San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Boruca mothers find solace in soccer

By Sydney Boles | Special to The Tico Times

From the print edition

The 10 indigenous women stand in a tight circle, their heads bowed together as strategies bounce among them. Their faces, which show the first creases of aging, express a mix of determination and excitement – they have been preparing for this for a while. With a final, unified cry, the women dart onto the soccer field, take their places and the game begins. 

In the indigenous village of Boruca, in the south Pacific region, the life of a housewife can be monotonous. But about three years ago, 10 stay-at-home moms founded a soccer team to compete in the local league. They call themselves “Soréˇ ca rócj,” which means “Ladies to Respect.” 

“I like to play for exercise,” says player Marisol Espinoza. “I also like it because we can teach our children that there are other ways to have fun and make friends besides going to the bars.”

Damaris Gonzáles laughs. “I do it because there’ s nothing else to do.” 

Everywhere in Costa Rica, women put up with blatant and seemingly ubiquitious machismo. They are expected to marry, to stay at home with their children and to have dinner steaming on the table when their husbands come home. But indigenous women have an even harder life. Their list of chores is far longer, and they are generally poorer than their non-indigenous counterparts. Supplies are limited. Every day is a battle to scrape a life together, even as a much more appealing life is broadcast on the TV. 

It’s better than it used to be. “Women used to be slaves here,” says Margarita Morales, Damaris’ mother and leader of a women’s micro-loan group called the Association of the Flower of Boruca. “They had to watch their children die of hunger and they’d still be forced to have more babies – 12, 18, 20.”  Today, thanks to the community’s cultural and financial revival, women have a much easier life than they used to. There is running water, electricity, even Internet access. Food is available at several pulperías, or corner stores, and a vegetable cart comes around every two weeks. But that doesn’t mean housewives have it easy. 

Señora Gonzáles makes her living weaving yarn into traditional patterns on a traditional loom. She rises at dawn, cooks breakfast for her husband and two children and begins to work. The loom is little more than a collection of sticks held taut by old, hay-baling cord, but Gonzales wields the contraption with ease, yanking the warp strings high as she passes the shuttle back and forth across them. It is the sort of work that can make a person cross-eyed, and it goes on for hours. 

Her teammate and sister-in-law, Señora Espinoza, is not native to Boruca; she married into the community and has been living there for 15 years. She still misses her old life of friends, roller-skating and movies. But the indigenous community was quick to accept her, as was the soccer team, and Espinoza lives just the way everyone else does. Like the shuttle crossing back and forth across the strings of Gonzales’ loom, Espinoza treks small circles between her little home, the pulpería and the thatched-roof rancho, where the extended family cooks and relaxes together. 

Except, that is, on soccer nights. The events begin in the afternoon, with the highly anticipated men’s games. The concrete field is crowded with spectators and the tension is palpable. In a life as calm and unchanging as life in Boruca, soccer is a chance to let off steam, compete and exercise. 

The soccer field is the biggest building in the village, dwarfing the church that came before it. When the league first began, teams played on grass, in the dark, in the rain and in the heat. But when people started to realize what a good thing soccer was for the community, they fundraised for the building they have now. Much of the money came from the donations of Father Manuel Mora Picado, the local priest, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute and other companies. The ten-team league now plays on concrete, with electric lighting, goal posts and a net around the field to keep the ball contained. 

The housewives’ team, Ladies to Respect, plays late, and very few people stay to watch the game. A great crowd leaves the building as the last men’s game finishes and the women prepare to play. Nevertheless, Espinoza and Gonzales are nervous hours before it’s time to go. They cook dinner in their uniforms and chatter anxiously. “I get nervous before every game no matter how many times I play,” Espinoza says. “I don’t want to let my team down.”

The audience is mostly women and children: The mothers have placed their toddlers in the care of older siblings, and the older siblings have pacified the youngsters with lolli-pops and potato chips. The players, pulling self-consciously at their uniform shorts, take their positions. And finally, the game begins.

The Soréˇ ca rócj are playing against a team of much younger women, most of whom don’t have children and therefore have reached this late hour with much more energy. Plus, as Espinoza says unapologetically of her team, “we’re all fat.” Quickly, the other team pulls ahead, but the housewives aren’t concerned. They laugh and joke about their inability to score on the younger women. 

It took these 10 women a lot of time and effort to get where they are today. From combating sexism to staying awake late enough to compete, to selling hundreds of tamales to pay for uniforms, their fight to play soccer was immense. They are still missing one uniform, and anyone with interest in donating one can call Margarita at 2730-5397. 

“The most important thing,” says Espinoza, “is that we’re really bad at soccer, but we’re still happy to play. We never fight, never blame anyone. We just love the game.”

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