Because You Can’t Tackle Volunteers

I live a double life in Barranquilla. Omitting my virtual/social media self who keeps in touch with people at home, I currently manage two personas. There’s Brighid Carey, AFD: host family- and school principal-whisperer, wooer of Colombian politicians, undercover intelligence agent and caretaker of gringos in need. She faces down stubborn bank tellers and Migración officials in the same breath, knows the power of high heels and well-worded emails and pretends that her phone Spanish is better than it is. That’s my 9 to 5, or rather, 24/7.

The other half shows face on evenings and weekends. Bri can be found routinely tackling her teammates a little too hard, beating college boys at hill climbs, selectively understanding or ignoring the teasing and rumors surrounding her personal life, and somehow always being the most bruised, battered and dirtiest. She sometimes can’t get the Spanish for “left” and “right” out of her mouth as fast as her feet are moving and answers to Gringa, Gringa %@#$!*, Furia Connecticut and Briiiiii!

I'm on the ground, unsurprisingly.

I’m on the ground, for a change.

My job can be all consuming and for sanity’s sake I need an outlet. Rugby is a subculture where I can immerse myself for a few hours four, five, six days a week and refocus my energy. Conference budgets, school curricula and culture shock curves couldn’t be farther removed from the ball in my hands and where it needs to go. There are so many unstable, uncontrollable unknowns defining life in Colombia that I feed off the few hours a week when I can determine an outcome by running harder and thinking faster. I’m still the foreigner, but the red, green, and yellow on my jersey don’t care what language I speak as long as I make my tackles.

Beloved UConn rugby coach, Ace, once wisely advised me to “always throw your boots in your suitcase” because anywhere in the world you go, you can find a team who will welcome you for a game and a beer. He had no idea how true that is in Colombia. Upon arriving to Barranquilla in January I knew no one save for a phone number of a rugby friend of a rugby friend and now, a 4-month lifetime later, I have a team that’s become a family in the rapid, intense way that only athletic teams can.

My team is called Mokaná. It’s a co-ed club with women’s and men’s sides consisting of mostly university students from Barranquilla and a few borrowed from elsewhere in Colombia. A guy from Wales and I make up the international component. Playing here versus the states is entirely familiar and different at the same time – but the sames are what really count. Camaraderie, teamwork, communication, allegiance, pride, blood (lots when you practice on sand), sweat (buckets as a Yankee gringa in the Caribbean climate) and tears (not too many. And most definitely more laughs) don’t change over borders. The rulebook reads the same and physics is universal – hits hurt.

Bri’s bruises are tough to hide when AFD Brighid is wearing dresses to meet the mayor and sometimes she thinks, “If I can tackle boys twice my size, I can mediate with this host family.” AFD Brighid finds herself trying to micromanage Bri’s teammates at times, and she’s typically the only one who always brings water, bug spray AND sunscreen.

Coexistence is beautiful.

Bri is a bully.

Bri is a bully.