Sunday, January 24, 2010

La pasapelotas

I accompanied my host to a fustal game one afternoon. Fustal is like soccer, but it's played in a smaller space, often indoors. The ball is a bit smaller and lighter, but the competition is no less intense.

It wasn't a real game. It was early in their season and they hadn't played in awhile, so it was a practice game or a warmup game or whatever you'd like to call it. Something tells me people were at least loosely keeping score, but people came and went and the teams grew and shrank. They were playing when I arrived and they were playing when I left. Otherwise, I might have liked to talk to some of them rather than just let them guess who this extra person was on the sideline.

Practice game or not, they play very intensely. It looked like fun, but I wasn't invited to join. I've never been especially great at sports, nor have I ever practiced soccer very much (and eighth grade girls' P.E. just doesn't count). It wouldn't have mattered, though, if I had been well trained at soccer enough to outplay them all. Women are simply not invited to join such games.

So I stood on the sideline and watched. I can see why soccer is so popular. One ball (even one homemade out of rags) and just about any open space can keep up to 22 people (not including onlookers) involved in some fairly fast-paced action and good exercise for as long as they'd like. I saw siblings kicking a ball around in one of the plazas and a group of cholitas in skirts playing against each other on a small, public field (one photo I regret not getting, but the bus trundled by too fast). Contrast that with golf, with all its expensive gear and green fees and training. I guess I could see enjoying the challenge of playing if I had nothing better to do with my money, but how golf makes good television, I'm not certain.

I stood on the sideline watching, and I happened to stand on the one sideline where there wasn't a wall. So when the ball went out on my side, I ran after it and returned it to play. I figured it was about the only chance I was going to get to handle thet ball, and aside from watching, that was about all there was for me to do, plus it was a little real exercise. Even at such an altitude, I was far enough into my trip that it felt good.

Nobody said anything to me about it during the game. (In Argentina, I look like somebody who might speak Spanish; in Bolivia, I look like someone who might not.) They acknowledged my efforts with an um-thank-you. I heard about it after we left, at lunchtime, when my host recounted my participation: she ran after the ball like crazy, any time it went out. All the other guys asked what she was doing. He just said he didn't know, hadn't asked me to do that.

I don't think I ruffled any feathers, but I suppose I might have raised some eyebrows. If they had really wanted me to sit and just watch politely, they could simply have asked. Or they could have asked me to chase after and return balls. Had they asked me to do it, I would probably have refused.

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