The field is carved from a sloping hill, defined by stick goals, and mottled with grass clumps growing in defiance of packed earth and coarse gravel. Leaning my bike against an avocado tree, I lace my once white cleats and jog onto the field. Smiles flash across dark faces—the “Umuzungo” has come to play! We clasp hands and chest-bump, exchanging greetings of broken English with disjointed Kinyarwanda. Though our foreign backgrounds mix like oil and water, friendships are not impossible. Soccer bridges the gap; for whether played in spotlights on synthetic turf or in dust on gravel and weeds, the passion for the game is the same. Were words fail, laughter and sport speak. Differences that seem hopeless relax with a smile or friendly pass. As we celebrate winning a game, sip coke in a musty cafe, swap names for objects, linger silently at a friend’s funeral, or work together fixing the roadside, our two worlds mingle, for that moment, spanning the ocean of difference.
Practice ends with a bilingual team prayer that only God understands. Dusk settles with dust as we disperse. As I climb onto my bike to return home, back to the compound, back to my world, Papi, our lanky team coach, rests his hand on my shoulder. “Murakoze cyane,” he says with a grateful smile.
“No,” I answer, “Thank you.”
An American in Rwanda