“We can write a book!” my UNHCR logistics friend, Amos, told me, as I was about to board the plane.  A little earlier, we were in a sticky situation, but it got worked out, and I’ll leave it at that, but Amos thinks it would make for a good chapter topic. Besides that “minor” detail, it was a wonderful day.

I did not know what to expect on our arrival to camp Djabal and meeting the players.  We got to what has been their home for two months, a little office at the entrance of the camp with tents around it, where the players sleep.  It looked to be empty, but then Mahamat Oumar appeared from inside of a tent and with a warm, wide smile.  I extended my hand, but he went straight in for a big hug, “Welcome, Gabriel!”

He took us to the refugee restaurant, where most of the other players were.  It was exactly the same, smiles and hugs all around.  The guys look good.  They look happy, and very importantly, they look strong!  The diet we requested for them is very likely more nutritious than what they had been eating for years, and their months of training also has made them more solid.

They all say, “We are ready.”  What a group.  The natural team leader, Souleyman, spoke and said how they had all become family, as if they “are from the same mother and the same father.”  They are united.

They have been training twice a day, six days a week, every week since we left them after the try-outs.  They say they have been training based on what coach Mark taught them, and that they have added some “activities” of their own.

None of them admitted to being nervous about traveling far away to a foreign land to compete in a large tournament.  They are ready, although I have to believe that some of them have butterflies fluttering in their stomachs.

Today, Friday, was their day off, and some of them were sharply dressed.  They told me that they practice at 5am and 4pm every day, to stay out of the extreme middle of the day heat.  Tomorrow, before the sun raises, we’ll head out there and let them do what they have been doing for two months, and see how it looks.

We’ll be with them for three days here in the camp, and then we start our journey, first to N’Djamena. After a few more stops, we’ll arrive in Iraqi Kurdistan and the Viva World Cup.  UNITED!


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