For Love of the Game
The player traces well worn finely stitched seams with calloused boney fingers. An old dry leather covering scarred and stained from countless battles past. Squinting eyes survey a dusty, hard packed, red clay court as he prepares to serve. Opponents stand crouched in ready positions to receive what will undoubtedly be another well placed bullet. The moment of shared anticipation arrives as he tosses the ball into the air and with a well timed swing sends it careening to the other side of a ratty old net. The opposition moves in practiced unison, receiving easily before setting the ball up perfectly to a flying striker that authoritatively slams it back to the other side. Scoring a decisive point they high five and cheer.
I am six days in to a nine day trip around the far west of Nepal. We are here performing field visits and collecting feedback from local communities and NGO’s. Standing on my hotel’s roof in Dadeldhura, I take in the view. This is the first time I have had to myself since we left. It is a three hundred sixty degree panoramic of green mountainous beauty. While trying to grasp the enormity of this scene my gaze is abruptly diverted to a school’s courtyard perched on the mountaintop. For a full ten minutes I watch the action unfold. Their energy is infectious and I find myself drawn to the court. Having played competitively most of my life I can’t resist the opportunity to test my mettle with these young athletes. Running down to my room, I hastily throw on some sneakers and rush over to the court. As soon as I am in view everything stops. They all stare at “the foreigner” in what I interpret as sincere curiosity. Deciding to break the elongated silence I say in practiced Nepali. “Namaste. Mero naam Paul Biancardi ho” “Ma USA bata aayeko hu”. (Hello. My name is Paul Biancardi. I am from the USA.) My CARE counterparts have been teaching me some Nepali so I can introduce myself during field visits. Currently these are the only two sentences that I can confidently repeat but they have come in handy. This is immediately followed by smiles and boisterous laughter. Ice effectively broken! They all start introducing themselves and eventually one of the group who speaks decent English steps forward. I manage to communicate my love of the game and ask when they will play next. Excitedly they say “now!” Once they are satisfied that I can hold my own, after a couple warm up approaches and hits, teams are chosen. There is some good natured fighting over who gets the “American” and a couple side bets before we launch into some of the better volleyball I’ve played in a while. And yes my team emerged victorious!
I share this experience to highlight an important discovery. Many of my previous blogs have showcased the various hardships that the people of Nepal face on a daily basis. I have written about earthquakes, landslides, unrelenting rain, difficult terrain, improper sanitation and inadequate healthcare. From this it would be easy to assume the Nepali people are consumed by these problems amongst many others. But this country is not without joy; in fact it’s everywhere I look. This stark contrast of happiness in spite of hardship makes it all the more noticeable. People in these remote communities are forced to enjoy the small moments of joy that I take for granted. The volleyball game emphasized this point for me. Most players wore ripped jeans, hand me down t-shirts, and old flip flops. They played with a beat up ball, a worn out net, on a rocky uneven court. But none of that mattered once the game began. Would they like to have proper equipment and professional uniforms? Of course, but it did not stop them from enjoying the moment. That is the lesson I will take away from this interaction. Remember to find the joy in each moment, no matter the circumstances. Sometimes you just play for love of the game.