Sunday, September 19, 2010

The River of January 1522 in September 2010

Rio de Janeiro means "River of January." The city's name refers to what explorers thought was the mouth of a great river back in 1502. In fact the river mouth was the Guanabara Bay, which means "arm of the sea" in the local language. The mistaken explorers navigated the coast along the abrupt rising and falling of the Sugar Loaf Mountain Range to arrive at present day Rio on January 1st. In order to keep track of discoveries, it was the custom to name places according the date of disovery. The name stuck, and the lanscape once teeming with jaguars and tapirs became the city know as Rio de Janiero, later the remote capital of Portugal, and then the capital of Brazil until it moved to Brasilia in the 1950's.

Upon arriving in Braziil, one of our players, Deqo, who is of Somali origin, said she thought we had played a trick on her, and that in fact she was back in Africa. Indeed the palm and banana trees, the hazy-thick air, and the haphazard stacking up of houses on the wild curving topography all are the traits of her birthland. Driving in the from the airport we approached the city's center on a high rising freeway overseeing the favelas, which seemed more like sea wreckage washed up on the hillside than the homes of more than 15% of the metropolitan area's 11 million inhabitants. The favelas (slums) of Rio have birthed famous footballers like Ronaldo (most goals ever at the Fifa World Cup), Garrincha (the best dribbler ever to grace a soccer field), and Romario (the highest scoring professional soccer player in the world with more than 1,000 professional goals). As the van hooked east toward the water, our Brazilian Gudie, Paula, apologized for the poverty, saying that Rio is much more than just this, which stuck an extra strange chord given the nature and title of the tournament we had come to compete in. Just as Paula said this, French colonial architecture began to emerge from the sea of favela housing, giving way itself  to modern architecture from the latter half of the 20th century as well as cheaper cement apartment buildings, and finally  after passing through a low semicircular tunnel, the busy streets and coastline soccer fields of Copacabana took center stage and the favelas were out of sight and out of mind on the far side the Sugar Loaves.

The US teams are staying with the Romanian Team in Botafogo, home of the black and white striped soccer club for which Garincha played. From the street in front of the hostel we simply have to look up to see Jesus perched, arms embracing the vastness of sky, sea, and man made maze before him. He looks out from Corcovado - "the hunchback" - a 2,300 ft. mountain named for its lumpy and leaning posture.

The hostel in Botagofo is one metro stop away from Cardinal Acroverde, the site of the tournament headquarters at "Mellow Yellow Pary" hostel, a tall, slender, dingy, cement building where the largest group of teams are housed.

Our hostel has been the perfect retreat from the tournament's excitment. We've relaxed in the courtyard, told jokes and compared notes about all we've seen and done. After 2 days, it feels like we've been here two weeks.

It's a great testimony to the group of 8 staff here with us that the players have bonded so well. Though they are first to give the players themselves the credit, our Street Soccer coaches have facilitated comraderie that took center stage during opening parade. See the photo of our merry gang (left).

One example of the comraderie is the invasion of the Mohawks. Lisa Wrightsman has brought the Mohawk back in style with her super-doo and super skills on the field. She originally wore it along with her fellow Sacramento teammates as a sign of their commitment to recovery. So far, Kevin, Jasmine, Pete, Will, Chris, TK, and Tura have joined the Mohawk madness, and more members may be persuaded to abandon their hairy temples soon. Going for the Mohawk is a complicated gesture. On the one hand its calling attention to one's self and on the other hand it symbolizes a shedding of personal identity with that of the team's identity. Literally or effectively, so far all of the players have answered the Mohawk Challange.

As we explore the country more and as we are challanged through the crucible of the tournament, this trip will continue to be one of discovery. Kevin of Fort Worth stroked phantom whisps of hair above his ear as we descended the subway escalater on the way home from dinner tonight as he said to me, "This trip has really made it clear to me what Street Soccer is all about. It's not about soccer at all, it's about making friendships, learning from others, like for me meeting all these other people who are further ahead of me in their recovery. But most of all it's learning to trust new people, which I have not really done before. I mean, we really support each other. Man, I don't know what I really expected, but it's been awesome. Better than I thought, but in a different way."

In the words of the whole team during the parade and during our games, and echoing still in my ears, "Ole Ole Ole, USA!, USA!"


Unknown said...

LOVE the team. Stop the Mohawks. It's not a good look for anyone...unless your in the tribe. Love everything about this team!

Unknown said...

LOVE this team but not a huge fan of the mohawk, unless it's 1890 and you're in the tribe. I have a barber in NYC who will custom cut the team in any other way.