Monday, March 20, 2006

Soccer and God

My mom has returned to Ethiopia! Before she arrived I had been playing soccer at CMC a lot. For the longest time I had wanted to play with the boys at CMC but was too scared to ask, too scared of their rejection, too scared of not being good enough. But one day when we had no school we informally started playing and I proved myself to them. I was playing with boys of all ages, from 9 to 14 and then from 18 to 22. From then on I was always welcome to play with them, and after school I would put on my cleats as quickly as possible and rush out to the field.

Skinny brown legs grayed by the dust can always be seen kicking around a soccer ball here in Addis. Young boys will push and shove each other along the rocky, unpaved residential streets, a ball at their feet. Big empty fields of dust and stones are filled with young Ethiopian men or women sprinting back and forth; they gracefully maneuver the ball with experience and ease, their feet moving it so gently and effortlessly. It is impossible to drive five minutes in Addis without seeing a group of people playing soccer. After God, food, and family, soccer is probably the most revered thing among Ethiopians.

But playing with the boys in CMC was a lot of fun, and in the week that I was playing with them I actually improved quite a bit, both at soccer and Amharic. Even though most of them can at least speak a bit of English, it is only ever spoken to translate for me. When beginning a game at least half of us will quickly sit down exasperated, and pick at the grass or see how far we can throw pebbles; it’s always hard to begin playing because the little boys always find something to argue about. At times these explode into real fights, and their small arms will swing through the air, their dirty nails will cut into each others’ skin, they will run and do a karate jump. Their anger so convinces them, and that they are able to throw such hard, straight punches, their arms slice through the air with great precision. Belo, belo, belo! Fight, fight, fight! The other boys will tauntingly yell in attempts to further provoke the fight. Finally someone will pull the boys apart, enechawot, let’s play! And the game will begin. We run up and down, side-to-side, wary of obstacles like rocks, random plants, the swings and slides, and little babies excitedly waddling into our game. Izhiyga, wust! Here, inside! Some days we play until we are too tired. Some days we play until we’ve decided that more time is spent fighting than playing. Some days we play until it is so dark that it is impossible to score, and people are just solid objects moving in the night. Now I miss playing with them. And I miss them. Yeah, sometimes they were annoying, they’re little boys. But that’s what a brother’s like. One Sunday afternoon they actually came to my house and called me out to play with them. Maybe it’s childish, maybe it’s that human need for acceptance, but it meant a lot to me.

Unfortunately for me, one of the days that I was playing with them, I ended up spraining my left ankle pretty badly. My right ankle was already sprained so bad that I had to wear a cast for a month in 7th grade. I can’t help but feel that I’m falling apart. And on top of that, what bad timing! Soccer season at school is just about to start, and I’m soooo excited. Couldn’t I have hurt myself during basketball season… For those of you who don’t know, I don’t play basketball. Anyway, it’s been 2 weeks since I hurt it. I went 1 _ weeks without doing anything aerobic, but I can’t handle that immobility, I’m not ready to walk with a cane yet. So the other day I decided to go up to the track and walk a few laps. After walking 6 laps I decided to be daring, and I began to “jog” 3. After 3 laps of my hobble-limp-jog around the track my ankle hurt too much for “daring” to be appealing any longer. And I felt like an old woman. And completely NOT in the words of any wrinkly, gray, incapable old person: that sucked. Call me immature or superficial, I don’t care, but I went home and cried.

Our maid, Zeritu, was very troubled by my crying. She’s honestly one of the sweetest people alive. Her eyebrows instantly furrowed in worry, and her face instantly morphed into wrinkles of concern. She got cocoa butter and began massaging out my ankle. Wi, wi, wi… ahun igerish dehna newo? Ay yay yay, now how is your foot? She would constantly ask. Then she would say something along the lines of either “your pain is my pain” or “let me have your pain.”

I went to bed, and about an hour later I hear Zeritu, “Samra, tenyash?” Samra, are you asleep? I was asleep. But she came into the room, switched on the light, and again, “Tenyash?” I groaned in response. She walked over to the bed and pulled the covers off of me. In her hand was a large, old tin can filled with water. “Weddeh christiane bet heydooh. I went to church,” she said happily. I’m pretty sure that she goes nearly every night right now because it’s fasting time, but it turns out she had brought back holy water for me. She dipped her hand into it, and splashed it on my ankle while murmuring, “Beh Egziabheir leSamra yemarech… God please heal Samra…” and went on along the lines of that. For all the Ethiopians reading this, sorry for my broken Amharic. After a minute or two of this she put the covers back on, said goodnight, and turned off the light.

I turned over onto my stomach and delicately placed my ankle on the mattress, trying to twist it as little as possible. Even though I’m not religious, I really hoped that I would wake up the next morning and be completely healed. Something about the intensely zealous trust and faith that Ethiopians put in God’s power is infiltrating my own not-quite-cemented beliefs. It’s slight, nearly undetectable, but I am increasingly aware of this enigmatic, mysteriously powerful man, divinity, whatever you want to call Him. It’s not that I’m suddenly religious and want to devote myself to God’s will, but I can’t help but wonder What if…? I woke up the next morning with a stiff ankle, still sore and rolling as I walked around. It hurt a little less, but who will ever know if I just fabricated that in my mind out of my yearning to be better? That afternoon I went to the clinic to get it looked at.