Top News Story: Memories of playing soccer with Rwanda's First Lady
on Rebecca in Rwanda (Rwanda), 31/Aug/2013 23:57, 34 days ago
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Okay Ken, I promised I'd write about this again so here it is. Among many delights about being back in Rwanda is the string of memories associated with living here in 2010. Yes, I played in a soccer match at Amahoro stadium against the First Lady of Rwanda, Jeannette Kagame.It was a charity match between parliamentarians and expats. Full of pomp and circumstance, we were led out of the stadium holding hands of younger players, lined up by our respective flags and were introduced to the crowd. Now, having thrown out the ceremonial first pitch at a Blue Jays game when I was 15 years old it takes a lot to phase me and even I thought it was pretty cool to play a soccer game in such a huge stadium. I was pumped to play and having been a late addition to the team, I didn't get to start. I warmed up and chatted up the coach on the sidelines then finally after a few minutes the coach put me in. We'd been given strict instructions not to touch, jostle or challenge the First Lady- a remarkably tall, solid lady.During the first half, the expats went up 3-0 quite quickly. I'm happy to say I scored our team's 3rd goal! I've played soccer competitively since the age of 4 and I'm a left winger. It was pretty fun to be out there. Our coach pulled us in at half time and said emphatically that we needed to calm things down as it didn't look good for the parliamentarians. To save face, we'd have to ease up. Even Jeannette Kagame said to me in a brief conversation we'd had on the field: "We need to make things a little more fair I think."The second half started and I moved back to defense. I have to say it is very difficult to fake defending someone in soccer- I'm not Italian after all and diving away from people instead of tackling them doesn't come naturally :) I did, however, have great respect for the code of conduct in our play and did not want to offend any Rwandans let alone the president's wife! So, when Jeannette Kagame came lumbering down the field on a "breakaway" I did my best fake deke and kept ample space between her and I. She put the ball through my legs! I faked surprise and leaned away from her as she moved toward the net and scored. Then, they brought on a "ringer" in the form of a fourteen year old boy who had played in a previous match. Within minutes, the score was tied 3-3. Our coach called timeout and instructed us to start trying again. That boy was really really good! We were trying!! He was impossible to catch and the ball stayed glued to his feet a la Messi.Last few minutes of play and we've swapped our players around and are now playing our little expat hearts out. It's fine to say it's charitable to make the score close but no way do we actually want to lose the game! The ringer/boy brings the ball up the field, pausing just outside the eighteen yard box. I am near him but to be honest can't quite catch him..and he takes a dive! The referee blows the whistle for a penalty shot for the parliamentarians. Jeannette Kagame steps up to the plate (cross-reference of sports analogies-oops) and puts the ball in the top right shelf of the net. The crowd goes nuts! We have played as best we can, they have won. Kagame's wife is the hero of the game. More pomp and circumstance follow as we take team photos and stay for the ceremony and trophy awarding.TSN highlight of the night: the next evening the charity match is the top news story and though I do not have access to a television in Gitarama, a friend phones me to say that my goal was featured on the highlight reel.Now, I have thousands of stories about my year in Rwanda- the Narcoleptic Nightguard, the Leaning Toilet of Pisa, Man-up-tree-throwing-rocks at unidentified-growling-animal-"Lost-style"-at-3am, Silverback Gorilla Porn and the Nairobi Airport Incident just to name a few. I enjoy telling them all, it will never get old.Only recently did I part with the soccer jersey I wore during the match that day because it had become too tattered to keep. When I think back to the game, I can't see it ending any other way.