The scene is set in Xela, Guatemala, where a teenage boy is sick of shopping even though he has thoroughly enjoyed haggling with store owners for lower prices. He has a plastic soccer ball in his bag that he purchased for 3 quetzal or roughly 38 cents. To entertain himself he takes the ball out and starts juggling it. After he plays for a while, some local children come up to him and ask “podemos jugar?” The boy can speak about 3 words of Spanish and has no idea what the children are saying, but he infers from their gestures that they want to play some futbol. He says “si” and they proceed to show him where the goals are and sort out teams.
One goal was between 2 glass bottles, and the other was the bottom of a set of steps. The impromptu game goes on for a little while and the boy eventually learns how to say “here” in Spanish. As the game goes on, more and more local children join. Their enthusiasm was contagious as each goal celebration mimicked a World Cup Final. The teenager eventually has to depart and the local children realize that their fun is over. They hand the ball back to the teenager, but he immediately says in his newly acquired Spanish “aqui” and hands the ball right back to the kids.
Confused at first, the kids quickly realize that the boy is giving them the ball, and their faces light up with joy. They had never expected when the game started that they would be the proud owners of a soccer ball. Soccer is a game that can help cross many boundaries, such as language, age and race and the teenage boy received a small taste of its ability to cross these borders.
If you haven’t guessed by now, this teenage boy was me. This little exchange as a high school volunteer had a big impact and broadened my perspective on the world. Coming from a comfortable existence in a suburban town in New Hampshire it demonstrated to me that material things are not that important. I saw how these kids who had next to nothing were much happier in life than people with all the money in the world. These kids with no shoes, or shirts played for the sake of playing. At the end of the day it didn’t matter who the winner was, they played their hearts out simply because it made them happy. They taught me to appreciate the little things and gave me far more than a 38 cent ball would ever be worth.