Kenney Tran is a Community Economic Development (CED) volunteer serving in a pueblo in Magdalena, Colombia.
During my time in pre-service training (PST), I established myself as the premier goalie in our weekly games of micro soccer. My glorious uniform consisting of running shoes, high school football shorts, a tank top, and some gardening gloves was enough for me to integrate into the community and learn more about the sport that truly is a cultural phenomenon here in Colombia. It didn’t matter how bad my Spanish was, how out of place I looked, or if I could even play. My enthusiasm would start me out on the right foot with anyone. This was my approach to moving to my permanent site.
Here in my permanent site, micro soccer is the thing to do. The polideportivo lights up, the local old man brings over his Bluetooth speaker blasting Vallenato until it drowns out the cheers of the crowd. And there I was, all five foot five. I even managed to get a 10 hour rest the night before, so I was in prime physical condition and ready to take on the world for my first game. The rest, as they say, is history. The pueblo would get to know who this small child jumping around like a maniac was. This wasn’t just a soccer player. He was a teacher, a goofball, and – most importantly – a new friend.
This trend continued for a few weeks. As I played more and more, the gloves gradually became dirtier and the traction on my shoes started wearing away. I started playing more off of muscle memory and analyzing players rather than just relying on pure instinct and the 20 hours of FIFA I managed to squeeze in at my friend’s house a couple days before moving to Colombia.
Then I hit a snag. As my first game was drawing to a close, I had awkwardly made a save that bent my fingers back in an incredibly awkward fashion. It wasn’t a big injury, but I definitely wouldn’t be able to play the next few games. I walked over to the bleachers at the conclusion of that game and ripped off my gloves to reveal two swollen fingers that were in pain. I asked my teammate if he could take over for me in goal if I gave him my gloves, and I sat out the rest of the night, watching my teammates play without me, my mental state somewhere between shame and sadness.
I started walking towards my bicycle as the night winded down, getting ready to put on my helmet and head home for the night when I was stopped by a family friend who was also on the team. He told me to wait up and that we would all go out for drinks after. I obliged and followed them out to get drinks. While I was there, I told them that I would probably have to sit out the next few games if not for the rest of the season because of my fingers. I was anticipating that they would be upset or sad, but instead I was met with smiles and happiness. They respected that I gave it my all and that even though they met me through the game of soccer, my contributions to the team and the pueblo could be much bigger than being a top 5 goalie.
I was a friend, not just a teammate.
While I still have not made my return this season to the field, I see my teammates around town when I grocery shop, bike to work, make my way towards the boats, or take a stroll for fresh air. This is a common theme throughout my service. As I go throughout my days working with counterparts and students and then wind down with teammates or host family members, I forget that along the way I’m making some amazing friends. So even if the soccer was micro sized, the value of the friendships made can’t be measured.