Playing soccer with reunited families

“Aca! Aca!!” Yells a ten-year-old Chinese boy, standing in an open position and trying to summon the ball from his teammate who is head on with the opposing side. Standing straight legged and marveling at the moment, I just start smiling and laughing, thinking to myself this is the best day of my life.

Just yesterday, I got the idea in my head that I really wanted to take the guests to the park for a soccer game. There’s a small but mighty field about ten minutes and five blocks away, so I went up to some of the guests and asked if they wanted to play a game of futbol tomorrow at the park with the grass. The energy and enthusiasm I was met with was so beautiful – so much gladness!

I got a few more people on board – well, mostly all of the youth in the house – and some of the other volunteers. Our house coordinator had the idea of inviting all of the men from the other shelter that we have in downtown El Paso (Casa Vides) and decided as the evening approached that she would pick them up and we could all meet at the park to play!

When we finally rallied the troops, complete with large orange cones and a backpack full of water bottles (and two moms who were along for the ride), we started our trek to the park. The energy was so high and the skies were so breathtakingly beautiful; it felt like a dream. I had put on my exercise shorts (for the first time in three weeks lol) and running shoes and was ready to get back in the game.

When we arrived at the park, we were met with twelve (12!!!) guests of Casa Vides, some of whom were jogging around, the rest standing with arms crossed, as if they’d been waiting for us for years. “I better start stretching!” I said out loud in English, so no one understood me. I started remembering those stretches I used to do before soccer practice, and suddenly I thought I might be forfeiting pretty quick because, well, it had been years since I’d played a real game of soccer, not to mention that I was the only female and the only blanca on the field.

Dusk in El Paso
Dusk in El Paso

My body impressed me so much! Most of us played for two whole hours, with just a small break in between. There were kids, teenagers, and dads, and everyone was so so sweaty. Halfway through, somebody (who wasn’t with our group) turned on the stadium lights; we rallied and played some more. There were so many countries represented – China, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala. I think there were even more but I had never met the men from the other shelter so I did not know anything about them, except that some of them were parent and child and had been recently reunited after being separated for many months.

As we were running around on the field, I couldn’t help but think about the other players who were with me. Some of them had been imprisoned by the government for months, separated from their loved ones. Some of them had crossed treacherous terrain to arrive here. Still others came to this field in ways I didn’t get to learn. And yet, here we all were, running and jumping, our hearts pulsing and shirts getting soaked through. I think we even all smelled bad, but in the best way – not because we hadn’t showered in days, or had worn the same dirty clothes for weeks, but because we got to play a game together in the warm dusk of downtown El Paso.

I hope that maybe those two hours brought some relief from the trauma that they’ve experienced, even if just so they could take a full breath again.

The backdrop to our game
The backdrop to our game

My other thoughts on the field were that I was probably the best player because nobody could touch me! Or was it that nobody would touch me.. because I am a lady, I’m not sure ^.^ But when we finally got home, one of the teenagers said to his friend who wasn’t able to come, “Ella sabe jugar!” FIFA here I come!!

This night was absolutely one of the highlights of my whole time so far. I love playing soccer, especially with people like the ones tonight who play really hard and so impressively. There was so much joy and laughter even amongst a group of strangers.

As the Casa Anunciacion team walked home in the darkness, one of our teen guests started playing really loud reggaeton music from his speaker. Leading the way was a young mom from Honduras and her 10-year-old son, followed by two teens (one from Honduras and one from Guatemala), followed by one white grel from the U.S. (dats me) and one Guatemalteco father (grown man, youngest & freest spirit), a 6 and 10 year-old, brothers, from China (speaking Spanglish most of the time, yelling aca! Aqui!! When summoning the soccerball), and in the caboose, their mom, a young and brave and strong woman. We look hilariously non-threatening, even as the boys yell the lyrics into the empty parking lot next to the house. It’s adorable and funny and so special – my friends would probably laugh at me for being in this situation (it’s a cultural thing?) but they’re not here so I laugh at myself and try not to burst with the gladness I feel inside.

The south side of Annunciation House
The south side of Annunciation House

What a wonderful, holy evening, I think to myself as we settle back into the sala, everyone enjoying otter pops and asking when we’ll go back and play another game.

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