Several weeks ago our neighbor, a local official, leaned over our fence and said something to the effect of “I hear you like to play soccer. We are having a woman’s soccer goodwill match on Saturday. Why don’t you put on a jersey and come and let everyone take your picture. Everyone will enjoy it so much. It would be a nice thing that you can do for everyone.”
So Michael and I decided to be gone. First we planned to go back to the bigger town. That fell through. Then we planned to go up into the mountains. That fell through. Then we planned to go to the ocean. It all fell through.
Saturday afternoon rolled around and found me sitting out in the yard when a lady ran up with my uniform and told me to get ready quick because they were all waiting for me. So, panicking a bit, I rushed in, dressed, realized my shoes still hadn’t been moved up here, put on Michael’s way too big ones, and ran out.
I followed my new friend to the team “bus”, shaking in my too big shoes. I told her I was afraid of the crowds, and I didn’t like being the center of attention. So she did something wonderful, she held my hand the whole time. I’m not a big hand holder, but as soon as we drove up to the field and I saw almost a thousand people all gathered around, I appreciated the comfort. When the crowds spotted me, the lone Westerner, they all erupted. The announcer said, over the loud speaker, “the village’s imported Western player has just arrived with her team.” The entire time he kept up all kinds of chatter, mostly about me.
I was surprised by how shaky I became, and how quickly I lost the ability to string several words together. Everything was coming out funny. But, grasping my friends hand, I was able to push through the huge crowd, step onto the field and shake hands with the other teams, pose for lots of pictures and video, then step off the field and watch the first game.
While standing on the side lines, lots of people crowded around me wanting to touch and take pictures. My new friend wrapped her arm around me and stood there with me the whole time. I love her for it.
Then it was our turn to step on the field and play. The announcer and the crowd went a bit nuts when I walked on the field. It was a surreal sensation. I asked the manager which position to play, he said “yep,” so I walked to the front and waited for the whistle. My team got the ball right away, and passed it to me. I managed a decent kick with my too big shoes, and then I got fed the ball the entire time. People were so crowded up to the side line that the ball never went out. But, anytime it would ricochet off the wall of people, everyone would call for me to do the corner kick, or the throw in, or the penalty kick. My team mates would start to do it, but then a spectator would wave them off and say, “no the Westerner.” I don’t know if they just wanted to see me make a goal, or get close to me, or what.
Whenever I would get up close to another player, the announcer would say something to the affect of, “quick try to get some of her whiteness to rub off on you or your kids.”
The wall of people, the trash and cow patties littering the field, and the announcer always talking about me made for a scary game. But all in all I still had fun.
After the game, my friend wrapped her arm around me again, and led me through the crowds wanting pictures. My team stopped to pose for a picture, and the girls commented about what it felt like to become a celebrity. Then we got stopped about 10 other times by crowds of people wanting to take pictures with me. My guard would let me do a few and then pull me on. Again, I love her for it. Finally we made it through and she put me on a motorbike taxi home. Home quiet home.