Yesterday on the way back from the Homeless World Cup draw I happened upon a moment that always contrasts with the MAGIC that I talk about and the joyous feeling of the tournament.
As Mel Young co-founder of the event said on Twitter ” @melyoung53: Out early this morning in #Santiago many people sleeping in streets like other world cities;end homelessness ”
I passed one of these guys Mel talked about who I heard crying in the busy Main Street, I turned to see the tears roll down his face, carrying in his arms the slumped body of a dog.
It was clear it was his, and the dog had died. Hit by a passing car on the busy roads in Santiago.
My heart broke into pieces, the crowds kept walking almost invisible to them.
I stopped and in the only way I could I recognised his pain.
The man had just lost his best friend. Struggling on the streets is hard enough without adding to that with losing your closest companion.
Day one kicked off with this still in my thoughts, the joy and wonder of the parade.
I watched as the tournament began in earnest the pride of representing your country abundant for all to see.
Later I caught up with the Greek Team and chatted to one of their players, who I briefly met at the draw.
Alex who is not the average age shall we say had a twinkle in his eye when I asked if we could chat.
I asked him after 2 days had he experienced the MAGIC yet?
“Yes he said with a beaming smile”
What does it feel like, why is it magical?
” that feeling of pride when I was told I will go to Chile and represent my country”.
I continued to probe him about the feeling trying to understand better eventually he replied.
” I feel a connection with these people we do not need to speak the same language to be connected.”
In this moment he explained it so beautifully we were both moved to tears.
The coach George who kindly translated for us and we continued talking about his story how he lost his job and broke up with his girlfriend and ended up homeless.
I story that sounds so familiar and could and does happen to many.
How he worked with the Greek Street Paper Shedia to finally earn enough to get a place of his own.
I asked what ‘Home’ meant to him ?
“Home means happiness” it was simple we explored what he felt about his time being homeless.
” I was invisible when I was selling the paper it was as if I didn’t exist sometimes”
I asked what he felt about homeless people before he had these dramatic changes and ended up homeless himself.
” they are all heroes to me, the struggle to survive makes them heroes to me it’s tough living on the streets” he said.
I asked him him what the culture in Greece is towards the homeless people there.
George interjected with the expression ” if my neighbour has a goat I wish it would die” he explained that the general meaning was that people would rather you came down together rather than inspire to do better than your neighbours. The opposite of keeping up with the ‘Joneses’.
By this time with Greeks history we had discussed many philosophical points and Alex had one more story to tell.
“When I first became homeless I had a dog called ‘ Sifis’ he was my best friend. I had to ask my friend in Crete if he could look after him until I found a place. ”
Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. He missed his pal.
Eventually when he settled into his new place he managed through shipping his dog back through various cities back to be reunited.
You could tell how emotional he was and how he had a CONNECTION with his ‘Sifis’
The same feeling he described earlier about the MAGIC experienced at the Homeless World Cup.
For me it felt like a full circle moment, within 24 hours I had seen a man on the streets lose his best friend and a man from the streets of Athens tell me how he had got his best friend back.