Central America. One realizes how little is known about Africa in general and about Equatorial Guinea in particular, especially at school. When you become an adult, you meet educated cultured people who still have no idea about the subject, and that lack of knowledge makes you hesitate to travel.

What is for you the most unique place that Equatorial Guinea has?

The Pico Basilé is a spectacular place; it can be seen from anywhere on the island of Bioko. But I would stay Ureka is that magical place where you experience a feeling of freedom and exuberance; I understand that because it is one of the rainiest places in the world and where there is more vegetation and life. Living that freedom, those waterfalls and that vegetation caused a great impressed on me.

What essential itinerary should someone who wants to get to know Equatorial Guinea follow?

In Bioko, obviously, you can’t miss eating fish in Luba, far to the south. Then, Moka is an essential visit; breathing a little of its fresh air, very pure, not so humid, makes your heart happy. And then, you can wander around Malabo, go to the Ela Nguema neighborhood, eat some chicken, grab a good beer at a grocery store and visit the Casa Verde.

And what can we say about the islands, Annobón, Corisco… The continental region is also unique: a sunrise in Mbini or a walk through Niefang, my father’s town.

For Alberto Edjogo, it’s quite clear that the future of his country of origin depends on enhancing its enormous strength, present in the spirit of its people, in its love and talent for football, and in the exuberance of its land, its landscapes and its culture.

Alberto Esparza

Alberto Esparza

Hispanic philologist and journalist. Lover of Equatorial Guinea.

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“Bata will be the place for my retirement; its energy grabbed me.”

“Bata will be the place for my retirement; its energy grabbed me.”

Cultural manager, editor and courageous bookseller (and the good granddaughter of the academic Trinidad Morgades), Deborah Ekoka says she fell in love with the city of Bata because of its aromas, its energy and its beaches remind her of her hometown, Valencia.

Deborah

I have to say that I undertook my first trip to Equatorial Guinea with a lot of uncertainty and a certain amount of fear, a fear generated by the stories that my cousins shared many years ago at family meals about blackouts that lasted hours or days, or how my cousin had malaria but still escaped the hospital through the window to return home, or the very strict punishments that would shake my spirit or just violent events.

My father had nine brothers and sisters, and although all my cousins ​​had already visited Equatorial Guinea, I was the only one whose father had never been to our homeland. When I decided to go, it was because I was finally able to pay for a ticket and block out two weeks of my schedule for the stay, back in 2012.

I remember how when I got off the plane in Malabo I felt a powerful humidity on my body, and I thought “air in Africa is so heavy”. Years later, on my second trip, I learned that that is something characteristic of places like Malabo, and not of the continent.

On this first trip I discovered the town of Moka, located south of Bioko Island at a much higher altitude and famous for its low temperatures, the Arena Blanca beach, and other places, but one of the things that struck me the most was seeing the leafy forest of that intense green and the Heineken signs on the road, almost the same shade of green, disrupting the harmony of the vegetation. And I honestly loved it. My whole family was happy to finally have me there.

I still remember how my grandmother made me sit on her lap, and one of my favorite memories is eating her fantastic fried chicken wings on the porch of her colonial house, looking out over the patio with the enormous trees and views of Malabo. I was so delighted that I extended my stay for another week. But over time I realized that, although it had been a somewhat superficial trip, something had changed inside of me. I began to give more importance to my roots, and after a year and a half we launched United Minds, a store project along with a bookstore specializing in African authors and the Diaspora, which is still active. Stepping on mother Africa for the first time, even in a superficial manner, made a dent in me.

I remember how when I got off the plane in Malabo I felt a powerful humidity on my body, and I thought “air in Africa is so heavy”

They say that Equatorial Guinea either spits on you or embraces you; I felt a first hug, not the warmest despite the high temperatures, but I was left wanting more.

My second trip was in 2019, notebook in hand and a list of all the things I wanted to do and see in those 19 days. Seeing my grandmother (aunt) Trinidad Morgades Besari—an eminent writer and academic of whom my family spoke little to me—buying Equatorial Guinean handicrafts, which is more difficult in Malabo since in the shops there is only Cameroonian, Nigerian and from other African regions, although later in Bata I found a small shop in the Spanish Cultural Center where I was able to buy some souvenirs.

I presented the book of which I am the editor and a co-author, “Metamba Miago: Stories and knowledge of Afro-Spanish women” (Metamba Miago means “my roots” in the Ndowe language, the language of my family’s ethnic group), in the cultural centers of Malabo and Bata, and in the only bookstore in the country at that time, La casa tomada.

