Swarthmore College’s Micah Rose has been hanging out in the Eastern Cape, holding soccer
clinics and watching the World Cup in a rural Xhosa community, as we explained
Here in Nkwalini, the tiny village I’ve been living in, people walk pretty much everywhere. Very few people have cars so walking is the main form of transportation. I’m staying with a local man named Siphiwo. He has a car, but it’s usually not working. About two kilometers from his home there is a bumpy field with rickety wooden goal frames where I’ve been holding soccer trainings for a group of about 20 local kids between the ages of nine and fifteen.
Each morning, I gather some of the balls I brought from home and walk to the field. Usually, there are at least a few kids already there waiting for me. When I walk down the dirt path to the field, they wave and immediately scatter, spreading the word that another session is indeed taking place. Gradually, more players begin to assemble at the field. They come in ones and twos and threes on foot from all directions. Within ten or fifteen minutes, my team has assembled and I begin the session.
Each time we train, I start by leading a dynamic warm-up. The kids always laugh at me as I demonstrate the “high-knees,” “butt-kicks,” and other exercises, but they nevertheless follow along, mimicking my every move. Their enthusiasm is infectious, however, it’s difficult to harness because I don’t speak their language. Our sessions are simple because I can only demonstrate very straightforward drills through hand gestures, and charades. We mostly pass in lines and juggle. It’s fun to watch as they learn by doing, gradually grasping the instructions that I pantomime to them.
At the end of each session, I divide the group into two teams, punt the ball into the air and blow my whistle once. This is all the instruction the kids need to finish the practice with a match. Some things really are universal in their appeal.
As I leave the slanted, bumpy, practice ground that is overgrown with weeds, the same three kids always accompany me. They point to the balls I carry, I drop them and they dribble along. They walk me home to Siphiwo’s, just for the pleasure of kicking a ball. This daily journey on foot reminds me that having to walk everywhere makes you appreciate distance and space differently. These kids probably only leave the hills, fields, and dirt roads of their village a few times every year.
The World Cup in South Africa is building a bridge between the global and the local. It all seems very far away from these daily walks, but these kids are a part of a worldwide phenomenon.