Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pickup Soccer and Throwing Rocks: The Definitive Arab Experience

This weekend, I played my first games of pickup soccer in Jordan and, in the immortal words of Bill Swartz, I played like a complete fanny merchant. Luckily, it was pickup, which is the soccer equivalent of the NBA (no defense expected) so I was actually pretty content to let Jordanian kids tool on me in exchange for my own occasional moments of relative brilliance. But let me back up and tell the full story:

On Saturday, maybe 2/3 of the kids in the program took a day trip to Salt, the oldest city in Jordan. Basheer, a younger guy whose official capacity in the program I still haven’t figured out, is from Salt so he organized the whole trip and showed us around the city with a few of his friends. We went to a couple of museums, had lunch in a cafĂ©, and eventually visited the oldest school in Jordan. The school was on a hilltop overlooking the city and it had some incredible views (see the latest photos here—I took more pictures than a drunk girl at a costume party this weekend so I’ve only uploaded the best ones).

As we were about to leave the school, a few of us noticed some high-school aged kids kicking a ball around on a dirt field. There were also some older dudes playing 5 v 5 soccer on a basketball court (in the ongoing soccer-as-basketball metaphor, these guys would be the equivalent of streetball lifers). Along with a couple of girls who speak better Arabic than me, I walked down to the field and introduced myself. Within a few minutes, more of the Americans had joined me and all of the Jordanian guys had come over to gawk at the white kids. I did my best to explain that we were students studying in Amman and ask if they wanted to play a quick game. Before I really knew what was going on, one of the kids (he couldn’t have been older than fourteen) took my arm in his like I was his prom date and started walking me toward the basketball courts. [On a side note, this prom-date walk is a cultural tradition in Jordan. I’ve seen a lot of men walking around arm in arm or even hand in hand, and it’s considered a nice thing that friends do for one another. Still, it was a little surprising at the time.] At the basketball courts I met two adults who looked and acted like coaches. One of them spoke OK English and from what I gathered, he used to play professionally and now he spends his time coaching kids of all ages on the weekend. After a long series of negotiations in a mishmash of English, Arabic, and mime/gesticulation, we finally managed to set up a 7 v 7 game of Americans (plus a couple of locals) versus Jordanians.

With the rest of the kids in the program cheering from the sidelines along with about 20 of the younger local kids, we turned in a valiant effort against the local elite. Unfortunately, everyone on our team had dressed for a day of tourism rather than competitive sports. Jeans and sneakers are not ideal attire for soccer on a dirt field. Still, it would be disingenuous to blame our 4-1 defeat completely on our clothing—there was a noticeable discrepancy in skill between the two sides. Our offense was run entirely by the two Jordanian guys we borrowed, and our only goal came on an ugly toe-poke by yours truly after a scramble in front of the “net” (I say “net” facetiously because our goals were marked by two rocks). Nevertheless, it was a really fun experience and I’m glad we made it happen. In retrospect, I should have swapped jerseys when we shook hands at the end, but my “jersey” was a sweaty T-shirt and everyone on their team had on replica uniforms so I don’t think it would have been a fair trade.

After that, we went to a place by the side of the road to watch the sunset over the West Bank (obviously, we were still in Jordan, but on top of a mountain with a direct line of sight to the border and beyond). Basheer whipped up some tea (actually, it was more like sugar with hint of tea) and we all took tons of pictures. I ventured down off the road with Luke and Blair—two of the guys in the program—and we created a game based on throwing rocks at specific pieces of trash on the hillside. Even though we probably came close to starting a rockslide, I found this game strangely peaceful—more so than actually watching the sunset. I can’t really explain it other than to say that it was kind of like what Charlie and Mac did in the Always Sunny Christmas special—sometimes, you just have to get back to the basics and throw rocks at stuff.

This week I’m going to be pretty busy with school, so I have no idea when I’ll write next. Helen (a girl from CMC) and I are running a class discussion after the former Jordanian foreign minister/deputy prime minister/chief of the Judicial Council lectures us on Thursday (as I said before, Dr. Raed has the wasdas). Since this guy is a good bet for being my ISP advisor, I have to make a good impression, which means I might have to do something drastic like wear a tie. Anyway, I’ll have to wait until next time to write about my new favorite TV show.

No comments:

Post a Comment