July 7, 2006

Ay, ay ay ay, Canta y no Llores...

By Katia Lopez-Hodoyan

During the World Cup, a game is by no means only a game. It’s a passion, a way of life, an embodiment of patriotism that is rarely met by any other event, be it cultural, political or artistic. No one really knows why this happens, yet there is no denying that every four years it does.

These were the thoughts that ran through my mind while on my way to Germany. A long flight seemed a small obstacle to overcome being that upon arrival, I would be part of a massive movement that in some way seemed bigger than life.

I was excited. Not only was I about to become a die hard soccer fan by default, I was also about to see how a team and a simple game can trigger such a vast international mobilization.

Walking down the streets of Frankfurt, hundreds passed by me, flocking to stores covered by flags from all over the world. Restaurants dare not exclude a large television screen both inside and outside their shops, where fans buy a few beers for a pass to sit down and enjoy the game. Apparently, nature also favors the cup since in a type of surreal setting, the sun still stands well into 11:00pm. And just as the moon hides out, so do people inhibitions.

Yet most striking is that throughout the excitement and chaos that runs through the streets of Germany, in some way, thousands from around the world communicate and understand each other. They speak a language that only surfaces during the world cup. When Germany won against Ecuador, the celebratory band that sang in the center of Berlin, did so in Spanish, yet Germans had no trouble following the lyrics. By that same token, just hours after Ecuador lost, cheers of “Deutschland” resonated among Ecuadorians.

The excitement was big then, but Mexico vs. Portugal would surely be bigger, I thought. My predictions were confirmed when I stepped off the train in the city of Gelsenkirchen. It took me a while to absorb what was going on, as a sea of green shirts filled the station both inside and out. People from all over Mexico, some with only emotional links to the country, were all singing at the top of their lungs. Noise makers were scattered all about and it was hard to see who was in front of me because I could only see hundreds of sombreros.I can only imagine what awaits outside the train station, but before I can even consider that, it’s impossible not to question: What is it about the World Cup that makes people save their money for four years, sell their belongings and venture out to a distant country where the language, culture and currency is foreign? If it’s only a game, why are people on the verge of tears and depression when their country looses?

Perhaps it’s because the World Cup is an international excuse to celebrate one’s country without any type of barriers or limitations. Somehow all the frenzy is understood and accepted during the World Cup. But also, the fact that the championship is immune to political superpowers is a key. No distinction is made between a first world country and a third, and for once, people from all over the world feel as if all the playing fields are leveled. A victory is a politically correct way to say: “Today my country was better than yours,” and somehow, that notion needs to be accepted by others even if one’s own country was defeated. The pride that one feels for their country is magnified in a way that’s unparallel to any other event. The Olympics don’t stand a chance against the World Cup and neither do political rallies or elections.

Since I didn’t have a ticket, I made a choice in that station to buy one. I could identify a few scalpers here and there, so I approached one that was standing within my comfort zone. A direct, “You have tickets?” was followed by a “How many do you need?” My “Just one” answer was enough to get the ball rolling. I managed to make a “deal” for ten times as much as the original ticket price and strangely enough, after handing over the money, I felt lucky to have a ticket, even though I didn’t know if it was real yet.

Reporter Katia Lopez-Hodoyan in the stadium, draped in the Mexican flag, still excited after watching her team play.

So the question rose again in my mind. What makes a usually sane woman, buy an extremely overpriced (maybe fake) ticket to go see a 90-minute game? I would worry about that later, for now, I had to get to the stadium to see the Mexico vs. Portugal game. Once outside the stadium, a FIFA employee verified that my ticket was real. It was then that I felt true bliss. It didn’t matter so much if Mexico won or lost anymore. Seeing and feeling the chants of 40,000 plus Mexicans had been well worth the emotional and monetary price I had paid to be there. But why?

Maybe it’s because we all yearn for a sense of unity, excitement, competition and pride in our lives that only few moments can offer. We often seek these emotions in our daily lives and what better place to find them than one massive stadium.

During the cup, one’s love for their country is represented by their singing, their pride by their clothing and their friendliness by their smile.

Mexico lost the game that day, yet it didn’t seem like it. We had advanced to the next round against Argentina and even though we lost that game as well, we had all traveled a long way to simply experience that which we just had. It was comforting to know that we had been within the few who took the plunge and went to Germany, even if our team had been defeated.

An after party filled with music, reminded us all that this game was but a mere catalyst to all those emotions we were seeking. We lost, but all those feelings of pride and excitement persisted amidst dozens of songs and dances.

I ventured into this trip by myself, yet not once was I alone. Only the World Cup can do this and I’m already visualizing 2010...

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