The whole place was ours alone. There was no one else for as far as we could see, and we could see nearly to Zanzibar. Palm trees at the back of the beach cut off the rest of the world and also served as our shelter from the sun. Otherwise, we had to escape into the water, which was the Indian Ocean, wonderfully temperate, tinted azure blue. Beyond a reef it appeared a grass green, and beyond that a royal blue. The beach itself was ivory white. All the colors were pure in the antiseptic air.
We had been transported to this setting by a pretty girl from California, who had materialized from somewhere with a car and a picnic lunch. She drove the car in her bikini and gave the lunch to the servants, who were back in the beach house, to keep for us while we swam and sunned on the beach. We lay there and listened to U.S. songs, most of them recently recorded, as well as the commercials, call letters and other drivel from a Sacramento station. They were dear, reassuring sounds that Arthur Ashe carries with him all over the world. Were a man to close his eyes and pretend that he was surrounded by throwaway bottles and 50,000 people playing Frisbee, it would seem that he was truly back at any fine American beach. We all lolled that way awhile, then stretched and walked down the dazzling sand into the water.
We were floating there, suspended, carefree, so far as anybody could tell the only people in the whole world taking advantage of the facilities offered by the Indian Ocean. Arthur, cooled, satisfied, stood chest-deep in our briny pool and surveyed the whole scene. Then he shook his head, smiled and said: "You know, I don't feel much like an athlete anymore. I'm beginning to feel like a politician."
After we had had enough of the water, we enjoyed our picnic, and then the pretty girl drove us back to town, to the residence of the Ambassador of the United States. His Excellency was visiting in the U.S., but the house had been turned over to Arthur and all the servants placed at his disposal. His friend Stan was also permitted to stay there.
We shall, for the moment, leave Arthur there, changing into more formal clothes. This evening he will be presented to the vice-president of our host country. We are, you see, on a goodwill tour of 2,500 miles around Africa for the U.S. State Department. Arthur is supplying the goodwill, giving tennis clinics and interviews and playing exhibitions with Stan, whom he invited along as his associate.
Bud Collins of the Boston Globe, Richard Evans, a British writer, and I are in the company to report events. Then there is the U.S. Information Service camera crew, variously described as makers of film documentation or propaganda. We shall all be there as Arthur meets the vice-president, and later there will be time to visit a nightclub, where a nimble USIS officer will pick up the check and then tell Arthur's driver to take him directly to the residence.
So Arthur is right when he says he feels like a politician. I didn't read Drew Pearson all those years without knowing that every Congressman on the Airports' Repair Committee was forever traveling to the four corners of the tourist world to examine airstrips at the taxpayers' expense. At last I have to face it: I am swimming in the Indian Ocean with the taxpayers' money. After a while, though, Arthur has to be let off the hook because he is a bargain for the taxpayers. For every dollar spent on him, you get change back.
The trouble with State Department tours is that there is not enough swimming in the Indian Ocean. A State Department tour is a beast of excess. If real life were this way all the time, it would put the guys who stick bamboo shoots under fingernails out of business. It is a special kind of conflicting hell. You are not allowed to do anything for yourself, yet you must do something on schedule every waking minute of the day. On the whole tour, with stops in six countries scattered all over Africa in 18 days—if it's Tuesday, it must be Zambia—Arthur had only one evening to himself. Promptly he went out and ate two steak dinners, back to back. At that point he was obviously getting a little shaky.
Mostly, a State Department tour is grueling, repetitive, demanding hard work. And nothing is left to chance. We had seven vehicles assigned to us every minute of the day in Nigeria, plus an eighth backup car, and lengthy detail sheets explaining where everybody was, is now and will be. Everything is so organized, it becomes, at last, surrealistic, coming around the other way. People are always saying: "Are we supposed to be here now?"
Adlai Stevenson once said that the three prime ingredients of diplomacy were protocol, alcohol and Geritol, and a tour confirms this. The first element is essential, the second one makes the first tolerable and the two together cause aging. Naturally, because this one was a typical American endeavor, it was also an even more wearing trip. It "would be too simple and inexpensive just to have a man travel and teach tennis. Consequently, the four-man crew—Jim, Bill and the two Dicks—was dispatched to come along to film what the one man did. This multiplied the cost factor several times, to a level commensurate with our high American standards of inflation. It also made it impractical for Arthur to have any time off. (Obviously, here we have the solution to our traveling-politicians problem. All we have to do is send movie crews along to film the politicians' every move. It would be expensive at first, but pretty soon no more politicians would be traveling.)
