quarta-feira, 19 de maio de 2010

The Best Day of My Life

Many times, it would be much easier to express myself in Portuguese, and concerning this story, the way I lived it, the way the feelings involved me…. my mother language for sure would make it more interesting…. but I am ambitious when it comes to spread this messages of Africa… and many people that I wish to share this story with, don’t understand the language of Camões…. like my good friend Yaroslav, the Surgeon that worked with me and that shared with me so many strong feelings, fears and hopes…. and plays an important role in this story as well…
More and more football is about millions, corruption, violence, etc…. but if we look to it as we should, we will see that is a beautiful thing with a power of great deeds like we cant imagine…. Born in Europe, travelled all over the world, the main sport of our planet… and Africa is no exception…. they are crazy about football from north to south…. and even in the mountains of war in Congo…. football played an important role in a very different way…. And I am very happy that for the first time the world cup is going to Africa and I really hope that if Portugal doesn’t win, an African team will…. Africa deserves that and much more….. 
I love sports, and I need sports…. and when I was living in Masisi, Congo, there were not many options…. nothing to do…The first thing I asked when I got there was if it was possible to play football anywhere…. And nobody really knew if it was possible …. I was jogging as much as I could, running with my radio handset with me for security reasons…. many times at dawn….with the clouds still under the level of mountains where we were, enjoying the mist and the sunrise…. I had great and beautiful moments of reflection before going to work to the hospital…. Almost all the time I had lots of children of all ages running with me, or they were just screaming “MUZUNGU” (white man) all the time …. and were very happy to see , as if it was the best thing that happened on that day was to see the white man doing something so crazy as running for no reason…. I will never forget how amazing it was to run with those kids running and screaming after me ….
But, it was not enough, I needed football…. So I kept on asking…. and somebody told me that there was a football field in town…… It was like 7 kms away from our house, a bit out of town…. but…. there was this group of Rebels of APCLS (a group of Congolese that fights for the rights of Congo and their population, and makes an effort for the wealth of Congo to stay in Congo)…. and 1000 soldiers of these rebel group were camping around the football field …. So I asked Phillipe, my boss, and responsible for our security, if it was safe to check out the football field…. And he told me that it was ok…. and that this men were not a threat to us, and they were quite friendly….. So one day I decided to have a look there, so I went jogging all the way there , and after 15 mins of running on the hilly main road, I had to turn right and down to the field that was still 2 kms away…. and I couldn’t see it from the main road…. but I kept on running with a MSF T-shirt for security reasons and my radio hand set ….. My heart was starting to beat a bit faster …. I was alone, heading to the complete unknown and maybe dangerous…. And then all of sudden….. uuuuuaaaaauuuuuu…… the football field comes to my sight…. Honestly, its difficult to imagine that any football field in the world can be more amazing than this one…. In the middle of the strong green mountain landscape with an amazing view to many other mountains all around…. almost too perfect to be true… so I kept on running down the road…. and I started to see the huts where the rebels were sleeping…. and I started to see many of them with Kalashnikovs coming out of the huts or standing and looking towards me…. so I stopped to look at them and the field, still far and from an upper position…. Many Congolese were playing football and I wish I was playing with them soooo much…. But the rebels started screaming towards me ….. “ Come on”…. “ Join us”….. “ Have a drink with us”…. And I started thinking….. 1000 guys with Kalashnikovs and inviting this white man to join them…. I promised my mother that I wouldn’t do anything stupid or take stupid risks …. And I felt like I was about to do one…. So, I was afraid…. I waved at them in a friendly way, and turned my back and come on running back home….. My feelings were mixed, happy to have seen that amazing place, sad for not going all the way, play football, and make friends….
Some days after that, a Congolese nurse came to me to ask me for money to support the local football team to an event, the next Sunday….. so I gave some money and asked if I could play as well…. and because I am white and a doctor that basically he worked for…. he said yes right away… probably thinking that he was pleasing the wishes of the whites who had the money….
That day finally came, I was very excited, my friend and colleague Yaroslav came with me…. but he didn’t want to play, just to watch….. I had no idea what was waiting for me in that football field…. I met that nurse in the city centre and with some others we started walking to that amazing football field…. there were lots of people walking on the main road and everybody was going to see those football matches…. I started to feel that it was a big thing …. but it was a big surprise for me…..
The fact that the rebel group was all around the field was not an issue anymore because so many people were there…. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and when we were approaching the field I couldn’t believe what was going on….. Thousands were watching the game that was being played before my match, the all scenario was like a movie….. the crowd surrounding the field, the green mountains all around….. I wish I had a camera to show…. but I thought it was too dangerous to take one….
When I was like 1 km away from the field the noise of the crowd became louder and louder…. I never saw anybody living a game that way…. The players were very athletic and aggressive jumping, flying and tackling aggressively all the time, and the population loved it…. They were living as if it was the gladiators in Rome….. a totally different way of living a football game compared to all I have seen in my life …..
But when we arrived for some moments all the attentions changed in my direction and Yaroslav´s …. they were not expecting to see “Muzungus” in that place…. They stared at us with no shame as they are really looking at something that was not supposed to be…
