The World´s Game

Posted By: Haille Hogfeldt

Soccer, or here in Bolivia, futbol, is the world´s game, and in Bolivia futbol is certainly all over the place. I got a Bolivian soccer jersey in a market in La Paz for the equivalent of three U.S. dollars, and then had my number put on the back for one more. Our first night in the community, we were privileged enough to get to watch part of a futbol game between two of the neighboring communities that was a part of an all day tournament and which in turn was a part of a weekend long celebration. The competition was fierce and the spectators were very passionate about cheering on their team, although the quality of play was not exactly top notch (Some of the reasons why we would discover the next day when we would have the opportunity to take to the field ourselves). It was our first impression of the people of the community, and as an avid futbol fan myself, you can bet I was certainly liking what I saw. All of this scene was being played out wonderfully in front of one of the most beautiful backdrops I have ever witnessed. The small school and church on one side of the field, towering trees that surrounded the entire field like a wall (although it should be noted that although the dense jungle looked like a wall, it certainly did not act as one since every time the ball flew out of bounds over either endline, it would disappear off into the trees in which you would then be obligated to go search for it. An enormous spindley tree in particular stood out as it towered above the rest in which several hanging, net-like birds´ nests unlike any I have ever seen before hung. Impressive, lush green mountains stood majestically in the background, wreathed in gentle misty clouds that have been ever present since we´ve arrived here in the Amazon. All of this and more made for a very stunning first impression of the community that would be my home for the next few days and that I would grow to love very dearly. The next day at lunch we could resist no longer and broke out the two soccer balls that we had brought as gifts for the children, and as a group we had a blast juggling together as well as with Joselo, Quintin, and some of the kids from the home we were camping next to. Needless to say we were all about as disappointed as school children who´ve been told that recess is over when we were informed that our break was over and it was time to get back to work (we all got over our disappointment pretty quickly, as we were also very passionate about our work installing the filters and helping the families). However, we would soon get an even more exciting opportunity to play an actual pick up game with the locals on the field at four thirty, as Joselo informed every person that we saw throughout the community the rest of the day. Finally, once all of our work for the day was completed, we were able to play more futbol. At first it was just our small group plus Erin, Joselo, Quintin, and Franz, whose home we were camping by, light colored shirts against dark colored shirts. As the game went on, more and more locals joined in, and the stakes grew higher. It was quite an intense and large game, although certainly all in the spirit of good fun. The field is was made nearly entirely of mud, with only a few sparse blades of grass poking through here and there, and wooden goal posts situated on either end with a wooden cross bar and no nets (even on a goal, you have to go dashing off through the jungle to retrieve the ball). That´s not to say any of us were going easy though, as we all went crashing into tackles and ending up more often than not on the ground covered in mud. Now we could see why the ball had seemed to be traveling very waywardly during the game the day before, as a bouncing ball would hit funny bumps in the mud and spin off in whichever direction happened to be the least expected. It was all tons of fun, and despite numerous missed opportunities and splendid goalkeeping on both sides, was a fairly high scoring game. I´m personally very proud to say that my team came from two goals behind twice to tie the game with a minute remaining and send it to sudden death overtime, which after some intense moments we won with a golden goal from our good friend Franz. After high fives and hugs all around, we finally left our beloved field behind us as we walked exhausted and covered in mud but absolutely ecstatic, and with more bruises than we knew at the time (We were all rather sore the next day, but that could´ve also been from hauling heavy concrete filters and sand around all day). To top it all off, after getting back to camp, Courtney, Slade, David, Hana, Greg, Erin, Mike and I all grabbed our towels and headed down to the river to rinse all of the mud off before dinner. With dusk beginning to set in and the water warmer than the showers back in Rurre, we happily splashed all of the mud off. Looking around me, I stood for a moment in awe as I drank in my lush surroundings and thought to myself, I just played soccer with native Tacana Bolivians on a muddy field in the rainforest, and now I´m bathing in the Rio Beni in the middle of the Amazon. Is this really happening? This will make for some really great stories when I get home. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day of installing filters, playing futbol, and hanging out with some amazing people.
Chow from the Amazon!

Haille Hogfeldt

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