Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Soccer Culture

Soccer, I mean football, is the most popular sport in the world.  And there is no exception here in Adana.  Soccer has a huge following.  There are two Adana teams, and to say they are rivals would be an understatement.  The Yankees and Red Sox ain't got nothing on these guys. You can feel the excitement buzzing around the city on game days, and nearly everyone wears a jersey supporting his or her favorite team.  Everywhere you turn soccer is on the television or a group of kids is playing it in the park, the alley or elsewhere.
In my travel experiences, I've seen that the passion for soccer in other countries exists on a noticeably higher level than it does in the United States. Some kids eat, sleep and breathe the game of soccer.  Nothing will get in their way of playing it, including the lack of a proper ball; especially the lack of a proper ball.  I've seen kids all over the world find the most random and bizarre objects and turn them into something usable.  Because with a little ingenuity and a lot of passion, a “proper” ball is irrelevant.  A soccer game can still be played, you just have to get creative. 
For example, when I traveled with a group to Rwanda in 2006 to rebuild a school, we brought new balls to give to the students.  The kids were excited when they saw the balls and immediately demanded that we play with them.  The kids, ranging in ages 12-18, kicked our butts.  They were that good.  And to make it even more embarrassing for us, they were all playing either barefoot  or in thin leather sandals while we all wore sneakers.   After the match we congratulated the boys and told them we would keep the balls with us until the school was complete and there was secure storage.  They agreed and asked if we would bring the balls back in the morning.  We happily obliged and went home for the night.
The next morning we arrived at the school to find the kids already on the field playing soccer.  We thought they must be using one of their old balls, but upon closer inspection we realized their ball wasn’t a ball at all. It was a bunch of rubber tire scraps tied together with twine.  They were so eager to play that they made their own ball.  We were truly humbled. 
Likewise, a few years ago S and I came across a comparable scene in a small town in Costa Rica, only this time the ball in question consisted of scraps of fabric with rubber bands tied around it.  The group of young men happily played with their makeshift ball like it was state-of-the-art.
Which brings me back to Adana...
I was walking past a school yard yesterday when I looked over to see a group of young boys kicking something around. I couldn’t see what they were kicking at first, but as I got closer the object became clear.It was a large, crushed plastic soda bottle.And they were kicking it around like it was the best soccer ball in the world. A few days before that, I saw a group of kids playing soccer with an orange that had fallen from one of the Seville orange trees that grow along the perimeter of the park.I can only imagine that when that orange was finally destroyed they would shake the tree to bring another down. 
So you see, soccer is the premier sport.  It is played everywhere even without suitable equipment.  But who needs a ball, really?  With such a love and passion for the game, anything semi-round will do. I've seen that proven time and time again.
The energy and ardor for soccer is infectious here. And with a life overseas in our future, soccer is definitely at the top of the list of must-do sports once E gets older.  But  if he asks me for a ball, I might just send him outside and tell him to use his imagination. 

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