Soccer in Merzouga

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Standing outside in the street beside our hotel in Merzouga we meet the two boys sitting on the small stone wall as we wait for their friend to go home and grab a soccer ball. Their names are Broheim and Muhammad, and they tell us that they are fourteen by writing the numbers in the dirt street. By the time we are done with introductions and write our ages in the dirt, their friend is back and we are all estatic for the game to begin. Not knowing how to split teams we tell the boys, there are around ten now, to pick the teams. With huge smiles they announce that it will be Moroccans vs. Americans. Our field is the uneven dirt road with a slight hill/sidewalk sloping on the side, with a telephone pole that I try not to run into. The goals are four rocks, two at each end. We have to pause every now and then to allow a motorcycle or bus to pass. The kids score the first point and from then on none of the Americans at least, keeps score, though I would say it stays pretty even. The air quickly becomes filled with dust, coating our throats and making us thirsty, but as long as the kids keep going so will I. I don’t know how many of them speak English, but we don’t need to talk. We all laugh and shout when there are hand-balls, or goals, and we help each other up and give a pat on the back when anyone falls. At some point a girl in a bright orange dress that has been watching for a while joins in for the Americans, her name is Fatima. Fatima and I help each other from falling several times and just smile at each other and continue playing. It is starting to get dark and the call to prayer rings out around us, but we keep playing, not wanting to stop. We can barely see each other or the ball, when Mouhsin, our ISA leader, comes out and tells us that we have to take showers before we are allowed to eat dinner. Going around we give high-fives, hand shakes and hugs. Fatima comes and gives me two kisses on my cheeks and a huge bear-hug. We gather for a picture and head inside, our game is over.

Those kids were amazing, they accepted us into their community. They made me think back to all the years I have played soccer. There were so many excuses, the ball was too flat or we didn’t have the right kind of shoes. The kids of Merzouga made me feel ashamed of the excuses my friends and I had used. Playing in Merzouga, the ball was flat and the kids were wearing worn out sneakers or sandals, and they were good. Honestly, that soccer game on the streets of a tiny village in Morocco was the most exhilerating game of soccer I have ever played. God brings people into our lives for a reason. I don’t know if we made any impact on the children in Merzouga, but I will never forget that soccer game and those kids who welcomed us in so readily.

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