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Ball Foot

"So what is this ball foot you are talking about then? Is it some kind of game? We don't have any games where we're from." Was this man kidding? I looked over at my husband Andy who, by the looks of it, also wasn't sure if it was a joke.

We were dealing with Walter Friesen, the spiritual leader of a strict Mennonite community in Belize. It was possible that he was unaware of football (or soccer as it is called in the States). But for us it was strange to discover that there are actually people out there who've never even heard of the most popular ball game on earth.

Walter Friesen's Mennonite community is very Little House on the Prairie . They have no electricity there, no cars, no telephones, and they don't even have mirrors for everyday use (only small ones that can be used for "non-vain purposes" -- say, when something gets stuck in your eye). The Mennonites are similar to the Amish. I believe they've branched off from the same original group and religion. But don't hold me to that; I'm no expert on the matter.

Anyway, why were we talking to Walter Friesen about football? Well, we had recently bought an Arab quarter horse from him for $500.

As we strolled away from his farm, eating the homemade chocolate chip cookies that his wife had given us, he asked, "Do you want to take the horse now or shall we bring it in the coming days?"

Obviously, we couldn't take the horse. We'd come to Barton Creek by car (over an hour's drive) and had no trailer with us.

"Bring it please," I answered. "And just give us a call before you set off."

The moment those words flew out my mouth, I knew I'd said something stupid. "I'm sorry, you don't have a phone. Do you?"

Walter smiled. "We'll bring it on Thursday morning." And that was that, the arrangement was made.

It was only when we got back home that it dawned on me: Mennonites don't have trailers. Christ, they don't even have cars. "Oh shoot!" I cried "How on earth is he going to get this horse to us?"

The thought hadn't occurred to Andy either. "Hmm, maybe he'll ride it here? Or maybe he has some kind of ark and will be floating it downstream?"

"Ha ha, very funny, Andy."

I got worried for the old man. Surely he wasn't going to ride it all this way? Again, if Mennonites had phones, it would have been easy to find out what he had in mind. But as it stood, we just had to wait and see.

Late Thursday morning, we heard the sound of hoofs coming toward our house, and there he was, Walter Friesen walking next to our horse with a bewildered Mennonite teenager on the horse's back. Walter had walked for four hours in the Belizean heat to get to us! And he must be in his 50s or 60s, which made it more astounding. I felt bad. This poor man had walked all this way, because I (by being so thoughtless) had asked him to do so. Dumb, dumb, dumb, Simone!

I invited them in for a drink and some food, but Walter and his son wouldn't move; they just stared at our house.

"What is this place?" Walter sighed.

"A geodesic dome," I answered, "I don't know if you've ever heard of them."

Walter shook his head. His 16-year-old son was trying to keep his head low while secretly darting glances up at the Dome's enormous structure.

I have to admit, our house is unusual even by Western standards, and, apart from looking like a big wooden egg in the middle of the jungle, it's pretty big.

"Is this where you live?" Walter gasped.

"Yes, it is."

"And how many other people live here?"

"Er...just my husband. It's just the two of us here." I was embarrassed to admit this. The house could accommodate ten times as many people, which is why we ended up turning it into a resort.

"Hello, Mr. Friesen. How are you? I turned around and saw Andy appearing from his vegetable garden. "Thanks for bringing the horse. You didn't walk all this way, though, did you?"

"Yes, I did, Mr. Hunt. And my boy here rode the horse, which has been a great experience for him, as he has never before left our community. But, tell me, Mr. Hunt, how have you been able to buy a house of this size? It must have been very expensive."

"Well, I used to be a professional football player back in the UK."

"What was that you said? Ball foot? You played ball foot?"

"Football. Soccer." Andy scanned Walter Friesen's face, but there wasn't a hint of recognition.

"No, never heard of this ball foot. We don't have games in our community. But people used to pay you money for throwing a ball?"

"Well, for kicking it. Yes they did. They actually paid me a lot of money for it. Footballers earn more than doctors, teachers, or even politicians."

"Well, well, isn't that strange?" Walter murmured.

"Yes, Mr. Friesen. It sure is."

We later found out that the Barton Creek Mennonites not only are unfamiliar with games, but also with soft furnishing. Walter's son sat down on our sofa (once we got them inside) and acted like someone had thrown him on to a flying carpet, hands levitating in front of him, swaying from left to right and looking surprised, if not shocked, by the experience. (We turned off our wide-screen television for fear it would have caused the poor boy's head to explode.)

We talked for hours and were once again mesmerized by the cultural diversity of Belize, that such a tiny country can have so many different social groups with such diverse ways of life. And, thinking about the money my husband and I used to earn as an entertainer and as a professional sportsman, it again made us wonder: which society is the strange one?


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