I also had the opportunity to meet great women for me such as Anatasia Nve “Mama Anastasia”, defender of women’s human rights, Trifonia Melibea Obono, writer, Sese Sité, promoter of the Barbarrio project, Paloma Nze, a TV journalist who took me as a guest to here program on public television, “A Fondo”, to talk about the book.

I also visited Bata, a city I fell in love with and that amusingly reminded me a lot of Valencia, my hometown. Even people there seemed to loosen that hostility that the people of Malabo may show. On the mainland coast I visited Ekuku, my grandmother’s hometown, and I also went inland, my brother (cousin) took me and recommended wonderful places.

The gastronomy of the coast at popular prices is one of those things that I always remember: the pepe soup from a bar called Fina, the bilolá, and other dishes were engraved on my palate, which still yearns for those flavors.

I know that in the future, when I can spend there a great part of my time, Bata will be the place I’d choose mainly because its energy haunted me. If I had to request a tailor-made trip, I would love to learn more about the different ethnic groups in the country, their rituals, their gastronomy, their spirituality and traditions, and to learn about traditional art and its signification.

I imagine that one day there will be a museum like the one already proposed in the National Park, but more accessible to Guinean citizens and containing even more art from all these ethnic groups that make up Equatorial Guinea, on that would even organize visits to the artists and artisans’ workshops. I would also like to learn about people who have had an impact on Equatorial Guinean culture and history. I still have to see places like Río Campo, my grandfather’s hometown near Bata, Ureka, and other parts of the country. I have to start making the bucket list for my next trip.

Deborah Ekok

Deborah Ekok

Cultural manager, editor and courageous bookseller of United Minds

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“Traveling to Equatorial Guinea always feels like a great movie.”

Malcolm Treniño-Sitte

“Traveling to Equatorial Guinea always feels like a great movie.”

With film appearances such as the blockbuster Palm trees in the Snow, his tireless theatrical career and multiple television characters, such as the endearing Dayo in Spanish National TV series Dos Vidas, Malcolm Treviño-Sitté tells us why visiting Equatorial Guinea is like traveling on the big screen.

A few years ago, I was involved in a joint project with the Madrid Regional Government called Africa in the Libraries, together with a fellow actor of Equatorial Guinean origin, Primo José Mañana Nanabaha. During our library sessions something clicked in our heads. After our short theatre performances, the questions the students asked were almost always oriented to our background, and me saying that I am Afro-Vallecan (Vallecas is the largest working-class neighborhood in Madrid) would only have led to reiterated similar questions. We are from Equatorial Guinea, we answered, and then there was silence.

To break that uncomfortable silence, I would asked them: Do you know guys what the official language in Equatorial Guinea is? Yes, they answered, French, Portuguese, English… Although the winning answer was always Guinean.

Malcolm Sitte - Lo nunca visto (2019)
Malcolm Sitte - Lo nunca visto (2019)

Di man—as we refer to each other amongst friends in Malabo–, let’s explain it to them… And we would spend the rest of the session explaining that this Central African country was not only a former colony but also a former Spanish province and that, of course, the official language is Spanish, and we ended up inviting them to encourage their parents and relatives to visit Equatorial Guinea, the only country in Africa (in addition to the Western Sahara) where the language of Cervantes is spoken.

"Do you know guys what the official language in Equatorial Guinea is? Yes, they answered, French, Portuguese, English... Although the winning answer was always Guinean"

I am Malcolm Treviño-Sitté, graduated in Dramatic Art and professional actor for 23 years. My life has been a journey—life is always a journey—and traveling opens our minds and shakes our fears. And just like that there are beautiful places all over the world, well-known destinations promoted through tourism strategies, it is no less true that a perhaps less well-known Equatorial Guinea has nothing to envy. When I have the opportunity to visit my other country, I do it with pleasure, as many times as possible. Without a doubt, reconnecting with my roots is something I enjoy doing and I want to do more often in the near future.

Malcolm Sitte - El chiringuito de Pepe (2014-2016)
Malcolm Sitte - El chiringuito de Pepe (2014-2016)

"My life has been a journey—life is always a journey—and traveling opens our minds and shakes our fears."

The periods of my life when I have not been able to visit, I have been leaving marks of Equatorial Guinea in my work in film, theater and even in the television series in which I have participated; that helps me to claim the connection with my origins in my closest environment, in addition to the talks that I often submit to colleagues about walking around Bioko Island, speaking Spanish as if you were in any corner of Andalusia, but located in a neighborhood called Malabo Dos, or Los Angeles or in any of the rural towns on the island where the flora (and fauna) prevail. Feeling, and hearing, welcomed by Spanish speaking communities—always warm—is for a Spanish speaker both funny as moving.

