Bloody But Unbowed
The RISSE Soccer Team Of Albany played two games valiantly Sunday, and lost both of them. Maria and I joined them for the 5 p.m. game held against a local team at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.
I know nothing about soccer other than that the teams raced back and forth feverishly and kick, butt and maneuver the soccer ball. I was struck by Ali's (Amjad Abdullah Mohammed) serious and vigilant coaching. He was clear and demanding.
When two of the players on the sidelines began to wrestle, he sent the instigator to run six laps along the side of the field. I could not help notice how the local team differed from the RISSE team. There were twice as many players (they all got to rest several times during the game, the RISSE kids got only the half-time break, they ran all hour) they had friends and family cheering for them (RISSE had Ali and me and Maria), and the other team had a lot of sporty clothes and equipment.
The refugee kids worked hard and were valiant. But they got worn down. They never quit, but they tired. And it was their second game of the day.
Maria and I brought bags of games and puzzles to surprise the kids after the game (there was a half-eaten box of Domino pizza on the van seat.) I met the team's only female player, Mya Noe Aung.
Williamstown is a wealthy Berkshires town, the home of Williams College, one of the richest and most exclusive colleges in America. It felt like that on this beautiful day and on this beautiful and scrupulously maintained field. I could see, in a way, the long climb these kids will have as they adjust to America. Their parents were too busy working to come to most of their games, and few of them have cars.
The team has to scrounge for every piece of equipment. The contrast between them and their opponents were quite visible, the other team players were much bigger. They had an enthusiastic cheering section. But the kids were impressive. They were determined and motivated. They ran hard.
If this bothered anyone, no one said a word about it. These children are used to much worse hardship, I never hear them complain or express any sense of victimization.
Ali is very clearly a father figure to them, they revere him and listen to him. He cares about them. They work very hard for him.
Ali understands well what kinds of character will be required for them to assimilate with and advance through the American system, and he demands hard work and concentration. There was no messing around or lagging of any kind on the team.
He spent hours picking each team member up, driving them to their games, driving each one home. Williamstown is about an hour-and-a-half from Albany.
He is loving but vigilant, he puts up with no nonsense or immaturity, and the kids respect him for that. The more I see of this man, the more I respect him. He wants me to go to Egypt and the Sudan next year when he goes to visit his family. We'll see. I'm tempted.
Ali watched every play and called in encouragement and challenge. I was glad to be there, next time I'll bring Red along, everyone was asking for him. He will help give the team a lift.
The team has raised enough money to pay the surprisingly expensive fees for games in their league. They have the uniforms they need, and a shoe store donated their sneakers. They have been practicing faithfully.
I think the best thing I can bring is some encouragement and cheerleading. Some help is necessary. The only thing they have asked for his help on Saturday excursions in the summer and some funding for birthday parties.
This help is welcome, if you wish to contribute you can send money to me c/o Bedlam Farm, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816 or to Paypal (friends and family) to me, my ID is [email protected] Please mark it "RISSE Soccer" so I can keep track of it and keep the books in order. We have already raised about half of the $780 necessary to fund the summer excursions, the only organized activity man of these children have this summer in the city).
In the next weeks, RISSE is launching two new Paypal accounts so people can contribute directly to the team or to RISSE. The refugee and immigration center of the Emmaus Methodist Church in Albany, N.Y. In the meantime, it's me.
This is the group that is coming to the farm next Saturday or the following Saturday. I'll know tomorrow. We're excited about it and about 100 more are following them in visits running through July and August.