Conor / Nica 64 / TEFL

Michaela and I arrived in Nueva Guinea just as the school semester was coming to an end, which left us ample free time our first few months in site. As a result, we made it a priority to meet as many people as possible by getting out and about.

We started by frequenting a local gym, which is where I met Omar. Every night at 6pm, Omar arrived with a laptop computer and a black trash bag with a hole at the bottom. He pulled his head through the hole and wore the bag like a pancho. Then he opened his laptop and turned on the workout program “Insanity.” For 35 minutes, he was the Nicaraguan Sean-T, calling out floor sprints and power jacks in Spanish to a group of 10 to 15 people.

After a while, I asked Omar if he knew how I could join a soccer team. He said he played for a local men’s league and invited me to meet him the following Tuesday night for meeting with some of the organizers. He instructed me to say I had never, ever, played soccer and just wanted to learn.

So the following Tuesday I showed up at the tailor shop where the meeting was being held. It was after hours, all boarded up, but a loud raucous could be heard from the outside. I entered and everyone stopped what they were doing to look at me.

El gringo ha llegado,” someone said.

It was a group of 15 or so men. They were discussing the upcoming weekend’s match-ups. One guy, the tailor who owned the shop, who appeared to be in charge, asked me if I’d ever played soccer before.

Remembering Omar’s instructions, I said no. Never…ever. I just want to learn.

They all looked at me skeptically but eventually they seemed satisfied and called me over to a table where I was to reach into a hat and blindly select the team I would be playing for. I reached in, held my breath, and picked up a piece of paper. I read it out loud.

“Team Azul.”

A loud cheer went up from Omar and a couple other guys in the corner. I had selected their team. They asked for my shirt size and told me to bring a small picture of myself for my league I.D.

The following Sunday, I showed up at the soccer field near the university at 8:30 am. I was handed a blue uniform. Number 14. They asked for my picture and taped it onto a small card that said, “La Liga de Veteranos, Retirados, y Gordos.”

I looked up and translated the words silently to myself. “The League of Veterans, Retirees, and Fatties?” What kind of soccer team did I just join? I looked around. Most people did seem to be a bit older than me. They also seemed to be a bit heavier than me.

I walked over to Omar and showed him the card. “Is it ok that I’m in my twenties, not a veteran, and skinny?” I asked. “Claro, Conor,” he said. “That’s why I wanted you to say you had never played before. We didn’t want other teams to think we recruited you for your youth and skill.”

I played an entire season with Team Azul. I’d typically get around 20 minutes of play time each game. What I lacked in skills, I made up for in speed and agility. What they lacked in speed and agility, they made up for in fancy footwork. Most spectators thought I was German for some reason, calling out “Aleman! Vaya, Aleman!.” I learned a ton of curse words in Spanish, but never truly understood why people got so mad over a silly game.

We ended up making it to the final city championship, which was taken very seriously. We took a huge team photograph before the game started and even sang the national anthem. I came super close to scoring a goal, but missed by just a few inches. Unfortunately, we lost the championship.

I never played another game after that, but I did start to recognize a lot of the guys I met on the team around town – at the gas station, at the bank, at the water company, or at the park.

It was especially a good way to integrate with the veteran, retiree, chubby crowd.

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