To keep the cameras grinding, every moment of the trip was orchestrated. You learn quickly. You grab at the itineraries as soon as you arrive in a new country and scan them as fast as possible to see if there is any listing for FREE TIME or SIGHTSEEING or SHOPPING. You know you are in trouble if you see any of these time periods listed. If the schedule is so filled that they have to list when you are free, you ain't never going to be free.
It was hard enough for me, and I didn't have to give tennis clinics to children every day, or play matches in the broiling afternoon sun, or give interviews and meet everybody several times each, and always be genial and on display, the way Arthur did. Bud kept score. There were 25 parties to attend in those 18 days. The Duchess of Windsor never attended 25 parties in 18 days. In the very middle of her hot streak, Baby Jane Holzer never attended 25 parties in 18 days.
The ceremonial content was high because few American celebrities ever get to Africa. James Brown's face was plastered on every billboard in Nigeria when we got there, but he was being brought over to sing by Philip Morris, not the U.S. Government. At different times in the last year or so, track stars Lee Evans and Bill Toomey had made appearances in a couple of the countries, but those two were apparently the only American athletes to have visited Africa recently under government auspices. Officially, these tours are "cultural" presentations controlled by the USIS, but the budget has been cut back and the big entertainment guns that have gone abroad recently have been directed mostly toward Eastern Europe.
Obviously the State Department was delighted when a black celebrity of Arthur's rank volunteered to go on a tour of the continent. They lined up Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana for him, and he approached the trip with affection and purpose. "Usually on these things," said Arthur, who is an old hand at Government tours, "you get the Government contact man, your mother hen, and you ask him to cut a few corners for you. But not here. I'm trying to be overly patient and generous. I'm determined to give of myself completely. For three weeks, I'll do anything they want me to."
Arthur said, "One thing I haven't seen is many blacks in our Embassies over here." We were at lunch on a cool veranda with another gorgeous view and servants attending to our every whim. The Embassy man mused on that statement. Arthur was impressed by the Foreign Service officers and USIS officers we met, and this particular man was the brightest and most personable of them all. We'll call him Steve. "Maybe blacks don't want to serve in Africa," he said.
"What?" Arthur cried. "You got to be kidding. This is where I'd want to be."
"That's you. But a lot of blacks in the diplomatic service believe that if they go to Africa they're going to be looked upon as window dressing."
"Wow," Arthur said. He asked around the table for other reactions. "They don't want to serve in Africa."
"Listen," Steve said. "At least a black man has a choice. If you're Jewish, though, you can't work in our Embassy in Israel. If you're an Arab-American, you can't go to a lot of countries. Same with the Irish, and I think maybe the Chinese too, and I think it used to be that way with the Italians."
"What's the reason for the policy?" Arthur asked.
"Just the obvious," Steve replied. "A feeling that the ethnic, racial and religious pressures, whatever they are, are such that a man would be disposed to prejudge a situation on the basis of his heritage and not make an altogether balanced determination."
"That means," Arthur said, "that the fact that blacks can serve in Africa shows that officially the U.S. Government does not consider that blacks are significantly tied emotionally or ethnically to Africa. Is that right?"
"Well, yes," Steve said. "That's right."
"Hmm, now that's interesting," Arthur said. "That's really interesting." Then he slapped his knee with enthusiasm. "Dammit," he screeched, "this is incredible. I find every conversation on this trip, every encounter, more enlightening than the last one. It's unbelievable."
It was, all along, a deep learning experience for him. He had traveled the world, playing tennis in scores of countries, but the one place he had never been to before was Africa. It was almost predictable that he would be alternately enraptured and puzzled by the place and that he would not be quite what Africa expected either. Across a misinformation gap he faced down some journalism students in Nairobi. He was trying to explain how reality could clash with imagery.
"You see," Arthur told them, "I would say that virtually anyone in America 20 years old or older has formed most of his impressions about Africa from the movies." A couple of the girls giggled. Others looked annoyed at him, as if he were trying to put them on. "And that's mostly from Tarzan," he went on. Obviously, now it was all a transparent joke, so the whole audience broke up.
