13 December 2013
COLOMBIA REFLECTION: Something
Beautiful in Barranca
by Hannah Redekop
|CPTers Pierre Shantz, Vania and Hannah Redekop cheering at the Women’s World Futsal Championships in Barrancabermaja.|
Barrancabermeja (or Barranca,
as the locals call it) perches on the banks of the Magdalena River, one
more port along the journey north from the mountains of Neiva to the Caribbean
Sea. She is a small, sleepy oil town that sizzles with tropical sunbeams
and an uncivil war tied to the petroleum that pumps under her skin.
isn’t much excitement here most days. The city lacks cultural attractions, good
entertainment, pulsing night-life—anything at all, really, to warrant a stroll
downtown. But the first week of November proved otherwise.
For reasons unknown—the stadium wasn’t even finished—the organizers of the AMF
Women’s Futsal World Championship decided to host this year’s games in
Barranca. Futsal is a variation of soccer that’s usually played indoors.
The flags of Paraguay, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Morocco and China
dressed the main avenue of the city, while street vendors strung up Colombian
jerseys everywhere, size XXL to newborn onesies, mustard-yellow screaming
The first game of the tournament: Canada vs. Colombia. We couldn’t miss
it! My fellow Canadian co-worker and I secured tickets the day before and
dug up Canadian flags from storage (fortunately washed of the blood from public
CPT witnesses). Our whole team crammed into the cab ready to forget about
the heat and watch some great footwork. We strode proudly into the
stadium wrapped in the maple leaf, those of us with chalky limbs looking rather
prominent in a field of mustard-clad, sun-weathered Colombians.
And then we lost 16-0. Luckily, I’m a sports fan who forgets the score
before she even gets home. An embarrassing loss wouldn’t keep me from
supporting our girls, but I found myself returning to the stadium almost every
day for another reason.
In a place where violence,
corruption and despair hang heavy like the monsoon clouds, this event brought
life. I quickly became known at the games as the crazy Canadian who runs
around the stadium at half-time cheering on her countrywomen. But the
experience moved me. Strangers ran up to hug me. Police and
firefighters smiled shyly, probably wishing they could be up in the stands with
us. Kids (and even some adults) timidly approached us wanting to take our
picture. Canadian moms thanked us for supporting the team, and told us
how meaningful it was that we came.
We met Australians, cheered alongside Russians, and we even donned the Stars
and Stripes because it’s not really their fault they’re from the United States.
We watched little kids run lengths of the stadium after spotting a
favourite player, sharpie in hand, accumulating autographs on random scraps of
paper. We ate hamburgers and popsicles while helping the folks around us
pronounce ham-BOOR-gare and PAP-see-col. Here in Barranca, for the month
of November, the world was one.
Now that is what sport is about.