Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Swallows and Seasons

I feel like I timed this whole end of college thing perfectly: graduation in May, full summer in rural Connecticut and the beautiful Pacific Northwest, arrive in South Africa just as their Spring is beginning, then get a second full summer in a row from November to March. My hair is going to be white platinum blond by the end of this thing.

The coming of Spring and Summer means that Richmond's soccer, like its pit vipers and desert cobras, has risen from its winter slumber and begun poking its head around the lives of innocent Americans minding their own business.

After the Richmond Super Cup a few weeks ago (you'll recall we beat Leeds in the final to take a big victory), the All Stars played the following weekend in a tournament hosted by Richmond's own Bafana Bafana FC. 14 teams, single elimination. This tournament coincided with an important visit from some American bigwigs so I wasn't able to play in as many games as I might have liked, but I did get a bit of PT here and there. Some confluence of the wind, me getting extremely lucky while striking the ball, and pure divine intervention meant that the first real play of the semi-final match was me rocketing a cannon ball from 35 yards. The goalie made a pretty heroic save and parried it over the goal. But it was too late for the few hundred people in the crowd who had thought it was in. Their initial cheer of excitement over the muzungu scoring his first goal was quickly drowned out by the "YeeEEuUURRRrrrRRRRrrrRRRR" ("GODDDDDDDDD") which Afrikaans-speaking Richmonders ubiquitously use to express dislike, disappointment, the presence of a terrible smell, an old lady crossing the one path across our river shortcut too slowly, or any of dozens of other negative emotions. But it was still really cool to feel some love from the crowd assembled for this huge tournament. I didn’t score any goals, but we won the game. Meetings meant I couldn't play in the final but All Stars went on to take the whole tournament, continuing our tear through Richmond athletic competitions and taking down a prize purse of over 2,000 Rand. Pretty awesome.

The Thursday of the week after, which was this past week (keep THAT math straight…), was a public holiday called Heritage Day and it was deemed fit by the Richmond Soccer High Council that a tournament should take place. Four teams: All Stars, Celtic, Leeds and Mixed Masala (a schmorgasborg team of the Caltex workers and a few of the men's teams) played a one-day afternoon tourney for fun. All Stars was in the final but--I think it was just the sheer amount of soccer played in the last two weeks--just did not have the gas in the tank to finish strong in this third tournament in a row, losing 3-2 to Celtic.

You know All Stars has a reputation in town when, I'm not exaggerating, I have been verbally accosted by Celtic players, supporters and, in general, non-All Stars partisans all week for that loss. On one such occasion, Saddam and I were walking down the main street after purchasing some farming equipment for the garden we’re putting in at the community center. One of the Celtic players who we know got in our faces, boasting to the high heavens about the previous week’s victory. Saddam and I talked about it the whole way back to the community center. Back in the garden and laying into mother nature with some pitchforks, Saddam kept talking about it in Afrikaans with a few of the All Stars players who had showed up to help with the work. At one particularly poignant moment in the the discussion, Saddam stopped working, got the group’s attention and gave a finger-wagging speech—unfortunately in his native tongue, because it probably would have been hilarious—which seemed to disparage the Celtic players for their offensive arrogance following their win.

The assembled group laughed boisterously. “You zhee Chris,” Saddam turned to me, “Eén zwaluw maakt nog geen zomer.” He paused, looking around for some vocabular help, “How do you...?”. “You zhee…the Celtic boys they must learn,” and then—between the young and old men assembled—they came upon an acceptable English translation of his chosen Dutch proverb: “Ein…One Zwa…Swallow doesn’t make a zom…summer. One swallow does not make a summer.” I needed a second to figure out the seasonal connection to the discussion of Celtic’s hubris. Saddam gave me half of one, and though it was quickly clear on my end he had already jumped into a full explanation. “Because Celtic are like de zingle Zwallow.” He looked me straight in the eyes, dead serious and expectant. Yeah Saddam, I got it. “And zhey think summer time is already here.” With you, Saddam. “But it iz not. Because many zwallows come in the summer. And zhis…zhis is only ein zwallow.”

Regardless of his ornithological knowledge, Saddam is correct in that summer—purely seasonally speaking—is not yet here. All Stars have a rematch against Celtic this Sunday and, now that I think about it, I don’t think I heard any birds singing this morning.


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