Written by Sophie Bell ’19
This blog post is written in response to Sophie’s experiences in Zambia during the Fall 2017 3-week with Professors Emily McClung and Amber Chenoweth.
Many times in Zambia, I, as an American, became very self conscious that I was an outlier and of the minority. Sometimes it was more blatant, such as people who conversed in English to us, but then talked amongst themselves in a different language. Other times it was more a feeling at the back of my mind that I did not have as much common ground with these people because of our different cultures and experiences. On the other hand, there were also moments where I felt connected with the locals which was amazing. It truly reminded me that when it boils down to it, we are all human beings and because of that, we have far more in common than we ever could have otherwise. Sometimes this was a more fleeting moment, such as saying hi to someone we passed by, or laughing with someone, but other times, it was more long lasting. For me, I felt most connected with those around me while we were playing soccer.
In preparation for the trip, we had been told we’d have chances to play soccer with locals, and decided to bring some soccer balls with us to donate. The first chance we got to play was when we visited the Lubasi Children’s Home, which was started by a businessman to address the prevalence of orphans that he witnessed around him. What was interesting was that when we asked one of the “mothers” if the children were available for adoption, she said no. She explained that most of them were waiting for a relative to come and get them once they were able to care for them after the passing of their parent(s), and a few of them were refugees from Congo, who were waiting to be reunited with their parents. I asked her if there was a certain point at which the kids would age out of the system, like they do in the U.S. at eighteen, and she looked confused and told me no. She said that they don’t leave until they have family to take care of them or they can take care of themselves. In fact, she told us, the oldest person living at the home was nineteen.
After being given a short tour of the home, a couple of the younger boys promptly grabbed our hands and eagerly dragged us out to the soccer field. It was a flat open area with mostly red dirt and a little bit of grass, with goal frames at both ends with no nets. I threw the ball down and kicked it to one boy, and within a couple minutes there were about twenty people, Hiram students, alumni, and kids from the home all organized into separate teams and playing the beautiful game.
The next time we got to play was our very last day in Zambia, where we met up with a group of mostly college aged guys and a couple younger boys at the University of Zambia. This field was grass, with exception to a dried up mud patch in the middle (from which I picked up a chunk of porcelain), and it did have nets. This time, I decided to play barefoot, which is what most of the guys were doing anyway. Some, including most of the Hiram-ites had on gym shoes, with others wearing some type of non-athletic type footwear like sandals, with the only exception being one guy wearing cleats (I avoided him!)
It was so cool to experience how something so simple as a game can unite a group of such diverse people. We all came from very different walks of life, maybe some of us grew up playing on expensive club teams, and some of us had never played on an organized team. Some of us had on nice sneakers or cleats, and some of us were barefoot. But, at the end of the day, that stuff did not matter. We were all equals on the field. We may have been speaking and yelling to teammates in different languages at times, but there was nothing to translate, and nothing to be lost in translation. It was just soccer.