I decided to watch the Ukraine-Sweden EURO 2012 soccer game at Whole Foods this afternoon. After all, I do not own a TV and it is hard to watch sporting events during the day at public places without spending more money than needed.
I was sitting by myself and just when the 2nd half started a lady in her late 50s, with dark brown hair, pale skin and a thick accent asked if she could join me.
"Ukraine is playing, you know. And I am from Belarus" she said with excitement as I pulled the empty chair next to me for her to sit down.
I was confused, I knew Belarus was one of the former Soviet Union countries around Ukraine but was not sure if she was actually cheering for the host team. I was born and raised in Lima, Peru, and when we watched soccer, we were told to hate all the other teams in South America because they were our rivals on the road to the next World Cup.
"Is there a big rivalry between the countries? Do you want Sweden or Ukraine to win?" I asked innocently.
"Are you crazy?!" she said. "Before Russia, there was Soviet Union and before that we were all Slavs" as her lips started to draw a smile and her pupils were focused way beyond the TV screen. "I won Green Card 10 years ago and now work in Chicago! My son moved back to Belarus to go to medical school, I live alone now".
Just as she finished her sentence Shevchenko, Ukraine´s historic striker, scored the equalizer. "Yes!Yes!" she said in a half-scream, "Shev-shen-kah, he is great!" Her eyes were brighter than the screen and a full-smile was tattooed between her cheeks. She then started dropping facts left and right about this player and Ukrainian soccer in general. I sat and listened in awe. I learned how to pronounce words such as Kyiv, Dynamo, and Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych.
Less than 10 minutes after the goal, Shevchenko strikes again. This time she jumps off her seat, both fists high and unintelligible words come out of her mouth. I have not realized but I am also on my feet, clapping. She looks at me and we embrace in a never-ending hug. She was not holding me. She was holding all the dreams she packed when she left home. She was holding all the things she had to leave. It is hard to be away from home.