Plans for the future and a painful reality

Tonight I’m on shift crowd control. This means standing in front of the doctors cabin and registering the patients. You ask them about their issues and send them to the doctor. In the mean time I try to make the waiting in the icy cold a little more bearable by chatting with them.

A young man approaches me. I ask him for his registration papers.
Me: ´Samuel?´
Samuel: ‘Yes.’
Me: ‘Your age?’
Samuel: ‘Nineteen.’
Me: ‘Do you speak English?’
Samuel: ‘Little little.’
Me: ‘Where are you from?’
Samuel: ‘Cameroon.’
Me ‘What is the problem?’
Samuel: ‘Toothpain.’
Me: ‘Okay, you are the next one. Wait one moment please.’
Samuel: ‘Okay.’

So much for the official part. While Samuel is waiting, I am trying to find a way to start a short conversation. He is very quiet. I don’t think he would appreciate a pleasant conversation. Understandable – neither would I if I had toothache. Nevertheless, I try to find a subject to talk about.

Me: ‘When did you arrive here?’
Samuel: ‘Five months ago.’
Me: ‘Okay, is it possible to sleep a litte bit at night?’
Samuel: ‘No, too much cold. I cannot sleep.’

Sheesh, what a dumb question! I could have guessed the answer, with all the snow and cold outside. The door of the cabin opens and Samuel goes in. There are no more patients left so I decide to join him. The doctor immediately spots he has an infection and that this is very painful. He gets painkillers and she tells him to rinse daily with warm water. Samuel: ‘Warm water? From where?’. The doctor tells him he can come to the cabin every day for a cup of warm water. He also receives a note to go to the camp doctor.

We are finished and the doctor asks where Samuel is from. ‘Cameroon’, answers Samuel. ‘Ah, good football players’, is the doctor’s response. ‘I am a football player’, is his answer. For the first time in this half hour I see a tentative smile. Samuel tells us he played in the national team of Cameroon, which position he has and that he wasn’t the fastest player, but he was the most strategic one. The smile on his face gets bigger and so do ours. We go to YouTube to look at some videos and see a beautiful and energetic player on the field. We are in awe and the entire conversation turns around. Samuel tells he wanted to go to Europe for his family. Being a pro football player in Europe would mean a good future for his family. Everyone put their hopes in him.

The painful reality
And now he’s here. In a small tent in the mud, under the snow and next to a pile of garbage. He cannot sleep from the cold and is suffering from a terrible toothache. He does not quit. Every day at six in the morning Samuel goes running and every day he continues to practice becoming the best football player. What a resilience and what a strong boy, I think. This should work, this dream needs to be fulfilled. In a few years, Samuel has a great story to tell and with this story he can inspire and touch the hearts of many people. He has touched mine already. I shake his hand and get a big smile in return.

Half an hour later I see him in the improvised restaurant at the beginning of the camp. ‘Heeyy Samuel! Don’t forget to get your warm water tomorrow. See you tomorrow!!’, I call out enthusiastically.

Today is tomorrow and we cannot reach the camp because of the snow storm. I make one simple promise to the boy and I realise I cannot live up to it now. I hope to see you again Samuel. Hang in there and hang on to your dream. I will not make any more promised, but I hope to get a ticket some day for your most important game, no matter what stadium you play it in.

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Text: Wendy Hoogendijk
photo: Bas Bakkens