Malcolm Sitte - Making-of
Malcolm Sitte - Making-of

Having said all this and selfishly speaking, I would like to express the real and immediate need to exploit the beauty that Equatorial Guinea has in video and film productions. The best tourism for a country is almost always fueled by its ability to tell stories, with its cinema for example, and exhibiting our country in images will enhance its appeal. It would be a great dream to transform the country, or at least part of it, into a great set, as other destinations have done, or to create a great film festival with a Spanish accent in Africa with some big stars as our guests. It would be nice to demonstrate that today in Equatorial Guinea it is possible to put together a film production like the ones already carried out in Latin America, where right now major platforms such as NETFLIX, among others, are betting heavily on filming great cinematographic works or producing great series.

"The best tourism for a country is almost always fueled by its ability to tell stories, with its cinema for example, and exhibiting our country in images will enhance its appeal"

Malcolm Sitte - Teatro

What I would most like right now is to promote cultural tourism in my ‘other country. Everyone needs to consume culture, and this destination is a great mirror for the whole world to know what we Equatorial Guineans already know: that traveling to Equatorial Guinea always feels like a great movie.

Rumbo Malabo

Rumbo Malabo

Tour Operator in Equatorial Guinea

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Jose Mañana Interview «Equatorial Guinea is a wonder to be discovered»

Jose Mañana «Equatorial Guinea is a wonder to be discovered»

Esta entrada también está disponible en: English Español (Spanish)

72,000 people follow the YouTube channel of José Mañana, an Equatoguinean influencer who is making his country known to the world and who tells us about the wonders of the only Hispanic country in Africa

“A gentle breeze caresses you while you hear the piercing sound of the waves hitting the seawall. And you get that feeling that you’re experiencing something you’ve never felt before. You vibrate with the hustle and bustle of the people crowding around and it smells… what does Equatorial Guinea smell like? Equatorial Guinea smells like poppies”. This is how José Mañana remembers his last afternoon on  Bata seafront, “one of the most beautiful places” he has ever been to and his favourite spot in the city. And he does so with the nostalgia of someone who, after years away, dreams of returning home.

IMG_3336

José is 25 years old and defines himself as “a guy who makes sure that his country is known in the Hispanic world”. To say this sounds like a paradox, like trying to make Portugal known in Europe or Korea in Asia. Because his country, Equatorial Guinea, is as much a part of the Hispanic world as Spain, Argentina or Colombia. Located in Central Africa and independent since 1968, Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking country on the continent and, together with America and Europe, “closes the triangle” of Cervantes’ language in the world, as the writer Donato Ndongo likes to say.

But very little of this is known outside its borders. And that is what José fights against with his YouTube channel, which he started in 2019 and which already has 72,000 followers. He started with videos about magic and social criticism. He soon moved to Malaysia to study and realized that people needed to know that Equatorial Guinea existed and had a lot to share with the world. “Nobody even knew that Spanish was spoken in Africa. When they heard me speaking it, they would ask me how long I had lived in Spain, I’ve never set foot in Spain, Spanish is spoken in my country!”

“When they heard me speaking Spanish, they would ask me how long I had lived in Spain, I've never set foot in Spain, Spanish is spoken in my country!”

Spanish is, like the other European languages spoken in Africa, a product of colonization. Despite this, he believes that Guineans have made it part of their culture: “It was something that was imposed on us, but at the same time it is the best legacy that that dark period left us. We young people know that Spanish is our main tool for communicating and going out into the world”.

Spanish Cultural Center in Malabo

Nor does José believe that the language of Cervantes is endangered by the coexistence of French and Portuguese, which since 1998 and 2007 share official status with Spanish: “I have never heard French in the street, nobody is interested in speaking it, and Portuguese is not even studied at school. There are news programs in both languages and their audience is zero. Guineans don’t see the point of changing languages, we have fallen in love with Spanish”. In everyday life, his countrymen use it in the public, school and work spheres, while in the family, the native languages prevail, especially Fang (on the mainland) and Bubi (on the island of Bioko).

“We have fallen in love with Spanish and we know that it is our main tool for communicating and going out into the world"

The common language is, for José, what unites Equatorial Guinea with Spain and with the 19 Spanish-speaking countries of America: “When I came into contact with the Latin world, I saw that I identified with them, that the language led us to a shared culture and that Equatorial Guinea must be considered part of that community if we want them to know us and visit us”. This is precisely the pending challenge in Equatorial Guinea: tourism.

