Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The terminal: A football story

Remember Tom Hanks’ character of Viktor Navorski in the Terminal? It was about an Eastern European traveler who was stuck in the terminal of JFK International Airport as a result of the political upheavals in his fictional country of Krakozhia. Well, we have a similar situation right in our very own backyard only it’s not something crafted out of Hollywood.

Here is the odyssey of Ayi Nii Aryee.

Ghana in Western Africa has a population of 22 million people. Although it is one of the progressive countries in the region, they are heavily dependent on international aid through trading of its rich gold, timber, and cocoa. The former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan is perhaps the best known Ghanaian but of late, this English-speaking country has also been relying on its footballing exports like Chelsea’s Michael Essien, Fenerbahce’s Stephen Appiah and Saturn FC’s (from the Russian Premier League) Shilla Illiasu to bring Ghana to international prominence. .

The Black Stars of Ghana are ranked #28 in the world by FIFA and recently competed in the World Cup in Germany. “The pride of Africa” entered the round of 16 after beating the much more ballyhooed Czech Republic 2-0 and the USA 2-1. There they eventually fell to Brasil 0-3, but left Europe giving their country and their continent plenty to cheer about. Ghanaians also have kinsmen Gerald Asamoah and David Odonkor who played for the German side in the World Cup Finals.

Ayi Nii Aryee is from Ghana’s capital city of Accra. He grew up dreaming of following Ghana National Team Captain Stephen Appiah’s footsteps while playing for Istanbul FC in his country’s First Division. Early this year before the World Cup in Germany Singapore, a sports agent contracted Ayi to play professional football for Sporting Afrique (a team that features players mostly from Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana) in Singapore’s S-League. However, the agent duped Ayi leaving him with no club and no money until he was forced to go to the Philippines where he sought the help of an uncle living in Cavite.

Ayi tried to go back to Singapore but he was deported since he had no work permit. He arrived back at Clark International Airport last July 13, 2006 and has been confined to the airport grounds ever since. The terminal was home for 47 days before airport officials moved him to the quarters of the fire department.

He’s been there for over five months now and celebrated his 19th birthday last November 18 with a few airport staff and well-wishers. Ayi, who has learned pidgin Filipino, mostly gets by through the kindness of strangers. Local football club, Union FC which just won the first Terry Razon Copa earlier this month has been helping out Ayi by providing food, water, and material support. A few airport officials have likewise shelled out their own money to help tide over the young African with dreams of greatness on the football pitch. “Salamat,” he says his voice dripping with sincerity to the people who help out. ”Mabuhay ka.”

In spite of his predicament he hasn’t given up hope. He trains twice a day – in the morning and at night -- to keep in shape. He jogs and works out. In a scene eerily reminiscent of another Tom Hanks movie, Castaway, where Hanks’ character Chuck Noland’s constant companion and sounding board is a volleyball named Wilson (after the brand), Ayi’s belief and dreams are encapsulated by a well-used football.

“I believe that football has the power to unite people,” says Ayi his voice unperturbed by months of isolation and dashed hopes. “The sport has brought me places I never thought I would go see. And even if things did not turn out the way I want them, it has brought me new friends and that has made me want to pursue my dreams all the more.”

“I’d love to play for Union FC,” he adds. “I know that football is becoming even more popular in the Philippines. It would be good if I could become a part of that.”

It’s Christmas Eve and Ayi Nii Aryee has a couple of wishes. “Peace for mankind,” he laughs. “Yes, that’s good. But I’d love to get out of here and play. Just to play.”

Merry Christmas to everyone and thanks for reading Bleachers’ Brew and Business Mirror!

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