This is football, real football

Our apartment doorbell rang at 8:45 a.m. Preanta, from Sri Lankan, promptly arrived for Saturday house cleaning duties. Laila handed him supplies, and then returned to bed. We stayed up late last night, after waiting in a long line for an Al Jazeera Sport subscription card inside the Villagio Mall in Doha, Qatar.

“Wake up,” Laila said, an hour later, running between the living room and bedroom. “We need to get ready soon if you want to see a movie… and get groceries.” It’s day two of the FIFA World Cup, one of the most-viewed events in the world. Laila developed a contagious respect for soccer while growing up in Morocco.

“The United States plays England tonight,” said Laila, who planned to cheer for the Americans, on behalf of her in-laws. “Hopefully, it’ll give me something to tease my coworkers about.” She works inside a corporate office with several British directors and office managers. “Brits are so cocky about their team’s performance. I’ll tell them ‘in your face by the United States!’”

I rolled out of bed with heavy-eyed hesitation, and then stumbled downstairs with our dog Loup, a nine-pound blend of Pomeranian and Japanese Spitz. The sun was the only fixture in the dust-filled sky. Concrete buildings and dark asphalt absorbed intense sunrays. Water dripping from window air conditioners stirred an odd stillness. The streets were unusually empty.

After taking the elevator back upstairs, I hear World Cup commentators discussing plays during the first game yesterday, which positioned South Africa against Mexico. Laila listened from the hallway, helping Preanta reattach a mop head – his tongue clamped between his lips, like a curious child. The scrawny five-foot laborer attacks house cleaning like a wannabe handyman.

Preanta is supplementing a meager salary earned by running office errands in Doha. He hardly speaks English – he reads even less. When faced without his familiar dusting product last month, he wiped our furniture with expired stain remover. His mistake left an awful stench. Regardless, we continue to employ his genuine interest in earning an honest dollar. Preanta readily accepts direction and would rather wobble his head in agreement than cause much fuss. After mopping, he took the trash and waved goodbye.

I prepared breakfast, dodging puddles of water on the floor. The aroma of eggs fried with a cup of leftover potatoes, doused in olive oil, permeated our apartment. To scoop the concoction, I seared two pieces of Iranian flat bread on a dry, heated skillet. Laila, showered and half dressed, was watching World Cup updates.

“This is real football,” she said, seated at the tip of the sofa, “unlike the American game.”

“American football is aggressive and powerful,” I said. “That’s what Americans want – bigger, faster stronger.” Smiling, I baited her into defending her position with the utmost passion. “Soccer is like watching ballerinas prancing on the grass.”

“Whatever you guys play is handball – not football,” she said, in a matter-of-fact manner. “They grab the ball and run 100 yards, banging into each other.”

“This is about tactics, team and athletics. It’s a clean game. The players don’t need big muscles or steroids. They play with their bodies and their brains – it’s fun to watch.”

“This is how I was brought up. This is football… real football.”

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