We Are Family

by

“You like Real Madrid?” Eyes, alive with excited energy, stare expectantly at me as he waits for an answer. Surrounded on all sides by grubby faced boys leaning anxiously in toward me, I suddenly get the feeling that his question is the most important one in the world.

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“Yes, they’re my favourite team,” I say and give him a thumbs up. His smudged face lights up and a tiny hand reaches for mine, filling the empty space in my palm with warmth. For a moment, I feel another clammy hand touch my neck, and then in the next instant, I am dragged to the center of the cement soccer field. The soccer field, or rather a cement courtyard enclosed by buildings on all sides and painted with faded white lines, feels strangely cozy, brightly colored murals decorating the walls. An old deflated soccer ball whizzes past, a multitude of boys in secondhand jerseys frantically chasing after it. I find myself thrown into the fray, and after trying to communicate in a mixture of broken French, English, Darija, and wild hand gestures, I finally understand that we’re playing a game of keep away.

The game is simple, but for me, playing soccer in an orphanage with a huge group of excited boys is overwhelming, and not just because half of these kids could give Pelé a run for his money. I see this yearning oozing out of each one of them, intense as the sun, for affection and belonging, and it’s too much. An immense sense of guilt tears at me, their small, clammy hands grasping at my heart. Despite their pleas, I won’t be back here tomorrow. Despite their hopes, I’m nothing more than a friendly-faced girl who happens to be able to dribble a soccer ball.

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As our time at the orphanage comes to a close though, I am enveloped in a warmth of smiles and cheers and slaps on the back, as if the sun itself has come down and embraced me. These boys give out the affection and love that they have missed out on in their own lives; they treat me like family. So while maybe I won’t be back tomorrow, these beautiful kids have changed me by showing me a glimpse of a better world, one where everyone can be family.

orphanage Meknes

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