My game was after that one….. I was starting to get nervous…. Its impossible not to…. The more I hear the crowd screaming, the more I am excited to play….. the police, the military and the rebels APCLS are all responsible to control the area of the game, they were beating the crowd all the time with sticks…. and threatening them with their machine guns to push them back of the lines of the field…. but it was not easy…. too many people were there…. not less than 5.000 people all around…. and they all wanted to be as close as possible to the game and the players…. Sometimes, when the crowd didn’t agree with the referee´s decision…. they went wild , and more than once they invaded the field and for some minutes, the police and the military lost totally the control of the situation….. Typical of Africa… loving and hating …. feeling the moment like if it was the last of their lives…. I was so excited to, finally after such a long time without playing and especially in that amazing and crazy environment…. I was going to play football again….
I got away from the field to meet my coach, and my team members…. I felt that they all had the same feeling….. “Why is this Muzungu trying to play with us? Stupid guy trying to show off or what??” …… that was what I read in their minds….. but because I was white and a doctor of this organisation that was giving a job to more than 500 persons of Masisi, and probably the best thing that they had there…. they couldn’t say NO to me…. they had to let me play…. And so they just asked in which position I was going to play…. and I said the midfield … and that was it…. I started to play with the ball to warm up, showing some skills and the kids were loving it ….. amazed about what could be done with a ball…. And I am not so professional J …..
The moment was about to come….the nurse that brought me there…. was the medical responsible of the team…. and he had masks and gloves with him….. and gave 1gr of Paracetamol to every player….. I said : “ What??? Why????” And he said “to prevent the pain they will take a painkiller before it happens “….. I couldn’t stop laughing ….
They gave me a T-shirt to play and the game was about to start…. When everybody started to realise that this white man, doctor at the hospital, was about to play….. their curiosity and interest in the game increased a even more….
When we started to play, it was just unbelievable …. To be in the game and to hear all those screams, that huge crowd living the game like if it was the final of the Champions League, even when it was just a friendly event of teams of that region….. Some of the players were playing with no boots, no shoes….. but their level of fitness was great…. much better than mine, and they played very rough… the grass was irregular, and the football very direct and straightforward…. And very soon they realised that my treatment of the ball had a bit more quality…. Tactically and technically, I was better than all of them…. Even though they could outrun me with or without shoes…. But every time I dribble or controlled the ball in a nice way, the crowd went crazy….. So many….. screaming Muzuuuuungu….. the emotions took over my body, and never in my life playing football felt so good….. when I had time to stop and think…. I had tears in my eyes….. never felt so special and so admired in my life….. that landscape, that huge and crazy crowd…. in a land of war…. Nothing else mattered at that time for those who were there, besides that football game….. There was, no tv, no radio, no cameras….. nothing to prove that it ever happened …. who was there, was there …. And just those lived that amazing day ….
I tried to please the crowd as much as I could, not trying to be the star but playing for the team…. They couldn’t believe that this “fragile” white man…. was jumping with the other players side by side, tackling and fighting for every ball, just like all the others…. and for that effort more screams and applauses I was getting all the time…
Just before the half time, a corner kick to our team…. The cross is made ….. the defender kicks the ball away from the goal, and outside the box, there I am,…. I attack the ball, ….. I shoot as hard as I can ….. and it’s a GOOOAAAALLLLL !!! NOOOO , its not ! Cms away from the post, and hitting a soldier I just see the Kalashnikov flying away , the soldier falls back to the ground ….. And I gave one more amazing moment to the people of Masisi….. they were loving it ….
The half time comes…. Hundreds of kids fight just to touch me and be by my side…. and I try to reach my team mates and my coach…. And they have to fight away the crowd to let me breath…. The eyes of the coach are shining towards me, and everybody is congratulating me for my moves….
The game goes on …. many times my mind was in Porto, in MGC, my football team, and all the ones that I wish that were there to live that with me…. to live Africa in its more pure way, with me….. More and more people are watching the game…. Some start to scream my name…. the emotions took my concentration away…. every time I have a few seconds to think, tears come to my eyes when I look around….. my legs start to get tired…. but I feel that I have a mission within the mission to accomplish …. to give, everyone that was there, who suffered so much from that horrible war, moments of joy, something to be happy about…. And I felt at that moment, that not only as a doctor…. I could give that population a lot….. So I fought, dribbled and passed till my last breath, to the joy of everybody….. The crowd was crazy!
The game was over, we won 3-0 (like if it was important to me at that time)….. my legs and back were aching like never before….. but I had a great felling of mission accomplished….
Once again and even worst the crowd ambushed me…. hundreds were literally fighting to touch me and to take a close look at me…. I felt more important than Cristiano Ronaldo for them…. And some guys had to help to get me free…. kids were holding my hands and wouldn’t let go…. luckily the MSF car was there to take us home , because I think I couldn’t walk back home “fighting” with that crowd …..
On the way home the nurse that took me there told me : “Doctor Gustavo, you were the best player and you did a great thing for our people today!!” ……. Words and feelings that money cannot pay…. and that made all the efforts that I made to be there worth in every sense….
I became famous in town…. Everybody in the hospital was talking about it the next days…. the ones that were there loved it had the day of their lives…. and the ones that weren’t there, wish they were….
For many days my body was in pain…. and I couldn’t stop thinking about all the feelings that I had about…..
The Best Day of My LIFE
…..and that’s what happens when we take the best of football…..

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