Our morning began by getting in the UNHCR car again at 5am on our way to Camp Djabal. The difference this morning was we weren’t headed to camp to run try outs, but to announce the Darfur United team selection. I’ll be honest, there was a nervous feeling during the ride to camp. We were about to make 20 refugees day, and find a way to let down 41 others. Coach Mark spoke to the team as a group, with help translating from Abdulaziz, then we brought them into the back of the community center one by one to relay the news to the players in private. Talk about a roller coaster ride of emotion. There were many, many different responses. The toughest were the players who were cut. Some didn’t have much to say at all, and some went on to say they were proud to be a part of Darfur United. Some smiled respectfully and said “shokran”, or “thank you” in arabic. Others quietly put their head down, shook our hands and walked out. One refugee in particular responded in a way that I’ll never forget. So many times back home we say, “you’re all I’ve got”, or “soccer is my life”, and we don’t truly know what it is that were saying. Well for this player, he explained that soccer is all he has, and it is his life. He is from one of the refugee camps in the far north of Eastern Chad. He explained how the rebel groups attacked his village in Darfur while he was in school, only for him to come home to nothing. No family, no friends, nothing. At his camp, Oure Cassoni he said he has nothing, other than soccer. Unfortunately, this player did not make the cut. This was the hardest part of the morning, Coach Mark feeling the brunt of it since he ran the meetings. My gut reaction was to immediately place this mans name on the roster and tell him he made the team. But, we had to stick to our selections for obvious reasons. There were 41 other refugees who may have similar stories or worse that were also cut from the final 61 hopefuls. It was hard, but we had to put our hearts to the side this morning. That’s hard to do for someone who wears it on their sleeve. I can only hope that these players go back to their camp and use their leadership qualities for the good, and that the selected Darfur United team represents them well, and maybe in the end helps in some way to pave a way to a secure Darfur homeland.
As tough as the meetings were with the players who were not selected, there were the ones that were a breath of fresh desert air. Each player watched Coach Mark speak intently to find our their future with a straight face. Most of the players who we told made the team immediately smiled straight from their hearts, with a glisten in their eyes. Some gave out a yell. One player looked up towards the ceiling, raised his fist and yelled, “Darfur United!” each followed their own celebration with a tight handshake, hug and many “shokrans” for Mark, Gabriel and myself. Emotions ran pretty high this morning as we rode back to the UN compound from Camp Djabal.
After our player meetings, I sat down with Umda, from Camp Goz Amer to deliver the items my students made for the students of our sister school, Choula A. He was so grateful that our students would fundraise and take the time to make posters, write letters and make friendship bracelets for the students at his camp. After Umda expressed his many thanks, Gabriel said he would set us up with i-ACT’s social networking site so our students can keep in touch, awesome!
We had our first training session at 3:30 this afternoon with the twenty players chosen for Darfur United. Considering the language barrier, and rough, sandy terrain, the players soak up every ounce of coaching that comes their way, knowing we would lead them in the right direction. Their passion for the game, and want to represent Darfur makes this group so coachable. We worked on defending, followed by a scrimmage. Now that the best twenty players are chosen, their game improved dramatically. We have two days left, and still have a lot of work to do. By the end of Wednesday, our team needs to be ready to spend the next eight weeks training without Coach Mark and I, so we need to get as much done as possible.
After our session, I began talking with my new friend, Murtada. We leaned up against the fence as the sun set over the soccer field, with little children surrounded us as he asked me about America. This began a dialogue back and forth comparing life in Darfur and the camp to my home in the states. We talked about everything from tribes in Darfur and different nationalities in the US, lifestyles of children, relationships do’s and don’ts, and obviously education. During our talk, Murtada began to describe how the Janjaweed stole his families cows and goats, and how they killed ten men from his village. His tribe got mixed up between different refugee camps and friends and family were separated. When I asked if it was ok I share his story, he immediately told me that he wants the world to know what life was like in Darfur, what happened to the Darfuri people, and how they are forced to live now. All this coming from a sixteen year old boy, completing his level eight education so he can begin his three years of secondary school and go on to a university to be an engineer.
At the end of each day, I keep thinking the next days couldn’t rival the previous one, and some how, some way, I’m proven wrong.