Recently, I participated in my first soccer riot. My own role was mercifully small. Richard and Nikson, the boys who brought me to the game, whisked me away at the first sign of trouble. But it was an adventure nonetheless.

It turns out that there is something of a soccer field on our mountain, and an organized team that uses it as home. The field is a 30 minute, uphill hike from Ka Glo, where I live. The hike leads away from the main road, along a narrow, narrow path, that rises almost straight up. The field is something to behold. It’s about the size of an ice hockey rink. The men play 6-on-6, plus goalies. If the field had any straight lines, it would be an irregular
trapezoid, but it has none. It’s bordered on one length by the path which continues up the mountain towards Fò Jak; on the other, there’s a barbed-wire fence nominally protecting a bean field.

The play was exciting. Our home team, “Argentina,” fell behind early on a lovely goal – a chip from right midfield that reached a striker darting down the left sideline towards the goal, and the game stayed 1-0 for quite awhile.

Though both teams had guys that could really play, they didn’t have the space to make things happen. One player whom I know well – his name is Alen – can serve to explain. He is about 6’2″, and probably weighs almost 200 lbs. In other words, he’s a big man. He played defense, and was shooting threateningly on goal from well inside his own team’s proportionately small penalty area. He was easily able to cover enough space to make setting up a play cleanly almost impossible. Other players were smaller than Alen, but they were all so closely packed that it was hard for anything interesting to develop. There just was no room.

Space here always seems to me short. The pick-up trucks I ride to the top of Rue Delmas will hold 15 people or more stuffed into the back. The rides I sometimes get from there to Bwa Moket are very small, four door sedans – Honda Civics, Toyota Tercels, and the like. They regularly carry six passengers and a driver, plus assorted luggage, produce, and small children. My friend Jowel, his wife, and 9 kids live with occasional guests in a 15 by 25 foot house with two rooms. Each room has a small bed. There are too many people here in Haiti, and there’s too little habitable room.

The problem’s not just aesthetic. Some of the steepest hillsides on our mountain are heavily farmed, and the consequent soil erosion is everywhere to see. The eternally regenerating rockiness of the road up the hill is only the most obvious sign. In a rainstorm, it can be positively hazardous with all the soil and stone that the torrents of unabsorbed water wash across it. The hillsides are farmed, because that’s the land that the folks on the mountain have, but the long term problem that’s created is clear enough. I can’t guess whether there’s a solution.

Back to the game. Late in the second half, Argentina scored to tie the score. It was a corner kick, from a corner so far in front of the goal it should have been in line with that the ball didn’t have to hook even a bit to sneak in. At this point, players and fans grew tense. Even so, it all seemed friendly enough to me, and when Nikson walked casually over and said, “If there’s a fight, we’ll run right away.”

I was taken aback. I saw no sign of trouble. Within two or three minutes, though, a hard foul led to pushing on the field, which led in turn to pushing among opposing fans. The penultimate sound I heard was the crack of a homemade wooden goalpost, splitting as a fan was thrown through it. The last thing I heard was the sound of the friends of Nikson and Richard shouting that they were “//kapon//”, or cowards, for leaving the
game so quickly.

It was a good thing we left when we did. For me, at least. It was growing dark, and if we had been on the road any later, the boys would have had to physically guide me, slow step by slow step, down the steep and rocky unlit path. They weren’t happy about the name-calling they suffered, and which they continued to suffer for several days, but they were pretty sure that my presence left them no choice. People will look after you when you let them.