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Journal 14 - Cardin, Cameroon

February 12, 2006

The first thing I learned about Cardin was that he was a soccer player. I learned he's originally from Cameroon and now plays soccer professionally here in Ceuta. When I met him a few weeks ago, I realized the next home game would be after we were gone and I didn't pursue too much conversation.

I ran into him again yesterday, or rather, he ran into me, as he passed by the Cruz Blanca on his way to visit friends in CETI. He said sometimes he gets distracted along the way and doesn't make it the whole way there. Our visit ended up being one of those times, and I spent a good part of the afternoon mostly listening to Cardin's stories.

Cardin Zuzu's mother died when he was quite young, and his father, who worked as a trainer with one of Cameroon's professional soccer teams, had him playing with the ball as soon as he was walking and talking. Sadly, his father died a few years later, when Cardin was around 10 or 11. He had already made his entrance into the soccer world, and by the time he was 12 or 13 he was playing with the national sub-20 team that traveled all around Africa. He and his younger sister left Cameroon soon afterwards, because the money their parents had left them was being swindled away by corrupt government. They went to Ivory Coast, where Cardin again played soccer professionally as a teenager.

When Cardin was 16, he left Ivory Coast to go to Europe. He traveled mostly by bus and walking to get into Morocco, and entered Ceuta swimming. When he arrived here three years ago, most people from Cameroon were being rejected for asylum, but because Cardin was a minor, he was granted residency. He was received by a home for immigrants that was run by Catholic nuns, just up the street from the Cruz Blanca on Avenida Espana. Although they no longer offer food and bedrooms, this organization still works with immigrants, giving classes to those who want to learn Spanish.

Since Cardin has been in Ceuta, he has been able to take classes, especially studying computers, and play with the city's soccer team which is in Spain's Division 2B. He has returned to the school that had taken him in so that he can help teach his compatriots the local language. The apartment he rents for a reasonable price has more rooms than he needs, and a few times he has opened up his place to immigrants who have not yet received documentation. Unfortunately, neighbors called the police on him twice: the first time he was fined 350 O and the second 500 O. Since then he has been reluctant to receive them into his own apartment.

Although he never lived in CETI, he has been friends with fellow French-speaking Africans and plays soccer with them there. He receives 15 free tickets for each home game in Ceuta, and he usually gives them to his friends in CETI. He was quick to offer me a ticket for Saturday, Feb. 18th. I hope it works out to go.

Cardin's dream is to continue playing soccer in Europe. Samuel Eto'o, who is two years older, grew up in the same barrio and now plays offense for Barcelona, the highest ranked team in the Spain's league right now. Cardin pulled out his cell phone to show me his friend's picture (which was alongside Ronaldinho) and phone number.

A few months ago, a scout one of France's division 1 teams came to watch Cardin play and liked what he saw. They have kept in contact, and now there are plans to travel to France at the end of the month to begin training with his new team there. He has been to France and really likes it there, especially because he speaks their language. He will be more than happy to play, even for a lower salary, with a Division 1 team. "If things go well, I'll send you a ticket and fly you over from the states to watch a game if you want," he told me. I wish him the best and will look forward to seeing him play in France.

Derrick