Yesterday, My friend Yiznaling and I went to the Bonga soccer field looking for a pick up game. We happened upon an event that brought me back in time.
First, I should note, the “shortcut” we took to the game was breathtaking. This path took longer, but offered a serene environment with better scenery. The trail stretched around the hillside with incredible views of the rainforest. In the distance we could see tiny mud homes built into the jungle. The rolling hills, forested mountains, and the green of the jungle make the longer path well worth the effort.
We approached the stadium to a much bigger crowd than I anticipated. More than 500 people had gathered to watch Bonga College versus Wush-Wush town. For interested parties, this is a big rivalry, the Bonga version of Cowboys-Skins, UNC-Duke, Yankees-Sox. We had forgotten that the game was scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
The game was far more organized than one would imagine. The goals had nets, the referees in full attire, and the teams dressed in European-league uniforms. The skill level was relatively high, on par with perhaps a high school J-V team. However some players were FAST.
My epiphany occurred when I realized how eerily similar this environment was. I was taken back to High School Football games at Yorktown High.
Forgetting for a moment that I was living in a jungle with incredible sights and incredible poverty. Forgetting for a moment that I only ate with my right hand because your left is your wiping hand. Forgetting for a moment that I had seen a hyena and a leopard last week, trekked to a 300 foot waterfall the day before, and had spent the afternoon explaining to the town, that no, I don’t have a woman to cook and clean for me.
Forgetting all these things, I was transported back to Arlington, Virginia.
The realization came to me– Everyone shares the very similar interests associated with being human.
Here at the stadium, older parents and loved ones watched diligently. Men yelled directions to the players and instructions to the refs. I like to think that some men marveled at the skill of the youth, while others imagined what they would have done had they been 20 again. “In that situation, I would have taken the shot.”
Wives and girlfriends watched curiously, more worried. Every time the opposing team worked their way towards the goal was a cause for anxiety. On very close calls, the woman would look away or close their eyes.
Universally, youngsters are there to play. The elementary school kids played smaller versions of the bigger game. They would kick rudimentary soccer balls, or run around the hillside, play-tackling each other. Young entrepreneurs sold roasted peanuts, and those smart enough to bring a dollar enjoyed the indulgence. The parallels to the old games at Yorktown stadium were ever-apparent.
Meanwhile, the adolescents were having the most fun.
Middle school aged boys would run up to a targeted female, steal something trivial — a hair-band or pencil — and run off giggling. The girl, feigning irritation, would chase the boy. This cat and mouse game could go on for hours. In a society with arranged marriages and conservative traditions– any excuse to fraternize with the opposite sex is very welcome.
The game itself was spectacular, as if it was choreographed just for my enjoyment. Bonga, down 3-1 with 10 minutes left, rallied to score 3 goals and win 4-3. As the final goal trickled across the line, the entire town ran onto the field to congratulate the team. The hero was carried around on their shoulders while the players waved their shirts around their head.
It made me wonder what its like to have a team I rooted for actually win…(R.I.P. Washington DC sports)
After the game, the Bonga players walked around town, fully aware of how cool they were. They walked around town wanting to be seen and talked about. Sure enough, they were. They kept their jerseys on and stayed in the town center longer than they otherwise would have.
So yes, different people in different places have the same desires. Different cultures with very different lifestyles have the same interests. Most everybody likes to flirt. Everyone wants to be liked. Boys have crushes. Girls do too. Youth is celebrated and nostalgic. Everyone loves compliments. Losing sucks. Roasted peanuts are delicious. Town pride is universal. Incredible views are universally appreciated. Young kids dream of being older, while everyone else dreams of being a kid again. Everywhere, there are good people, bad people, selfish and unselfish people. And anywhere you go, be it a football game in America or a classroom in Ethiopia the one universal trait of virtue, the best gift one can give, is the gift of kindness.