Quotation marks can signal that someone is speaking, that something is a title, or that a word or phrase is being used in a special way. There was certainly something special about “the Hospital.”
That’s what the players of Darfur United called my hotel room: “the Hospital.” It was 2012 and we were in Iraq for the men’s refugee soccer team’s first-ever international competition.
Clearly my hotel room wasn’t close to being sterile or fully stocked with medicine and equipment, but, like a hospital, it was an oasis that gave Darfur United players a place to heal, hope, relax, learn, and prepare for their challenge: representing their war-torn region of Sudan.
The players met in my room to ask questions, get their physicals, get taped, and laugh with their teammates. They grew to trust the medical treatments and medicines needed to assist them during games as they represented their people — and all refugees — to the world. “The Hospital” was also a safe place to shed tears of despair over loved ones left behind or lost to horrific acts of terror inconceivable to most of us.
Even after that tournament ended, “the Hospital” doors remained open, figuratively speaking. The players kept in touch through social media and emails, sending photos of ailments, asking questions about medicines and training exercises. Over the years in Sweden, for the CONIFA World Cup and DU training camps, these refugee athletes have shared their personal horror stories of genocide, war, and violence.
As I pack the medical supplies that have been graciously donated by so many, I can’t wait to physically open the door to “the Hospital” again in Östersund, Sweden. The 2017 Darfur United Training Camp is about to begin and there is so much to do to prepare for the games in the coming week and for Zimbabwe later this year. Darfur United is working to gain points to qualify for the 2018 CONIFA World Cup in London.
“The Hospital.” Those simple quotation marks will barely be able to contain the excitement the players feel as they continue to improve, grow, and thrive as refugee athletes. They are now empowered to take care of their bodies and minds just as any elite international athlete does, on and off the field. It isn’t quotation marks that make “the Hospital” special. It’s what happens inside there.