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A day filled with emotion! - Day 8 – Scott Turnbull

We started the day like any other, with a great breakfast at the hotel. We then boarded the bus for a morning filled with culture and giving. We travelled to the north side of the city to see the original fort the Portuguese built when they founded Natal in the 1500’s. It is built where the mouth of the river empties into the ocean, a very strategic point for defense of the city. The view from the fort gave a great vantage point for viewing the city skyline.

Once back on the bus we toured the old part of the city and also through the poorest part of Natal. The people have very little but make the best of their situation. The original jail was one of our stops and was also one of the more interesting. They have turned it into a gigantic souvenir shop with each cell serving as a store with countless handmade crafts and beautiful linens that are well known to come from this area.

From the former prison we took a twenty minute drive through some very poor neighborhoods to Miguel’s home town of Macaiba. We first had to make a quick stop at city hall so the mayor of the city could join us on our tour. It is a smaller city that overall is very poor. As we drove through the narrow stone streets there were people everywhere. The little shops were abuzz with activity, chickens mulled around in their cages, and a huge line of people waiting to enter a restaurant called, ironically, “Restaurant Popular?. Our final destination was an orphanage that is home to around forty children from age two to seventeen. These children are found homeless and parentless around the city, some living under bridges, and are taken in by the wonderful people at the orphanage. The orphanage consists of separate boys and girls dormitories, the main classroom/cafeteria building and a few other small buildings that house the workers who live there also. The glassless windows of the dorms provided the only light as we entered them. A few pictures and decorations gave the drab building some color but it was unable to hide the hard facts that made up the building. The concrete bunk beds were only made softer with the thin mattress that covered the hard stone. The beds were decorated with a tattered stuffed animal that I am sure are the prized possession of each child. Their clothes were pilled together in extremely neat piles on shelves as there were no dressers to be found. The clothes I am sure were shared by all of the children that were the same size. There was also a very small playground set and of course a sand soccer field. That is where most of the children spend their leisure time, visioning themselves as the next great Brazilian soccer star. Their faces were beaming with smiles as we arrived in their classroom. Some were hamming it up for cameras that pointed in their direction as the workers stood quietly and watched from the periphery of the room. We unloaded suitcases full of clothes and toys that we had brought along on our journey just for this purpose. They kids were extremely excited to receive these gifts as well as the four soccer balls that we brought along for them. In fact before we had left the complex several of the boys had already started juggling the balls and displaying their talents for us. It was a heart touching scene as the children waved to our bus with huge smiles on their faces as we pulled away. Hopefully we helped brighten their day just a little with our gifts and our smiles. I know they brightened ours.

The somber bus ride back through the streets of Macaiba and back into Natal lead to another tour and visit with more residents of Natal. Our bus pulled into a seniors home that housed 23 women and 17 men aged 60 to 102!! The residents sat outside their rooms quietly with the friendly workers interacting and caring for their needs. We met one man who told us stories about when the Americans first started coming to the area during World War II. Telling us how much he liked to spend time with them and drink beer with them. Another gentleman who was blind played and sang some samba music for us during our visit. The boys shared pictures of their families with the residents which I think they really appreciated. One gentleman actually asked to keep one of the photos and of course Jeff let him keep it.

After lunch we had some time to rest before we made our way to City Stadium for our game against the America Futbol Club’s U17 team. As our bus pulled up to the 60,000 seat concrete structure the quiet excitement felt by all was evident. We walked through the eight foot high metal gates and made our way inside the stadium. Walking down fifteen to twenty stairs under the waterless moat separating the stands from the field and then up the same fifteen to twenty stairs to field level. The perfectly groomed Bermuda grass looked like bright green carpet as the centerpiece of the huge stadium. The quick and highly skilled Brazilians provided a huge challenge for us and we rose to the occasion. With fans slowly filtering in for the later match featuring the top America FC team, we struck first, taking the lead 1-0. Feeling our confidence growing we surged forward again and scored a second time off of a corner kick. Feeling the pressure of losing in front of their home fans the AFC team turned up the intensity of their attack and managed to close our lead to one goal at 2-1. Our tough defense managed to hold off the Brazilians and we became the first American team to travel with Delima Soccer to Brazil and beat a Brazilian opponent. Quite an accomplishment for our kids and surely something none of us will soon forget.

After our game we got to stick around and take in the event that was the AFC match versus a team from Sao Paulo. The crowd of approximately 20,000 erupted as AFC emerged out of the tunnel and ran onto the pitch. Bright red road flares, matching the team’s colors were lit in the tightly packed supporters section to our right. A barrage of fireworks went off behind the home team’s goal as the fans began to sing and chant in order to urge their team on. The drums and horns began to sound before the action started and we would discover would last until we were on our way back to the hotel. The game began at a fast and feisty pace and the home team fell behind 1-0 midway through the first half. The fans were not happy but still honked horns, beat drums, sang and danced in the stands. Every call and every play brought out the passion of the Brazilian fans. They waved hands and screamed in Portuguese as the action unfolded. Inspired by the support AFC surged back for three unanswered goals, each followed by pandemonium in the stands with flares being lit and drums being pounded. When the final whistle sounded the stands erupted again as the home side had triumphed. As we exited the stadium the streets were alive with the AFC fans, honking horns, waving flags and celebrating the victory. It was truly something we could not experience in the US. It was amazing!!!