“Equatorial Guinea is a wonder to be discovered, but if people don’t know the value of tourism, they can’t invest in it”

Despite the fact that the country is, for this influencer, “a wonder to be discovered”, it is at the bottom of the ranking of the least visited places in the world. The reason? For him, it is the lack of knowledge of the industry: “If the people who live in Equatorial Guinea don’t know the value of tourism, they can’t invest in it. Right now our only economic source is oil, but it will run out. And by then we need to make Guinea a paradise, ease visa procedures and get people to come and see us”.

Malabo Promenade

In his generation, the mentality towards tourism is changing: “We already know how to promote our country internationally. On Google, Equatorial Guinea is starting to become a trend. But we lack means for those who want to visit us to come”. At the same time, initiatives by young entrepreneurs to facilitate travel to Equatorial Guinea are thriving, such as the agency Rumbo Malabo.

José Mañana is convinced that anyone who sets foot on his land will be captivated by Equatorial Guinea’s Hispanic, Caribbean and African charm. At the top of his list of must-see places is Pico Basilé, on the island of Bioko, very close to the capital. “As well as being the highest mountain in the country, it is an ancient volcano at the foot of which there is a natural park with primates, lush vegetation and other endangered species”. Another essential visit for him is the park of Monte Alén, in the continental region and famous in Spain for being the birthplace of “Snowflake”, the famous albino gorilla of the Barcelona Zoo.

“A tourist could enjoy immersing himself in the wildest part of the country and then sleep in a place with all the comforts”

Iglesia Madre Bisila
Picture: Pico Basilé daytrip - Rumbo Malabo

Another attraction for the traveller, he says, is the contrast between the abundant wilderness and the developed tourist infrastructure: “The Djibloho hotel, in the middle of the mainland, is a huge space where you can live with someone for three months and not meet them once. A tourist could enjoy immersing himself in the wildest part of the country and then sleep in a place with all the comforts”.

But without a doubt, what he misses most about home is the food. “My mouth starts to water as I remember the flavours of Equatorial Guinea. Bambucha, which is eaten with corn or crushed herbs with palm kernels; or añorowono, a dish made from delicious ground peanuts”.

“My mouth starts to water as I remember the flavours of Equatorial Guinea: bambucha or añorowono”

In his videos, José Mañana refutes a common mantra about Africa: insecurity. The case of Equatorial Guinea is, he assures us, an oasis of calm with almost non-existent crime rates: “A Mexican follower travelled to Equatorial Guinea and sent me a video to show me, astonished, that he was walking through the streets of Malabo in the middle of the night without a single incident. Apart from the occasional robbery, there are hardly any incidents. In Guinea we have a lot of respect for tourists, we are very fond of them”.

Ureka-waterfall

“There are hardly any incidents in Equatorial Guinea, we have a lot of respect for tourists, we are very fond of them”

A few months after returning home, he says that his years abroad have made him realize the beauty of his country: “Before, my mind was closed. Now I have two cultures, two visions and I feel I have to show the world what Equatorial Guinea is like”. That “world” is getting bigger and bigger. Thanks to his work and that of other young entrepreneurs, thousands of people know a little more every day about this little piece of Hispanic Africa that one day, he hopes, will be visited, loved and remembered as it deserves to be.

Alberto Esparza

Alberto Esparza

Hispanic philologist and journalist. Lover of Equatorial Guinea.

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Rumbo Malabo in 2022

2022 started already, and like every year, it gives us a unique opportunity to set new challenges, new goals and plan what this year will be like for us in Rumbo Malabo

Read More

Benjamin Zarandona Interview

"Equatorial Guinea is a paradise" - Benjamín Zarandona

Esta entrada también está disponible en: English Español (Spanish)

The former Betis player lives between Spain and Equatorial Guinea, a land he is in love with and where he is currently working for the new generations of football.

“Spain has not yet discovered the paradises that Equatorial Guinea can offer”. Benjamín Zarandona (Valladolid, 1976) is sincere when asked why no one from the ancient metropolis visits Equatorial Guinea. The country was a Spanish colony until 1968 and the only nation on the continent that speaks the language of Cervantes. “When I publish photos or videos, people do not believe that there are islands, like Corisco or Annobón, that have nothing to envy to Punta Cana.”

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Benjamin knows the subject. He received his African heritage from his mother, who was born in the coastal city of Mbini. It was there that his father, a Basque from Portugalete, met her while doing military service. Together they returned to Spain, and in Valladolid, they had Benjamin, who learned to love football in those streets. In the Castilian city, he began his career, which took him to the first division in Valladolid, Real Betis, and Cadiz for eleven seasons.

