Saved by the Goal in Cuba

Yasmin S. Portales Machado

I was in bed in the hospital in 1990 when Germany took the World Cup. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — In the spring of 1990, the world as I knew it was falling to bits. I didn’t exactly know this, even though I was a good, primary school student who read the newspaper Granma and Zunzun and Sputnik magazines. I don’t think even my parents realized that “real socialism” was falling to bits.

Mom and Dad didn’t have time to worry about Moscow and Fidel Castro. They were far too concerned about the results of my blood and platelet tests and my surgeries. As for me, I couldn’t even remember the days in which reading the paper so as to be the most informed student in the class was important to me – I was merely trying to make it alive to the next day.

It was a morning in June, 1990, and I was lying still in bed when my father turned on the TV. I could barely move, but my dad’s action seemed so strange to me that my brain sent the recently-restored eyelids the order to blink. “Look, Yasmin, they’re playing soccer,” he said, as though that was meant to explain everything.

Soccer had never appealed to me because it was a European sport, that is, a sport practiced by people who don’t bathe every day. Even though it was popular among our “brothers” from the socialist bloc, I always imagined those games befouled by the stench of twenty-two guys running madly about without having washed their armpits in the morning and without any plans of bathing after the game was over.

It was a childish view of things, of course. My imagination had excluded the additional body odours of the East European fans (who were equally or more untidy that their teams), and ignored the fact that soccer is also played in Mexico, a Latin American country where people do bathe.

For those paying attention, there were clear signs that the world was falling to bits during the Cup: the Soviet team was swept away by Romania and Argentina; it didn’t even make it to eighth place. The important thing at the ward, however, was that Cuba was broadcasting the World Cup for the first time, live from Italy, and there was something on TV in the morning and afternoon at the hospital, when I no longer wanted to read anything.

Soccer in the streets of Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

I still considered soccer something quite useless – I am anti-sport – something foreign (unlike baseball), but seeing people around me (other hospitalized children, depressed parents, impatient nurses, doctors who struck me as quite rigid) become excited over the game reminded me that there was life beyond the sterile walls of my ward, life that was closer to me than the interstellar or magical places in my books.

The people around me became interesting to me because, strangely enough, they started talking about something that didn’t have to do with medicine. Until then, the screams patients had shared stemmed from the fear that the treatment ward instilled in them. Now, people were yelling things like “the referee is blind”, “pass it on” and “that’s one hell of a foul”, and their yelling expressed a common joy and enthusiasm that went from ward to ward.

“Goal!” The triumphant word leapt from bed to bed, room to room. “Gooooooooaaal, mate!” Tubes in noses or throats vibrated. “Goooal!” The lines on the cardiac monitors went mad. “Gooooaaaal!” The word was stretched out to the limits of the patients’ damaged lungs.

Life goes on. It can take another graft, another opportunistic infection, another respiratory arrest. We’ll walk away from this one.

I don’t recall whether I left the hospital before or after the end of the World Cup (I won’t bother my mom with such a chronological query), but every time the World Cup begins to air I look back to that morning: the bright green and yellow uniforms shine in the small screen. It must have been June 10, when Brazil played Sweden in Turin.

Incidentally, West Germany won the 90 World Cup on July 8, defeating Argentina. Seven weeks and six days later (August 31), East Germany would surrender, under the metaphor of “reunification.” “How are sporting awards chronologies put together these days?”, I sometimes wonder.

2 thoughts on “Saved by the Goal in Cuba

  • Remember that the Berlin Wall only separated East and West Berlin. The Iron Curtain stretched across the whole of Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Fifteen feet of coiled barbed wire, 200 metres of mined ploughed land, then another fifteen feet of barbed wire. A wooden tower every kilometre with a guard at the top with sub-machine gun and two German Shepherd dogs at the base of the tower. When crossing the Austro-Hungarian plain, it reached the 5 kilometre wide lake – the Neuseidler See. But it continued across the lake -still with the towers every kilometre. I saw it!
    The wall and the Iron Curtain were not there to stop those of us in the free world from getting in to the Socialist paradise, but to stop those imprisoned within it from getting out. Many of those who tried, died in their endeavors and were left hanging on the wire.
    When the communist empire rotted from within and so many countries were liberated, not one in subsequent elections, elected a communist government.

  • East Germany would surrender, under the
    metaphor of “reunification”? …. what does it mean?…they pulled the
    Berlin Wall down, the most disgraceful architecture in the history of humanity.
    A symbol of the communist ideology.

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