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The Beauty of Homemade Soccer Balls

Derek Jensen

It's the World Cup finals this weekend! [Blowing my vuvuzela!]

It's been exhilarating to watch these strong (and oh-so-handsome) men from all over the world tearing across the green fields.  The agility, the speed, the interaction, the national character of the fans and teams have made me into a fan.  Soccer isn't as big in the U.S. as it is in the rest of the world.  My Thailand-born father insists that American football would surpass soccer's popularity in other countries if people could afford all of the equipment required for the game.

But that's the beauty of soccer -- all you need are two goals, a ball, and a space big enough to run around in.  Which is exactly what photographer Jessica Hilltout captured in her travels around Africa. Hilltout drove around to different villages, trading her purchased, official black and white balls for homemade, jury-rigged toys made by ardent soccer fans in Mozambique, Ghana and other African countries.  In her New York Times slideshow, entitled "Grassroots Soccer", kids are shown with their beloved homemade balls, lovingly put together from plastic bags, twine, and even air-blown condoms, which are often distributed for free in African cities.  You've got to it to believe it.

It's a heartwarming reminder that play can and should be a catalyst for ingenuity.  I'm reminded of a Parcheesi set that my cousins carried on long drives when we were kids -- the parts were just colored cardboard, fastidiously cut and colored.  The whole game fit into a teeny, old-school metal Band-Aid tin.  I used to marvel at my cousins' attention to detail, their DIY attitude, the dexterity they must have had in order to model such a tiny version of the game.  I would give away 100 store-bought board games to have that pretty, handmade Parcheesi set again.