On the astroturf the players run and run again, combinations of yellow and orange ever circling, hot uniform colors against deep green, pushing that ball up the yard lines, pushing and following it, teenage boys moving in and out of focus. They rest with hands on hips during the corner kicks.
I'm watching from the sidewalk. The spectators, players, their families and the rest make up the half-full crowd, mostly here for each other, a low-stakes game early in the season. I feel transported, looking about at the vivid primary colors; everyone here is East African. The African-Americans and Asians walk by, uninterested. Clearly they don't know what they're missing. When I'm in countries new to me, it's the commonalities underneath the superficial differences which warm my heart. A friend once told me, "no matter who's in front of you, whatever emotional state they're in, you have felt the seed of that emotion also."
Today I'm drawn in by the atmosphere. They say French films are consistently good because they so ably capture and explore the commonplace, and it's the relaxed, ordinary-day ambience of this game which grabs me. Somebody else's normalcy- what could be more interesting?
Fathers and their friends stand on the sidelines, dressed in kanzus or Ethiopian dashikis. Dad's wearing sunglasses, talking business on the phone, like you or me. Here's the security guard making his rounds, trying to be serious. Scattered respectful clapping from the audience. Players on the bench watch the field, tracking the ball with steady eyes. The bench has several risers, and the boys sprawl out on different levels, some sitting back on the ground, sharing time in comfortable, focused silence, speaking English when they feel like it. You get the sense of skill being casually celebrated, taken in stride, weeks of hard practice finding voice in that one block or kick, acknowledged by your peers with a respectful upward nod. The gesture is small, but means a lot.
Sideline chat builds and subsides till the whistle blows, marking the end of first half. The water bottles and phones come out, spit on the field, girlfriends and friends descending from the stands. Toddlers on the track, players practicing for fun, somebody jogging in place on the sidelines; little mini-worlds all over the field. Sounds carry further in the summertime.
Dad is off the phone now. Several feet away, behind him, are two of his friends, slightly older. He sees them and does a little victory dance, hands in the air and hips swinging, with some serious western-style booty-shaking to close it off. Really getting into it. In his traditional clothing and refined appearance this hedonistic display is totally unexpected. His friends laugh hard, one making a dismissive but affectionate hand wave, as in, "get outta here!"
Soon it's time to resume the game. The players come together for the huddle, breaking after a team shout containing multiple languages. They argue over an offsides call; they cheer for an exceptional kick; lighthearted grey clouds watch from overhead all the while. Somebody trips and falls. A player from the opposing team helps him up. There's a nod of thanks between the two, and they're casually moving on now, part of it all. The gesture is small, but it means a lot.