Arthur added a sharper teacher's tone to his voice. "Hey listen, I'm being serious. Don't you understand that? I'm being serious. And you know what most of the natives are like in Tarzan, don't you? Well, that's who you are to most Americans over 20." The laughter died. The smiles faded.
"You see," Arthur said, "that's what you're conditioned to accept if that's all you see, all you're told. That's Africa to you for your whole childhood, maybe your whole life." Some of the young people looked stunned. "That's not all. Some things you just don't hear about at all. Do you know that until a few years ago I had never heard of Marcus Garvey or William DuBois? Never heard of them." Now the kids just looked at him bewildered until a mixture of nervous laughter and soft sighs filled the room.
"Now," Arthur said, "suddenly every educated black in the United States is caught in the cultural and mental revolution which has Africa as the geographical Mecca. But you see, a lot of blacks are identifying with Africa even if they don't know what Africa is all about." The kids nodded, but I don't know if they understood him. Hair-straightening treatments, for $5 or $6, are still popular in Africa. Creams to lighten the color of the skin also are still big sellers. "Hey, this would shake up a few people back home," Arthur said, laughing when he saw a full-page ad for skin lightener in a magazine. When Arthur heard that there was still slavery in Uganda, he registered deep shock, but he seemed just as amazed to learn that students and professors alike often had only a casual interest in early African history.
It is trying enough for a white visitor to struggle with the contradictions and popular prejudgments. It is disastrous ever to be too glib. It is, for instance, so easy to superciliously dismiss a "garden party" given by the president of an African country as a gag, as proof of backwardness and hopeless unsophistication. The garden, after all, is really only a field—buggy, ragged and even mephitic in spots. The invited barefoot citizens clamor for chairs and the few available lukewarm bottled orange drinks. That country is six years old; in the United States' 40th year of constitutional independence, the President's backwoods cronies barged their way into the White House itself, turning their jugs and the whole mansion upside down.
This is a simple example of how difficult it is to gain perspective under the best of laboratory conditions. When it is complicated by all the implications of race, it becomes nearly impossible. Consider Arthur, suddenly thrust back on a soil that no one in his family has touched for 300 years and expected to identify instantly with the land and its people. It is an unfair demand, certainly loaded.
There is still one more cross-current, for like many American blacks Arthur is not all black. He has both Indian and Caucasian blood and his features are mixed. A Nigerian newspaper took the trouble in the caption of a picture, where Arthur was standing next to a white player, to note that he was the one "wearing glasses." He stands on the corner in Nairobi getting a shoe-shine. "Are you a black American?" the kid asks, a clear edge to his voice. He is very dark, the shade of sable.
"Yes," Arthur says. "What are you?"
"I'm African," the boy says proudly, and Arthur feels quite unmistakably that this kid does not consider this a black-to-black meeting but an African-to-American encounter.
The Indian lady, a Kenyan resident, scrutinizes Arthur from a respectable distance. "He's not really a Negro, is he?" she says at last. The American system has to be explained to her: no matter whether a man is 1% Negro or 100% Negro, if the white man says he is Negro he is Negro. She nods, dubiously. And Arthur, after a lifetime of being classified by the color of his skin, arrives in Africa where his color is finally going to get him on the winning team—and finds out the rules have just changed for him. "They can't place me," Arthur says. "They don't know who I am until I open my mouth. Then, especially when the subject of South Africa comes up, they know who I am. It's funny, at home I get it both ways for my stand on South Africa. A lot of people, a lot of blacks, say I should not lend the South Africans dignity by applying for a passport. My feeling was, I had to confront them to make it difficult for them. Here, everyone praises my stand. When I answer that question, they know who I am. My involvement in the controversy has been my passport through Africa.
"You know, the last thing I expected was to be assimilated into African culture. As a matter of fact, I'm looked upon here as a curio. A curio. Now it works both ways. I find Africans so much more homogeneous than anything I'm used to. I myself would have to use the expression that they sure all look alike to me. I don't even know what standards of beauty are expected. I don't even know that.
"Don't forget," Arthur went on, "that I'm a stranger here."
