I spend a lot of time walking to Kenyatta Market. I have a lot of friends there who I enjoy talking to. Lately I have spent a lot of time talking to the shoe shine guys. We mostly talk about football and life in America. Cammy sees the guys to when she buys fruits and vegetables. When I am not around for a couple of days they always tell her that I am lost. The shoe shine guys are just off the parking lot for the market. Many places in Nairobi where there is parking there are street boys who attempt to organize the parking and try to get work washing the car while the people do whatever it is they came to do. Kenyatta Market is no different.
There is a group of guys who try to wash cars and sit near the trash heap. There are a few different levels of “street boys.” Some are really the bottom of the barrel, guys who have lived such a hard life they can barely function. They pick through the trash for anything to eat and are almost completely unable to communicate. They are usually drunk or high on glue or mirrah. But not all street boys are that far gone. Many of them just have nothing to do, and no way to get a stable job. Unemployment is very high, so they have few productive things to do with their time.
A couple of months ago they told me they had a football team, Santiago Street Boys, and they wanted me to come watch. I was never able to make it until a couple of weeks ago when I went to a practice they held at a nearby primary school ground. I was really impressed at the organization. They had a coach who took them through a complete warm up and stretching. He even yelled at them when they cut corners running during warm up (I made sure I did not). Then we played a game of two-touch. This is great practice, but not nearly as much fun as regular football. I was impressed at the level of commitment they have. They invited me back for another practice. So I practiced again.
Then they informed me that they would be playing a friendly match against another team the following Monday at the AMREF ground at Laini Saba in Kibera and they wanted me to play with them. So Monday I got to play. One of the things that really made me stand out was my age. I was the oldest guy playing. Oh, that, and I am also white.
The team actually has quite a following. Some of them are the people who are too far gone to be able to compete. They are living vicariously through the team who represents them on the field. Much like you might feel for a professional team from your town, but this is closer. The guys on the pitch really do represent them. They know them, they walk with them every day. Watching a football match is probably high on the list of non-negative things they could be doing.
We started the match with a nice prayer from our coach. My teammates were all really competitive, and at half we even went over the stats the coach was keeping. He gave us some tactical instructions, most of which went over my head. I guess it is a good thing, but my Swahili vocabulary is better for church than a football pitch. We played well, but need some more work on playing our positions. I was in the midfield the whole game, and had trouble organizing people mostly because of communication issues. I would yell something out in English and nothing would happen. I was never sure I was using the correct Swahili terms for what I wanted them to do.
The pitch was very slick. It was almost like playing on ice. It is hard packed dirt with a thin layer of loose sand and dust. It made it very hard to change directions. My indoor football boots actually worked better than the cleats some of them were using.
After the match four of the guys walked with me on my way home. I thought they were returning to Kenyatta Market, but as soon as I headed toward the gate at our community they headed back to Kibera.
This is the pitch [mappress]