Natalie plants a flower
The Wayne State Soccer team, including Natalie Poppe of North Platte, recently went on a trip to the Dominican Republic.
Natalie Poppe wrote a report about what happened there on Monday, including a pick-up game with the Dominican Republic Women's National Team.
The group returned to Omaha Saturday.
Here is Natalie's story:
We all woke up around 7:45 a.m. to the sound of turkeys gobbling and roosters crowing outside.
It seems like every one here is getting eaten alive by mosquitoes during the night (except the coach?).
You can’t keep many “guests” from visiting us here at Pastos Verdes. This morning Saury, our translator and guide for the week, found a lovely spider, about the size of a palm, in her backpack.
Don’t worry though. Miguelina, the lady that does much of the cooking for us, got the neighbor kids to pick it up and they killed it outside with a cement block. For breakfast we had the options of oatmeal, bread, crackers, and corn flakes with warm milk.
At 9:30 a.m. we were picked up by the national soccer federation bus to be taken to the federation soccer facility in order to meet the women’s national soccer team. The bus had broken windows, a cracked windshield and the door didn’t even shut all the way.
Once at the complex, we were greeted by a lady named Sarah. She welcomed us and told us we were free to look around. The field was in terrible condition: there were huge spots of dirt, the nets were torn and there were even rocks scattered about. The building itself was not much better. There was no electricity and much of the space was empty except for chairs and tables.
It didn’t even have a proper locker room or training room! Due to NCAA regulations, we couldn’t play a formal game to we just played pick-up. We mixed the two teams up and one side wore orange pinnies while the other team wore the Dominican Republic national jerseys. We all warmed up together, which was pretty difficult at first. The coach of the national team was shouting out directions to certain drills and we just had to watch and catch on to what the girls were doing.
The president of the federation was there and talked to us before the game, thanking us for coming. Both the Dominican Republic and the United States national anthems were played.
Then the president asked all of the women players to plant a flower in the nearby garden to represent the friendship formed between us, and the national team. It was a really cool experience.
Shortly after, it was time to play. I have to admit, I was very nervous.
I didn’t know how I would talk with these girls and I thought it was going to be awkward. But once we started playing all of those feelings went away and I had a blast!
We all found a way to communicate with each other, and towards the end I was even saying some of the phrases in Spanish: “bien” “centro” “tienes tiempo”. It was amazing how even though we come from two completely different worlds, we could be united by our love of soccer and could bond in that way.
Soccer became a “bridge” between our two separate worlds I suppose you could say. It was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life and I had so much fun!! Neither team ended up walking off the field with a goal, but we both walked off with smiles and a great experience.
Next we had lunch with the team and we all answered questions about one another, with the help of a girl on the national team that was very good at English.
I learned that the girls were ages 16-20 and while not all of them are in college yet, they all do go to school.
Because of the difference in culture as compared to the United States, this Dominican Republic national team does not have nearly as many privileges as our women’s national team. They don’t have fancy shoes or the latest gear. Most of these girls don’t even have the essential things that we take for granted, like soap, razors, deodorant, toothpaste.
Yet these are the women that are representing their country. Today we gave each player a bag full of those everyday essentials. They were very grateful and it was an amazing feeling knowing we helped out these girls. They definitely deserved it.
It seems like almost all of the people here in the Dominican Republic live in similar conditions to these girls, if not worse.
I’ve just noticed as we have drove around that a lot of houses consist of multiple tin sheets for walls and tin or tarps for roofs. That just seems like unbelievable living conditions. There is trash lining every single road. Many children run around gravel roads barefoot and without parents. You can’t flush toilet paper down the toilets because the sewer system is not good. The water that comes from the faucets is not drinkable so you must buy filtered water to drink and brush your teeth with.
If I’ve learned anything so far on this trip it’s that I take way too many things for granted.
I have an amazing life that consists of hot showers, food on my table, and an air conditioned home. Most of the people here don’t even have these three simple things.
It breaks my heart to see how the Dominican people have to live and I can’t wait to serve the rest of this week. We’re hoping that we can build lasting relationships with the Dominican national team. Maybe someday they’ll come visit Nebraska and we can share some of our privileged life with them.