11/22/2018 4 Comments
She’s so hot and so dirty. So hot from the African sun that beats down on them. So dirty form the red dust that forms the field they’re playing on along the old train tracks.
There’s a bustling market across the street and many of them spend their days there, trying to earn a few Shillings. In the mornings, the lure of a football brings them to the field.
She hardly looks like herself anymore. I might not have recognized her if not for the big blue eyes and toothy grin peaking out of the flushed, sweaty and dusty face.
She’s come to get water and cool down a bit. She only arrived yesterday and hasn’t yet adjusted to the heat. And these boys are much older and faster so she has to work harder.
But, this little girl from Ottawa, Canada just scored a goal, sending the ball sailing through the two tires that form the posts. Then, one of the boys lifted her up and ran her around the field in celebration…so she’s happy.
This boy, the one who made her feel so awesome, is 16 and spends most if his time on the streets of Moshi. Often during the game, he limps off the field to try to fix, yet again, the plastic flip flop he’s wearing. But he keeps smiling. He’s kind and charming and will make you smile too the instant you meet him.
He will become her favourite.
That moment, with the boy and the goal in Tanzania, she will tell me later is one of her favourite moments of the trip thus far.
A passion for football
The other day LJ declared that soccer was more important than her birthday or Christmas and that she’d rather play soccer than go to Disney World.
At just eight-years-old, her passion and drive for the sport blows us away. She has a need to play, getting antsy and almost cranky if she hasn’t had a ball at her feet for more than a day or two.
Her love of soccer is probably the most important thing she brought with her on this year-long trip. It has served her more than the bag of Lego, the headlamp and even the bathing suit.
It has given her a universal language, allowing her to connect with the local culture, make friends and feel like herself. She had to leave a lot behind when we left Ottawa, including her plan of playing competitively this year. And sometimes it’s not easy being an only child who spends 24/7 with parents.
Taking soccer with us has helped her overcome some of that disappointment and loneliness and thrive on this trip.
Where she goes, the soccer ball goes
Everywhere we go she plays soccer.
She is always the only girl – and sometimes even the youngest – but she has guts and gets in there. I marvel at how she dives in and conquers every new soccer opportunity that comes her way, often leaving some surprised boys in her wake. 😉
In Scotland, she did a camp with Goals and in Belgium, she did camps with a local sports association and Fundación Real Madrid. She practiced with Vilanovense FC in Portugal and with the Pamoja Tunaweza junior team in Tanzania (even played in a tournament). She did daily skills sessions with her dad in Bulgaria, finally found a girl to play with in Romania, and explored the home of her FC Barcelona heroes at Camp Nou in Spain. There have also been countless games of pickup with local kids in parks around the world and hours spent juggling the ball and working on moves wherever she can find the space. (See the slideshow below.)
We’re now in India for almost two months. She’s practicing with a local club for four to six hours per week and often plays on the beach at sunset.
When she’s not playing soccer...she’s often drawing pictures about soccer, reading about soccer, watching videos about soccer, writing about soccer or dreaming of competing in the World Cup.
A football education
That ball keeps her grounded and fueled and offers an element of consistency to her crazy inconsistent life.
I’m not sure if she’d really give up Christmas for a game of soccer, but either way, we’ll keep packing up those cleats wherever we go and keep kicking that ball around the world.
This journey isn’t always easy, but that ball has made it easier and provided us with some amazing experiences and her with an incredible education.
A girl and her ball in pictures