Monday, June 28, 2010

Winners and Losers

I played soccer in college. We weren't hugely successful but it was a lot of fun; really one of the highlights of my time in school.

One of the games we played definitely went down in our season history. Torrential rain had created a sticky mud bath and our shoes were magically velcroed to what little grass was still attached to the field. After watching the ball hit the back of our net a number of times our coach came so unglued that he called a timeout. Bottom line: if we didn't get our heads on the next ball the consequences would be so dire that we didn't even want to think about it.

I was sufficiently motivated.

Somehow, standing all of 5'2", I managed to get my head on the ball that came flying towards the goal from a corner kick. It flew straight into our own net.

Coach quieted down after that (after all someone HAD gotten their head on the ball - just like he asked!) and we lost that game 10-1.

Sometimes the ball and head don't communicate that well.

Another time we played St. Mary's College - the all female counterpart to Notre Dame. I'm not sure why they wanted to play us, who could believe they even knew we existed? Did they have a bad day and their coach thought they could use a pick me up? Did they want to test the theory of Mennonite Pacifism? Were they "poor winners" and the coach thought they needed to learn how to handle success with grace and humility?

I guess they needed an easy warm up or something... Let's just say the result wasn't pretty - for our side anyway. 

Winners, but they didn't show any arrogance about it.

These two memories brought to you by the Chile vs. Brazil World Cup Game this afternoon... Sorry guys! Sometimes you play a good game, you don't even head it into your own goal, but you just can't get it done. At least the score wasn't 10-1!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Funny how a couple of words jog loose multiple memories. They keep spinning around in your head dislodging even further forgotten ones... My already full brain is now trying to remember, reprocess and relive more moments from my days in Ivory Coast. If only my pictures were easily accessible; I could submerge myself completely in memories. (Instead I further date myself by saying that digital wasn't even invented, at least for the public masses, when I captured my memories on film! The photos below are from my time in Ivory Coast, but pilfered from the college website from someone who had access to a scanner.)

I was in Ivory Coast the summer of 1994 during college. 20 students were living, studying and working with African families and learning languages, culture and so much more about ourselves. One weekend we were taken to a village that our host family had lived in for years. We stayed with families throughout the village and spent our time talking with families, learning about the daily routines and, on Sunday, joining the community in dancing the pastor to the church and home again.

 However, the highlight of the weekend, the event that both the students, teachers and the entire village had been talking about since plans for the visit had been made, was the soccer game on Saturday afternoon. The American students were taking on the village team with bragging rights and glory up for grabs. Each village has it's own team and the outcome of each game is extremely important!

Saturday afternoon we were accompanied by everyone not on the team to the field. With everyone laughing and chattering and the additional giddiness bubbling out of the American women in being able to wear shorts and feel the air on our legs for once (we wore dresses every day) it was like a huge holiday.

Our "team" was composed of some college students, professor, Dad from the host family and a couple of their kids that were old enough to play. We were a hodge podge of age, experience and fitness - this was just a really fun way to let off some steam! We were up against a group of guys who played together all the time and were looking forward to taking it easy and dribbling circles around the Americans. Plus, there was the fact that they were actually playing against GIRLS! Good times and the potential for hilarious stories!

The game started and we were off! We were laughing and shrieking as we tried our best to pass and play and remember how to run. Suddenly our professor's 14 year old daughter and I were dribbling the ball down the field towards the goal trying to stay upright and focused as the opposition made half-hearted defensive plays against us. But we moved through the sea of people and as the ball was passed back to me I found myself coming up on the goal posts. It was getting serious. The goalie came towards me; the last defense against two white American girls. I took a shot with all I had and somehow it bypassed the goalie's hands and hit the back of the net!

A moment of silent shock.

And then...GOOOAAAAALLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  The field exploded in disbelief and the sidelines turned into a celebration choir as the women broke out in song and dance for me, the children shrieked and cheered and the men wheezed out insults to their village team in between their uncontrollable laughter.

I went down in village history as the white girl who scored on their goalie and they promptly put us in our place by dribbling circles around us and running up the score to a "respectable" number. Once it was all over we all good naturedly (except for the goalie. I didn't see him the rest of the weekend!) called it quits and gathered around some "refreshing" palm wine to hash out the details.

If you've been watching the World Cup, or even stopped for a few moments while channel surfing, you've heard the constant drone of the Vuvuzelas in the background. It sounds like a swarm of African bees and though many have found it annoying and distracting it seems to fit in with the warm savannah weather that I remember. (Yes, I know it's technically winter down there...) But that swarm of African bees is drowning out one other thoroughly African wonder. No one can hear the drums beats, the voices raised in jubilant song, the syncopated clapping and stamping that rings out the exuberance and love of the game on the continent. It's too bad we're missing that element because it is truly a joy to experience.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

World Cup Dreams

I'm currently immersed with the World Cup; along with the rest of the world. Each morning I get up and quickly turn on the tv to catch the first game of the day, all the while ignoring The Princess's plea to turn it to PBS Kids.  She's catching on though, yesterday over breakfast she provided commentary on the uniforms of the two teams playing.

My brother and I have been exchanging heated emails and shouting phone calls during and after the games and I've even been treated to his almost daily "Game Day Rundowns". It's brought back all of the fun, excitement and adrenaline overload we wallowed in the last time the "beautiful game" came onto the world's stage. Before that...I was sadly unaware of what was going on - a travesty, I know.

And then...Tuesday morning I was watching the Cote d'Ivoire/Portugal game and reading an email from my brother. He was responding to my lament over the fact that in 1994 it had been held in the US and I was both completely unaware and obviously not in attendance. Brother replied that since we were both poor college students and he was in Egypt we had legitimate excuses. And then I remembered...In 1994 I was IN Cote d'Ivoire!

Yes, I clearly remember being there, I'm not that brain dead! (yet...give me a couple more weeks when I'm counting down DAYS until this baby arrives and then I can't be held responsible what I do and don't remember!)

However, what suddenly popped into my head was the memory of living out in the mountains, away from the city, the lights and the noise. When the World Cup games started each night all of the tv's were tuned in and everyone gathered around them to cheer on their favorite teams. Each night as I headed to bed I could look out my window and see flickering lights on various hilltops from the houses and bars that actually had TVs. The quiet night, full of soft greetings as neighbors walked by and the sound of frogs and crickets periodically exploded with shouts and cries; victorious or agonized depending on referee calls and final outcomes. The entire town could follow the progress of the game, whether they had a TV in the house or not.

We watch our games alone in our houses here. And though the game is growing in popularity it still isn't so universal that you can find conversations and opinions around every corner and the chance to connect with a fellow fan, fanatic or otherwise. So I feverishly call Brother, email a rant or rave, or make a quick and often cryptic comment on facebook and enjoy a small moment of connection before going back to my personal World Cup bubble. But, I think nostalgically of the community excitement and the drowsy awakenings to the middle of the night cheers in my mountain village in Africa.