I was introduced to a football team in Malawi a few years ago. It brought back precious memories of watching my children play American soccer when they were younger. T even spent a couple of years reffing teams younger than him. I loved sitting in my chair at the grassy field basking in the sun. The games were filled with energy and emotions when calls were deemed unfair, winning, and sometimes losing. I loved it all. The brand new, matching uniforms, brand new shoes and shin guards, team photos, orange slices and gatorade. Sweet memories!
When in Malawi, I was invited to watch a local youth team play I was very excited. All of the memories came flooding back! It was hard to wait for the game day. The team we were going to be watching was put together by my friend, Aaron. It was his way of trying to keep young boys active and out of trouble. He created multiple teams to accommodate boys in different age groups. He dreams of creating even more. The only thing holding him back, is funding. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for young athletes to participate in sports in Malawi. With the lack of job opportunities for youth, many end up making poor choices. He wanted to give them the opportunity to stay focused, build relationships, and enjoy the game.
Game day finally arrived. Aaron kept reminding me that this was going to be different, not what I was used to. Even with his words of caution I was not prepared. He was right it was not what I was used to. The field or pitch, was red clay dirt, was not close to being level and had rocks on the playing field. There were no freshly painted white lines, no nets in the goals, and the ball looked like it was at least 20 years old. The shirts were similar in color, mismatched shorts, random socks, no shin guards and they shared the shoes which they call boots. When a player would sub out, he would remove his shoes and sometimes shirt so another player could wear them and participate. A referee was there, but very few calls were made. Sportsmanship was natural. The energy was high. The sidelines were packed with spectators, mostly from the neighborhood and youth of similar ages. The boys played hard and cheered each other on.
I might always look out of place, but feel like I am home. In spite of all of the differences, my love for the game is the same.
I am humbled by the experience. Grateful for friends who filled my suitcase with equipment to take to the team the next season. Inspired to do more. My goal is to take team supplies on each trip.