For a couple of very basic reasons, no State Department tour with any tennis player is going to be typical. The fawning, special treatment that the Embassies bestow on their performing guests is a delightful personal surprise for most other athletes and most entertainers as well. It is a unique experience for them. But tennis players are used to being spoiled. They assume such treatment. They know in return they are expected only to behave like ladies and gentlemen. Moreover, since the sport is international and upper-class, they are often abroad and usually in an elite social or diplomatic atmosphere.
In the case of Arthur, however, the State Department was not only getting a well-traveled athlete who knows how to use the right fork, but one who also just happens to be dabbling in his own on-the-job training. It is not unusual anymore for an athlete to see his long-term future in terms of politics, but Arthur is a singular example of one who wants to be an Ambassador and preferably in Africa.
"Now, speaking strictly for myself," he says, "I am in Africa in large part for purely educational reasons. Before I'm finished in tennis, I want to get out and see everything, everything on earth. Not too many people have done it. Not too many people can. This just gives me the tools to make decisions.
"I have had such rare opportunities, such a unique education, and, beyond that, the chance to try to apply what I have learned. I have thought sometimes that I might like to be a Senator, but, let's face it: Senator Ashe from Virginia—even in 20 years that's an unlikely possibility. But if it could happen, there are many people in the U.S. who can do things there that I could do. Where I can best employ my special opportunities is abroad. We've never had a black athlete in the U.S. who can do what I have been given the chances to do."
Arthur speaks neither idly nor immodestly, just practically. He has in a very real sense spent his whole life in diplomatic training. Under the best of circumstances, a Foreign Service officer coming up through regular channels might not accumulate the practical experience Arthur has at 27 until he was twice the age. Only a young man with a temperament to match an exceptionally good mind could have found his way through the social and psychological maze that Arthur has had to cope with. Jackie Robinson and other pioneers had direct, obvious confrontations. Arthur had an insidious kind of country-club-liberal enemy and subtle encounters that could not be settled simply by coming in with high spikes next time. For a mind, he has quick wrists; it is so facile that it is difficult, in fact, to determine how pure an intellect he actually possesses. He is perceptive.
It was fascinating to watch him. He would often move slowly at first, checking the lay of the land. In a couple of countries he did not put on his USA sweatshirt until he felt that he had gauged the anti-American climate. He always ended up flaunting it, though, and we never encountered anything that could be termed an incident. We entered Zambia with the most trepidation. Just before our visit, President Nixon had rebuffed Zambian President Kaunda. Moreover, at the time of our stopover many Chinese Communists were in the country to help dedicate an international railroad that they were financing.
Far from any unpleasantness, however, Zambia offered only the most congenial atmosphere. Those who preach naive little homilies about international peace and love through sports would have had a field day here. Francis Kaunda, the friendly, handsome young son of the president, played in the doubles match against Arthur and called it "the thrill of a lifetime." Arthur said: "Hey, tell your father good luck for me. He needs it more than I do."
Only rarely did he overreach himself. In Uganda, standing in the Ambassador's kitchen, he greeted his host and got right to the point. The Ambassador was Clyde Ferguson, a black Nixon appointee. "Why would you be a Republican?" Arthur said sharply, as if the Ambassador were required to defend himself on this point.
"I'm historically consistent," Ferguson replied evenly. "I come from an area where traditionally the Republicans have been the more liberal party."
"God, where's that?" Arthur asked.
"Maryland—Baltimore," the Ambassador said. "Are you familiar with the political traditions there?"
Arthur cited a black Democratic congressional candidate. "Well, fine," Ferguson said, "but don't stop there. That's also the party of machine politics in Maryland, and George Mahoney. And remember, you're in the party of James O. Eastland and Lester Maddox."
"Well," Arthur said. Only then, when Ferguson had him off balance, did the Ambassador supply a few firm liberal credentials dating back to a personal association with John Kennedy more than 20 years ago. He had hit Arthur with a sucker punch and perhaps taught him something.
Arthur said, "Well, it's got to be tough, anyway, to be a black Republican. By definition that makes you a real small cog in the smaller machine."
"Easy to generalize, but you do what you feel you must at the time you must do it. You have to be your own man."
Arthur threw his hands up, nearly in a position of surrender. "Hey, that's right. O.K., you're right."
