By Micah Feinstein, Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua II 2016 Participant
Aside from our mutual appreciation of plantain chips and gallo pinto, beans and rice, Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua participants and Nicaraguan locals have very little in common, right? We come from different backgrounds, we look different, we speak differently, and we may even have different ambitions. A few of these divisions, especially in language, made it difficult to traverse throughout our week in El Castillo. So what could unite people of such different backgrounds for an afternoon of fun, excitement, and community besides a good Nicaraguan meal? One word – basketball.
After walking past the courts a few times earlier in the week, I knew I would have to get out there to shoot some hoops. As a former basketball player myself, my appetite was whetted. Following a walking tour of the town, our group stopped by to see some older guys playing a game similar to H-O-R-S-E. Another participant, Ben, and I hesitantly wandered on to the court when a man called us to join. Our time to play had come.
I quickly noticed that their shooting form needed some fine-tuning (as does mine, to be fair): they hurled it at the hoop in a manner similar to a soccer throw-in. It was not smooth, but some of them had perfected the bank-shot. After we shot around for a little while, one of the guys split the players into two teams of four. Ben and I were on a team along with the other two young players. Younger vs. older. Finesse vs. power. The game was on.
I had not played a game of basketball since January, and it felt great to have the ball back in my now unaccustomed hands. Although we had more skill and speed, the other team had more strength and, shall I say, gamesmanship.
My team got along swimmingly; the language gap was an unworthy obstacle for our chemistry on the court. We played without care of who made the shot, congratulating one another with the universal high-five and pat-on-the-back after a good play was made. Some of the players displayed a vast arsenal of shots; others were keen to exhibit their passing and defense. Double dribbles, travels, and fouls were quite subjective and were called more frequently towards of the end of the game when the other players were looking for a respite.
Our youthfulness–combined with Ben’s and my skills–helped us to run around our opposition, a few of the macho men in the community. They were visibly peeved and asked for a rematch. This time, I played with one of the Mitzvah Corps Staff members, Sam, and we readjusted the teams. Game 2 was a lot closer, and I began to blame my team’s struggles on the haphazard backboard, a feeble excuse for my fatigue. Play got even sloppier as the game went on, but with more mistakes came even more laughter. My team eventually prevailed, barely staving off a fierce comeback.
After high-fives, laughs, and hasta mañanas, it was time for dinner. I headed to change out of my disgustingly sweaty clothes, thinking about the fun we had just had because we put ourselves out there and connected with people we otherwise thought we had little in common with. I headed to dinner with a smile.