My first move to Nazareth was in July 2014 into a neighborhood named Shneller. As the town is shaped like a bowl with the old city situated in the bottom, Shneller would be up on the edge where you drink the milk from after a bowl of cereal. After about a month of living there I worked up the courage to walk to the local football court to hopefully find some kids to play soccer with. Not only did I not know the local language of Arabic, but I was also a little nervous as I had a neighborhood kid throw a rock at me a couple weeks prior.
Side story: I was walking to the bus stop with another American friend near the house and we did not even notice the group of boys on the other side of the street as we walked. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain on my head as a rock half the size of your palm landed next to me. I put my hand on my head and most of it was covered in blood. We looked back and the boys were now in a dead sprint running away from us. In the quick moment I considered "do I chase them or let it go?" I decided to chase and caught up with one. The only thing I knew in Arabic to say was "Lesh?! (why?)." They boy replied "mistake, mistake"...yeah okay, you threw a rock at me and that was a mistake?! I turned around and saw his friends running at me with bigger rocks in their hands prepared for fight. Less than a month into living here and this already? I walked away.
A family had heard the commotion and was standing outside on the sidewalk as my friend and I were returning to the house. They motioned and asked what was happening so I showed them my hand and shirt which had blood all over and pointed towards the boys. They were very kind to me as they welcomed me in, helped me get cleaned up and gave me a shirt. A few weeks later I returned with some sweets to say thank you which turned into a wedding invitation from them for their sons wedding...my first muslim wedding party I've ever attended, another story for another time.
Back to the soccer. A few weeks after the incident I wanted to overcome my fear of going out and also wanted to play some soccer. I literally had to encourage myself step by step to make it to the court, but I made it and there were some boys there kicking a ball around. Of course they were all curious when I arrived about a foreigner but the ball speaks for itself and pretty soon we were playing a 4v4 game. It was a lot of fun, my first time playing soccer with kids in Nazareth. The ability for sports to bring people together, even when you don't speak the same language, is something so special. After we played I asked if I could take a picture with the boys and they all agreed.
Fast forward seven years. I was given the opportunity to coach a U14 boys team here in Nazareth with good friend of mine within the first month since moving back. I was happy to offer help as an assistant coach and now twice a week with games on weekends, I am an assistant coach for a team of 25 Arab teens, all from a Muslim background. At training last week I was talking with a few boys and suddenly another one walks up from the U16 team. He's got this surprised look on his face and asks "I recognize you! Are you the American who came to play in Shneller a long time ago?" Although I didn't recognize him, I said "Yeah! Wait hold on, let me find the picture." I checked my Instagram and that one picture I took, he was in it! We laughed, hugged and talked for a moment about the memories and how big he has gotten since 2014. It was a special and unexpected gift to see Mohammed again and now at training we give each other a smile and high five...after all, we're old friends ;)