Arthur's own diplomatic effectiveness was founded on exactly that kind of independent thought. It was the tragedy of the trip that he was not given more time just to meet and talk with average African citizens—especially students—because his views always merited special attention since they fall into no predictable pattern. There is a tendency to listen more seriously when the answers are not known in advance—and how do you peg a guy who endorses Establishment products on the one hand and on the other is seriously considering playing a charity match for the Black Panther Milk Fund?
"You see, what I have been so privileged to see," Arthur explained, "is how the system is worldwide now. Whatever happens, wherever, there are reverberations all over the world. We can't afford the chauvinistic luxuries of the past. It can't work that way anymore. Look, I'm American. I'll never give up my passport, but I love the world. I believe now we must all strive to practice what Sargent Shriver calls mature patriotism, what U Thant calls earth patriotism."
One reason why it is easy to credit Arthur's intelligence is that he is a little peculiar in a certain respect: he believes in occasionally consorting with writers such as the three who were traveling with him. When we would reach a new country, Arthur would always make sure to tell the Embassy people that the journalists should be included in all the festivities whenever it was possible. As I said, Arthur had a screw loose in this respect.
In Zambia one night, in the hotel lobby, Arthur said, "Come on, let's have a drink. I'm buying." I looked around, but there was no one else who could have possibly made that offer. A professional athlete had actually volunteered to purchase libation with legal tender. Bud said this was a new experience for him, too. I said, maybe this is the way it's done in Zambia, just our luck we've never been here before.
Arthur, of course, does not really drink; what he does is, he asks for a menu in the bar. "What would you like, sir?" "I would like to have a menu, please." What kind of drinking is this? At last, after perusing the list, Arthur picks something that intrigues him. It is odds-on to be served with a straw and in a strange container. This time he selected something called "A Golden Bushman's Cocktail Delight." The typical careful description of the item read something like: "Four kinds of rum, eloquently blended and crushed pineapple, served over cracked ice with a splash of Fanta and coconut shavings; a dreamy potation to enhance any evening; served plain or a la mode in a fresh casaba husk."
When Arthur was finished he was asked if he wanted a doggie bag. But Arthur rarely leaves anything behind. He is a conspicuous consumer. You never saw anybody so skinny devour so much. Where does it go? He has no thighs. His knees are connected to his hips with marionette strings. He says this is a racial slur. I say, no, it has nothing to do with race; it is strictly a personal slur.
About midway on the tour, we journalists had more or less arrived at the conclusion that we were, next to Arthur, the most important members of the expedition. After all, the only others on the tour were the USIS camera crew, but they always had to ride in a truck with their equipment, which severely limited their status. And, of course, there was Stan.
You may wonder, who is this Stan who insists upon intruding on the narrative? A good question. In real life Stan Smith was none other than the No. 2-ranked tennis player in the United States of America, singles and doubles. Unfortunately there were half a dozen good reasons why Stan was totally unrecognized and unappreciated on this particular tour of black Africa. The first reason was that he was a white man; the other five will come to me.
Stan found out early where he stood. Our first day in Africa happened to be Kenyatta Day in Nairobi, a sort of combination Fourth of July-George Washington's Birthday in honor of the Republic's first and only president, Jomo Kenyatta. Arthur was found a place on the reviewing stand. Stan was seated—well, if the truth be told—with the reporters. He was always a good sport and good for a laugh, though. At the clinics Bud, who did the announcing, always introduced Stan as "Bwana Twiga," which means "Mr. Giraffe" in Swahili. This would bring down the house. Stan is long and tall, with big feet. If Bud had had one more week, he could have developed Stan into a bigger comic attraction in Africa than Stepin Fetchit ever was in the U.S.
In Zambia the USIS gave out mimeographed itineraries entitled simply ARTHUR ASHE SCHEDULE. When we landed, the two players were rushed into the airport VIP lounge for an interview. The announcer positioned the two men on either side of him and then began rattling off questions for Arthur. He kept turning, little by little, until at last he nearly had his back to Stan's face. Finally, remembering he also had the white guy, the announcer turned, sort of, toward Stan. He had a good question for him: "How do you like the weather in Zambia?" Stan said that the 10 minutes he had been there it had been fine. But the announcer was not taking any chances. He had purposely held the microphone so far away from Stan that there was no way the response could have been recorded. Then he went back to Arthur.
