Dirt, a Soccer Ball, and Two Spray Painted Nets

Everyday I wake up to 25 texts and 10 missed calls asking if I will be at our dirt playground. Most of the time the texts aren’t even in English, but I know what they are asking. Despite having a group chat, they individually make sure that I know when and where to meet— or in other words, at the same time and at the same place every night.

As word spreads about our after school football matches, attendance grows. Even the age range is becoming more diverse. Brothers, sisters, and every so often a few parents will come and watch from the sidelines.

Their field isn’t much. They have dirt, a soccer ball, and two spray painted nets. Most times the ball becomes flat within the first 10 minutes, but it’s the only one left. The goals are so misaligned that the game is actually being played diagonally. Dirt, concrete, and sometimes broken glass get kicked through the air after every shot. Very seldom do I move faster than a brisk walk for fear that one wrong step would be costly for my ankles.

With that being said, let me tell you what they do have. They have more smiling faces in a competitive football match than I even thought possible. Their spirit, kindness, and willingness to include children of all ages— especially when younger children don’t quite understand that football is not meant to be played with your hands, is well beyond their years. It’s the smallest things-- such as scoring a nice goal or teaching them new soccer tricks that generate so much excitement.

At first glance yes, it would appear that these kids don’t have much. However, I have come to learn that they have more than anyone could ever give them. They don’t need the perfectly mowed grass field with freshly painted lines, a top of the line soccer ball, or flawlessly strung nets; they simply need each other.

As long as everyone shows up at the same time and at the same place; it is guaranteed to be another great game.

Punishment for the losing team. Thankfully, our team has yet to lose.


#Kazakhstan #Shymkent #football #photography #Photojournalism #Alongtheway