Since my very first visit to the UAE, one of the things that stood out to me were the numerous make shift or impromptu sports pitches in the oddest of areas that you see around here. It is not unusual to see the grassy area of a freeway exit used as a "stadium", or the corner of a busy intersection. In our community that doesn't host a lot of traffic, games usually occur in the street or in vacant sandlots.
In our neighborhood the games of choice are usually football (soccer to the Americans and Aussies) and cricket. Unlike the games of my childhood, most of the players here are adults. Teams are usually comprised of laborers from construction sites in the area.
You see, the UAE has this thing about construction and road work security that I have yet to really understand. There is a "guard" for EVERYTHING being built or worked on here. Most of them usually live in a make shift shack on the construction site, and I've seen some that guard the road work that have nothing but a chair. The latter is the case for a Pakistani man that sits across from my house hour after hour, day after day, night after night.
At first the idea of a man sitting across from my house 24-7 creeped me out, but now I just feel bad for the poor guy. His job is to watch an area of our street that is being repaired and a detour that's a result of the road work. Nothing happens quickly here, so he's been on the site for well over six months. I've never seen him do any road work be it day or night, he just sits or stands there guarding the asphalt. Occasionally, he'll cross the street to come get water from a spigot in the wall that surrounds our courtyard, or he'll chat with other guards, gardeners, and drivers on our street. Unlike some of the other workers in the area, I've never seen him take part in any of the neighborhood sporting events until recently....
Last week all of a sudden the man with nothing but a chair, suddenly had a green soccer ball and a new friend... my son. My 16 year old loves just about any sport, but since moving here his affinity for soccer has seemed to double. He's the goalie for his school's undefeated U16 team with only 2 goals scored on him the entire season. Sorry, I'm a mom. I have to brag on my boy.
Anyways, we were getting out of the car one day when my son spotted the guard and our neighbor's driver kicking the ball around. In a flash, my child was in the street joining in on the action. He played for well over an hour till it got dark and the only players left were him and the Pakistani.
The next day, my husband and I were returning from lunch when we spotted my son's new friend kicking the ball around right in front of our house by himself. He reminded me of the little kid that would linger in front of your house hoping that your mom would let you come out and play if he stayed there long enough. Well, there was no telling my son to go play. All it took was me mentioning to him that his friend was out front with the ball and he was down the steps and out the door. Soon what began as just my son and the guard became a game of 8 or more, my son of course being the only non laborer and the only American.
Later that evening, our neighbor asked me what was up with our son playing with the Pakistanis, like it was a bad thing. I simply replied that he loves soccer and he has a knack for making friends with everyone. As a mother, I'm very proud of him and the fact that in a part of the world where nationality, color, or sex can dictate where you fit in, he is able to look past all of that and see just another player of the game.