Monthly Archives: May 2010

Hanging out with Haiti’s U-17 women’s soccer team

Since returning to Haiti in April, I’ve gotten to know several members of the Haitian national under-17 women’s soccer team.  They attempted to teach me a few moves (sternly coaching me on the basics of reception and transmission) and then told me, sweetly, “You’re really good!  You just need to learn to control the ball!” after I kicked the ball into their faces and nearly took out a clothesline.  One rainy afternoon, as we watched a movie and ate powdered milk with spoons, Hayana, their extraordinary team captain, took my notebook and wrote the story of the challenges and stigma she faced, and how she came to play soccer on the national team.

Hayana writes

Some accounts of the team’s loss to the US in the CONCACAF under-17 championships in March depict it as a tragedy, the end of a dream, the loss of a chance of escape.  Like many of her teammates, Hayana lost her home in the January 12 earthquake, and is now living with her family at an aunt’s house.  Her teammate, goalkeeper Madeline, whose mother, father, and sister died in Léogane on January 12, has moved in with her.  Madeline remains very damaged by what happened, but she still takes out and looks at the certificate they gave her in Costa Rica when the team traveled to compete against the U.S. in March, where she sat on the sidelines and watched, unable to play.  Their teammates Rosemonde and Gerthrude have gone back to their homes in Cité Soleil.

Rosemonde and Gerthrude

In the afternoons and evenings, all the girls still play soccer, at organized practice at the stadium, and barefoot in the streets with their friends (particularly young boys who come to admire these girls who can trounce them).

Hayana in motion

Hayana begins, in Creole:

Hi Laura, we’ve been talking about all kinds of things and we’ve talked a lot about soccer.  Now you’ve met a bunch of girls who know how to play soccer.  We would really like to teach you to play, but now it’s too late and it’s raining.  I think that all the girls like you, we like that you joke with us and you like to play.  I’m happy that God protected you [during the earthquake] so that we could become friends. I am happy to write this story for you.  Every time you read it you will think about your little friend Hayana.  I would like God to protect us so we can remain friends to the end, and I would like to thank God because after the earthquake he took care of me. He didn’t only save my life, He made me a decent person.  I will ask God for more strength in my studies, because I love school.  My goal is to finish school so I can learn something in my life, because school is the only means to get anywhere in life.

Here, she switches to French.

My soccer story:

I remember when I was thirteen, my mother didn’t want me to play soccer.  She would beat me.  But I didn’t get discouraged because I love soccer.  Everything she did to me meant nothing because le foot is my passion, the thing I love.   Apart from school, it is soccer that interests me most.

I have an older brother named Stanley who loves me very much, and when he would take me to school I would take my backpack with my two notebooks and my pen, and I would sneak my athletic clothes in, too.  But I never trained formally.  Then
one morning when I was playing soccer in the street with my brother, I noticed that someone had stopped to watch me play.  He was one of the supervisors of the national under-15 women’s selection.  He asked me a lot of questions about my family, saying that he wanted to talk to my mother about my going to the Ranch Croix de Bouquets for the national selection.   My mother didn’t want me to.  So I packed up all my things and left.  Only my brother knew I had gone to the Ranch.  Of the 40 players there, they chose 18.  I was one of the winners.  When my mother learned I was part of the under-15 selection, she was astonished. I got to travel to Trinidad.  When I called her on the phone, she was happy to hear the voice of her little girl who was in Trinidad.  In the beginning she didn’t want any of this, and now she’s the one who makes sure I go to practice.  Thanks, Laura, for having read my story, my friend.
[In English now] I THINK WITH YOU.

Jozy Altidore: The Next Haitian Hero of U.S. Soccer?

The New York Times just published a nice profile of Jozy Altidorethanks to my friends at Duke’s FHI for a tweet about this! — and, despite the fact that I know seeking historical and social redemption in football matches is a dangerous game, I can’t help dreaming that this summer will bring us a little echo of 1950. In that year, Joe Gaetjens — a Haitian national recruited onto the U.S. team, in the days when FIFA was a rather easy-going about citizenship requirements — brought the U.S. perhaps it’s greatest footballing victory, a story told a few weeks back in a nice Sports Illustrated story, when he scored a goal against the English team.