And one day, Guinea knocked on his door. “The president of the Federation of Equatorial Guinea came to Seville. I was already old enough to know that playing for the Spanish national team was very complicated, so I decided to play for them, where my brother was also playing”. Benjamin had never visited his mother’s homeland, but he will not forget the moment his plane landed in Malabo.

"I did not expect that reception in Guinea or that people would follow LaLiga there."

“I did not expect that reception in Guinea or that people would follow LaLiga there but they were informed about everything. When we arrived at the airport there were many, many people waiting”. He found a land of overflowing beauty, hypnotic green and tropical sun. But he also felt that they needed him: “I was very impressed by the orphanage in Malabo, those children, and from that day on I knew I needed to help.”

benjaminzarandonaesono_107450549_3600767933269939_468828129282483467_n (1)

Benjamin believes in the transformative power of football.  strength to unite the new generations and bring them a better future. For years he has pursued two goals that make it possible. The first one is to create a structure of lower categories and that children grow in values and sportsmanship: “The base is a good structure of lower categories, a league from 8 to 17 years that allows them to play every week with good facilities and trainers”.

"This project has three pillars: values, education and football"

To achieve this, Zarandona works with the Martínez Hermanos Foundation and the Real Betis Football Foundation. The first organization has planned  for eight years a campus of men’s and women’s football: “300 children have come, it lasted three weeks and we did it in the Salesian school of Bata. We gave them breakfast, boots, material, they did not lack anything”.

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With the foundation of his former club, he leads a group of 18 children who has twice taken them to play tournaments in Madrid and with whom he trains in the stadium of Nkua-Ntoma (Bata), in a facility loaned by the Ministry of Sports. “This project has three pillars: values, education and football. We try to inculcate values and training methodology”. Real Betis provides the brand and clothing, and he is in charge of looking for sponsors.

Benjaminzarandona

Another huge potential of Guinea is tourism. Benjamin’s voice gets excited when he speaks of his second country: “Equatorial Guinea is a paradise. If Spain gave us more visibility, many would choose to come and know the islands of Corisco and Annobón, their people and their culture”.

The former footballer often relaxes in them and confesses to loving the “beautiful beaches” and the “good people” that inhabit them for centuries. He would like his compatriots in Europe to set their eyes on this African emerald and let themselves be envelop by the tropical heat, stillness and lush nature that soaks it all in a blinding green.

When in Guinea, Benjamin spends most of his time on the island of Bioko, a unique place because it hosts the only capital in the world, Malabo, which is not located on the mainland of the country. Called Santa Isabel during the Spanish period, it is a historic center sown with colonial vestiges. Walking through its streets is a sensory experience of aroma, cultures, history, and the African culture.

Rediscovering the rhythm of local life and its gastronomy has been another of the gifts that he has given, he says, his return to Guinea: “The fruit is wonderful, the pineapple is super sweet, the mango and papaya too”. As pleasant as the food is, for Benjamin, the calm and well-being offered by the country: “I have been here a few years and the best thing is the people, the peace and tranquility with which one lives”.

"I have been here a few years and the best thing is the people, the peace and tranquility with which one lives."

It recognizes that it lacks to visit one of the most imposing corners of Guinea, the Ureka waterfall, one of the country’s virgin natural parks that offers a spectacle of rivers, eternal beaches, and waterfalls. While we convince him to visit this amazing place with the hand of Rumbo Malabo, he tells us the impact caused by another of the symbols of Equatorial Guinea and the island of Bioko: the Sampaka farm.

For him, this place is “a historical memory that reconciles tradition with the present.” The estate, recreated in the film Palmeras en la nieve, was a symbol of Spanish colonization and was known for cultivating and exporting one of the best cacaos in the world.

With the independence of Guinea in 1968, chocolate production in the country went into a rapid decline and Sampaka came very near to going into the history books. But with the impulse of a new generation, the iconic place has returned to its golden years and has become Benjamin’s favorite refuge.

The life of Zarandona, who lives between Malabo and Madrid, is a melting pot of Spanish and Guinean culture. “I was fortunate to be born in Spain because that allowed me to surround myself with the world of football and meet a lot of people. And thanks to my parents, I have the roots to go to Guinea and knowing the culture, and to help sports and children, which are the main thing”. He owes them both, he says, everything which he is today.

Alberto Esparza

Alberto Esparza

Hispanic philologist and journalist. Lover of Equatorial Guinea.

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