I had been rehearsing the phrase, “mogu li ja vz-jat’ vas-hi izo-braz-hen-ija” (translated to “can I take your picture”) in my room for what felt like hours. With my camera in hand, I was ready to let me curiosity guide me through Shymkent, Kazakhstan.
Soon I happened upon a group of four boys smiling, talking, and enjoying one another’s company. I tentatively approached the young group to ask for permission to take their picture utilizing my memorized Russian phrase...yet the only word I could muster was, “picture?”
Their eyes glossed over with utter confusion. Instinctively I raised my camera and repeated, “picture.”
Without hesitation, the boy sporting a blue cap whispered something into his buddy’s ear.
“Futbal?” shyly asked the young man dressed in a vibrant, red shirt. Somehow, these boys recognized that I was in Shymkent to play soccer.
“Yes,” I replied enthusiastically. Immediately, changing my response to Russian word for yes... “I mean, dah!”
...and just like that, soccer had become our universal language….
With boundless excitement, each boy began pointing to himself while simultaneously shouting his favorite soccer player. I heard Messi, Neymar, Pélé, and Ronaldo from left to right in that order. Followed by Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Barcelona whom they proudly presented as their favorite professional teams.
Our language barrier had been broken by our mutual love of soccer. To each passerby they wildly chanted, “futballer, futballer, futballer” as their legs danced in the motion of kicking a soccer ball. Some people smiled, some waved, some even stopped to ask for a picture together.
Frowning, I pointed to my invisible watch as my time before training was running low.
“Will we see you again?” I understood through their sparse English and my little Russian.
With a lot of help from google translate it looks like we will have a pick-up soccer game this Monday.
5 p.m sharp.