No one needs a bit of redemption right now more than Haiti. But with the exception of their exciting run in the 1974 World Cup, featuring Emmanuel Sannon’s legendary goal against Italy, Haiti has mostly had to satisfy itself with proxies in the tournament. (For many in Haiti, it’s Brazil, for others Argentina, and for a very few, France). They had Gaetjens in 1950, and in 2006 Wyclef Jean nicely brought Haiti to the World Cup final by showing up, for his opening duet with Shakira, decked out with several Haitian flags decorating his outfit.

It’s too romantic I know, but what’s the point of football if not to let us dream up plots on the turf too elegant too beautiful to take place anywhere else? When the U.S. faces England, I’ll be rooting for Altidore, for Haiti and the U.S. at the same time. He showed us what he is capable against Spain in the Confederations Cup last year. He teased Beckham, the New York Times tells us, that the U.S. will win 3-0 against English. I’m going to call, more modestly, on the cosmic powers that oversee football for 1-0 against England, with Altidore scoring the winning goal, just for the sake of historical poetry.

Time-Lapse Foul

I’m not sure of the provenance of this particular video (sent to me by Julia Gaffield), but it does wonderfully capture one side of football: the glory of dramatic acting, for the benefit of referees, though in this case the guy obviously needs a bit more practice from our more accomplished and more highly-paid footballing professionals.

Anyone know where this was filmed?

Watching PSG-Valenciennes with Lilian Thuram

I was in Paris this week, and got to catch up with Lilian Thuram, who we hosted here at Duke last fall. He invited me to attend a PSG match with him at the Parc des Princes, and I of course jumped at the opportunity. The police have been heavily cracking down on some fan organizations at PSG, but they seemed spirited as ever, with the Boulogne Kop on one end, and Auteuil and the Paname United Colors on the other. Among the many creative chants perhaps the simplest and most forceful, one frequently used by PSG fans against any team that isn’t from the great cosmopolitan capital, was “Paysan! Paysan!” — “Peasants! Peasants!” There was something irreducibly French about that one.

The fans clubs did make noise about their conflict with the French state and the PSG management, too: one group in the Auteuil section raised a banner at one point declaring that they were the “Victims of Police Repression” and calling for the re-institution of banned groups. And the Boulogne Kop has a banner in memory of one of theirs who was killed by an off-duty policeman who intervened to protect a fan of the visiting Tel Aviv team they were attacking a few years ago. As always, the CRS police were out in force all around the stadium.

Tagging along with Thuram, of course, meant sitting in the posh seats in the middle. He’s still greeted everywhere with smiles, shouts of pleasure, and requests for photos and autographs, of course. In a very French twist, during half-time — during which we admired the French Cup, which PSG recently acquired (against expectations, it must be said) — we were served champagne, red wine, and a series of gourmet snacks, including an avocado mousse served with beet puree and grilled shrimp, delivered by a French chef who commented on his creations. That’s the way to watch (French) football!

Even if it was wonderful to see Makelele captaining the team, the game wasn’t particularly riveting, though it ended with one of the craziest turn-arounds I’ve ever seen . With the score 1-1, PSG scored a goal with about two minutes left. And then, they completely failed to hold it together, and Valenciennes equalized with about 20 seconds left. The poor PSG players walked off the field with heads hung down, with a smattering of boos from their own fans. The Valenciennes group, hemmed in next by a large orange wall, protected by netting, and heavily guarded, nevertheless produced some impressive volume from their dungeon.

Earlier, I had joined Thuram and historian Pascal Blanchard in a guided visit of the National Archives, where we talked history and discussed an exhibit they are preparing together on Colonial Exhibitions and “Human Zoos” during the 19th and 20th centuries. Thuram’s book Mes Etioles Noires, which narrates black history through biographies of figures from Lucy to Barack Obama, is a hit in France. And he continues to push forward the work of his foundation, developing anti-racist exhibits and teaching tools.

He told me he has good memories of his visit Duke, so hopefully we’ll be able to arrange another trip across the Atlantic in not too long.