Next, in Uganda, Arthur stayed at the Ambassador's residence, Stan at a USIS official's house. By now Stan wasn't even invited to make token television appearances, and in Nigeria the Lagos Sunday Post managed to write a whole story about the afternoon's matches without once even mentioning Stan's name. His very existence was becoming somewhat dubious.
Stan's first reaction to finding how the other half lives was one of pique. "Dammit, Arthur," he said. "I don't know how you ever talked me into this."
"I promised you, Stan, the next time I'll tour with you."
"Yeah," Stan says, "and it'll be Alabama and Mississippi."
As the tour wore on, though, Stan came to find peace in this discrimination. He would instinctively move away as the cameramen zeroed in on Arthur. At the various luncheons, dinners and other receptions he developed a dandy little speech that always wisely began: "I can only echo what Arthur has already said...." By the end of the tour, he had become a connoisseur of his own invisibility.
There is no African Zone Davis Cup. Despite the fact that they have applied, no black African countries are in competition for the cup. Since there are 48 countries in the cup field this year, and many of the teams are probably no better or worse than those African countries could field, it is possible to say that either mad coincidence or discrimination is the operative factor here.
Nigeria and Ghana offered the broadest tennis talent among the countries we visited, but a wily Kenyan named Yashvin Shretta matched sets with Arthur and Stan on successive nights. In Zambia a little white boy named Brian Knoetze, just turned 12 and weighing 73 pounds, struck Arthur as the best kid that size he had ever seen. In Uganda, where there is a tennis stadium better than any we have in the U.S. except Forest Hills, the best young prospect has already gone off to Middle Tennessee State on a scholarship. In Tanzania, Arthur and Stan were staggered one morning when they watched an 18-year-old named Sari Hashan Anandran play. The boy has had virtually no competition. He learned the game entirely from his father, a gas station operator who himself learned it from reading tennis books by Bill Tilden and Ellsworth Vines. Arthur and Stan watched him only five minutes before they both took his address so that their coaches at UCLA and USC—the best two tennis schools in the country—could offer him a scholarship.
To present the exhibition matches with the two Americans and the best local players, the local U.S. Embassy would tie in with the national lawn tennis association, a pairing that produced some curious results. In some countries the tennis groups charged admission (which by law must be shared with the Embassy). As a result, while the ticket prices were not high, often only a token fee, crowds were often predominantly white. Moreover, in some places where the U.S. might be clearing $150 at best on this venture, little black children, their faces pressed up against the gates, were not permitted in to fill empty seats because they did not have the dime or quarter for a ticket. After he finished a match in one country, Arthur discovered that he had played at an all-white club. In another, he played at a club whose traditions are so racist that in the past members of the U.S. Embassy have not been permitted to join it.
Sometimes, too—particularly in East Africa, where the colonial influences cling—Arthur was teaching tennis almost exclusively to rich young white children. How strange it was to first contemplate the scene in Kenya, with tow-haired boys and girls all impeccably attired in school blazers. Refreshments for the adults at the club included small tea sandwiches and whiskey and water. The little girls tittered when Stan took off his sweat pants before them. Here Arthur had come 10,000 miles back to Africa and somehow ended up playing the title role in the first act of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
Yet Arthur was not unusually disturbed by the uneven situation. "Everywhere," he said, "tennis is a game played by the people who have time to play it, who have the leisure. Right off the bat you can disregard 85% of a population when you consider the illiteracy rate in most of these countries—they've never even heard of tennis. All I want is a cross section out there of the 15% left. I'm not going to be impractical and ever expect to get a cross section of a whole country. You must think: if I can just teach one kid who turns out. If we can just find one kid as good as this Anandran in Tanzania looks. That's enough to justify it all. Look how many people know of Kenya only because of Kip Keino. That reason alone. Think of that. That one kid—if he ever gets as good as it looks like he might be—why, for a lot of people, he will put Tanzania on the map."
LIVE, ON FILM
If properly marketed, goodwill can be dispensed at low cost. Even though it must be acknowledged that tennis reaches a small portion of any population, the U.S. certainly gets good exposure when it is able to dish out the teaching and exhibition services of two of the best players in the world. It gets a good bargain, too, considering that the cost is only the price of a couple of tourist plane tickets, a few hundred dollars apiece in honorariums, some booze and hors d'oeuvres for the receptions and a few other petty cash items. With imagination, and just a little more money, most of the USIS men figured out ways to make the goodwill linger. In Nigeria, for instance, all the kids who came to the clinics posed afterward with Arthur and Stan for pictures that would be sent to them. In Ghana the participants were given cheap, little painter's caps with the U.S. stars names on them, and trophies were donated for the national championships in Arthur's and Stan's names.
Arthur, who endorses Head rackets, brought along a shipment of the $56 models and parceled them out, a couple to each country. The excitement in each clinic was such that Bud had to devise a rotation game called Uganda Work-up to determine absolutely fairly which players should gain this magnificent prize. Immediately before he left for Africa, Stan won a tournament in Phoenix, where a lot of the people donated old secondhand rackets for him to take along. He distributed them in the first country, Kenya. There were school kids there who drove 100 miles, sleeping overnight in a truck, just to make sure they attended a clinic. Yet they did not have enough rackets to go around. It is not hard to imagine how much those old rackets from Phoenix were appreciated in Kenya.
Yet at the conclusion of another clinic there, when Bud asked if there were any questions, a fellow standing along the side of the court said, "Yeah, what do you need all the cameras for?"
Another fellow, who had climbed up into one of the umpires' chairs, bellowed out: "Publicity. Just like always, it's all publicity." Many of the others snickered and hooted, supporting that view. Arthur flushed. In an interview on the Voice of America that followed, he kept trying to explain that there were no ulterior motives, that this trip was not "propaganda." And yet, as sincere as he was, when the matter is viewed dispassionately it is difficult to refute the claim of the cynic in the umpire's chair.
The tour cost only about $12,000, after all, while the USIS film was expected to come in at many times that cost—$60,000 or more. The film will be offered to schools, clubs and public theaters all over Africa and anywhere else (except the U.S.) where there may be an interest in it. Artistically, it will probably be very good. The men filming it were all very sensitive professionals who took their task seriously and made an effort to be as unobtrusive as possible. Yet, to do their job they were invariably in evidence, of course, putting everything in a very different light. In essence, we paid $60,000 to dilute the straightforward, even pure, intentions of the tour. How curious that we seem unable to believe that we could send two young men on a simple mission of goodwill through Africa without verifying it on film. No wonder others are reluctant to take us at face value. No wonder, before long, that it was difficult at times to distinguish whether this was a trip being filmed or a film on location. The trouble is that participating in a little bit of propaganda is not unlike being slightly pregnant.
Only once, however, did the film crew commit the project to bad taste. It happened in Lagos, Nigeria on a dreary, drizzly day. We were supposed to be touring the city but instead we went almost directly to a ramshackle part of town, where earlier the camera crew had spotted some kids playing table tennis on a rickety old table that was set outside in the rain in a grimy dirt plaza that was beginning to turn slippery. Behind it, hovels seemed shriveled up against the rain. Dogs and children scurried about. Older people sat nearby, looking about aimlessly, their dreams long since departed. Everyone was dressed in shabby, colorless clothes that matched the skies.
For reasons that are difficult to perceive, someone had decided that this sorry spectacle would make a great human-interest scene for the film as Arthur, the famous, rich black American athlete, nobly descends to the lower levels of life and plays table tennis with poor little African children. It was a cheap shot, patently false. Arthur didn't want anything to do with it. He refused to play. They pleaded with him. At last, against his better judgment, he said he would come down and watch, which he did. Reluctantly, he slouched down the little incline. The children stared at this strange creature everybody was making a fuss over. Obviously they had no idea who Arthur was. Arthur stood, his hands jammed into his pockets, and watched for as long as he thought he had to as a couple of kids batted the slick little ball back and forth. At last Arthur just turned and scrambled up the hill and into the car. He never looked back.
One day—in another country—a USIS man shook his head and said, "This will be hard to believe, but as soon as these guys leave, all the press around here will call me up and say, 'Hey, what were those tennis players really doing here?' That's hard to believe, I know, but it'll happen, because that's what you get every time the U.S. has somebody in. It's that way almost everywhere. People just won't accept the fact that what they see on the surface is all there is. No matter how many times you tell them, people just won't trust you when you tell them, like, 'It's just a couple tennis players teaching the game.' I know, it's hard to believe."