There is a familiar feeling – one of anticipation and giddiness, a marked sense of collective excitement that I have experienced at several times throughout my life.
I sensed it as soon I woke up in the morning. I sent Guillermo a quick message, who confirmed the feeling was mutual. “Hoy es un gran día.”, he wrote: Today is a great day.
I scampered down the steps of the apartment and out the gate. The sun shone brightly, but it was a crisp morning. I slipped on a jacket, but there was no hiding the neckline of the sky-blue shirt I wore beneath. I walked with an extra bounce in my step, arriving at my bus stop with minutes to spare.
A small speaker in the front of the bus reverberated a sports talkshow, but a steady hum of conversation among passengers somewhat muffled the voices. “Al parecer, estaría para jugar”, I heard the host state: Sounds like he’s gonna be good to go for tonight.
I made my way through the school, making small-talk with students and staff along the way. “Vos vas a ir esta noche?“, a teacher asked me: Are you going tonight? I flashed a smile, “¡Por supuesto! ¿Cómo no?” My response: How could I miss it? A group students beamed upon hearing my reply.
I strolled past Plaza de La Democracia with a heightened awareness of my surroundings. At first I thought it was just my own exuberance, but there was certainly an energy running through Montevideo. Were there more venders in the streets than usual? Was that food truck there last week? Was there usually music playing in this park?
I made it to my destination. Upon entering the Tres Cruces bus terminal my eyes were immediately drawn past all the crowds of people to the enormous Uruguayan flag hung in the center of the shopping center. That hadn’t always been there, had it?
From our second-story balcony, Guillermo and I looked down at the scene before us. Now, the city was really buzzing. Traffic was at a standstill. Crowds of people weaved their way between vehicles as they walked towards Parque Batlle. The police presence had increased threefold. Music boomed and car horns blared, yet by some miracle we heard a whistle coming from inside the apartment.
The water – similar to the tension throughout the city – was nearing its’ boiling point.
With our mate and thermos of piping hot water in hand, we left the apartment and quickly fell in line behind the crowds heading towards the park.
Carefully dodging the water leaking through the concrete roof above us, we labored up the steps, until we reached the mezzanine. I couldn’t help but grin when I caught my first glimpse of the green grass.
It was game day.
Soon enough the greatest footballer (⚽️) in the world would be taking the pitch. It was to be a World Cup qualifier between two teams desperate for victory. Not to mention the fact it was a rematch of the inaugural World Cup, which was held in Uruguay in 1930.
Nonetheless, tonight’s matchup meant more than even that. Dating back to 1888, it stands among international soccer’s oldest rivalries: El Clásico del Río de la Plata. It’s 🇺🇾 and 🇦🇷, Uruguay and Argentina.
It’s one of those us and them type rivalries, and it was in those first moments in the stadium that I realized I identified with the us crowd.
Way back in March when I saw the Uruguayan national team play, I was just excited to be there. Now, I was invested in the game’s outcome and feeling more Uruguayan than ever before.
There I was: wearing the jersey, holding the flag, bobbing my head to a Cuarteto de Nos melody. The game was to begin at 8:00, so in the mean time we sipped on mate and nibbled on bizcochos. Does it get more yorugua than that? ¡Uruguay nomá!
🎶 ¡Orientales, la Patria o la tumba¡ ¡Libertad o con gloria morir… 🎶 I sang what I knew of the Himno Nacional, and took a few moments to just to listen and reflect…
At some point over the past 170 days, I began to replace “they” with “we” when referring to Uruguay. In March, for example, I might have stated that ellos (they) listen to cumbia music, or that ellos eat alfajores.
Now, on the other hand I would explain that nosotros (we) have candombe, murga, charanga, and many other musical genres. And I’d tell you that nosotros prefer Conaprole™ brand dulce de leche over anything else.
A whistle pierced the air, things got underway, and I was immediately consumed by the action.
Half-time. I never thought a scoreless soccer game could be so exhilarating. The piercing sound of thousands whistles. The collective groan following a misplayed ball. The never-ending cusses directed at the officials. The relieved cheering that accompanied yet another defensive stop by the home team.
But what stuck out to me more than any of the sounds was how quiet the stadium was during gameplay. Over 60,000 passionate fans sitting in absolute silence, engrossed by the play on the field.
The game ends. A 0-0 tie. “Es como bailar con tu prima”, I overhear an Uruguayan say: It’s like dancing with your sister. We shuffled out the stadium in a huddled mass, and made our way back to the apartment. Post-match pizza from Zou Bar helped the tension subside.
My point in sharing all this is not to brag about how much I’ve learned about Uruguay – although I would trust my knowledge of the country against just about anyone. 😉 The point is that I’m proud of this little country, and of all the people and places I’ve come to know.
I have now stepped foot in eight of Uruguay’s 19 departments, and traveled via bus through five others. Most recently I traveled to the northwestern department of Salto, where I took part in a conference for English teachers sponsored by UruTESOL.
I decided to make a weekend out of it, and packed a lot into my quick stay in the city thanks to my friend and fellow Fulbrighter Liz, who lived in Salto the first five months of the grant.
Liz and a stellar group of Salteños took care of me from the second I got off the bus, and I mean that literally: there was a top-notch chivito waiting for me as I got off the bus at 1:30 AM Saturday morning.
One might say the people of Salto jumped (😏) the chance to welcome me to their city. (salto = “jump” in Spanish… ¿quedó bien, no?)
The conference was very enriching (Aldo, thanks so much for having me! You’re the man!), and I met a bunch of really wonderful teachers and students. I loved getting to see a new part of the country, and appreciated the company even more.
Salteños, thank you for the contributions to my dictionary of Uruguayan Spanish, the personal city tour, and a weekend full of laughs. You’re welcome for the dance lessons for introducing the concept of “dad jokes.”
The weekend in Salto is another chapter in what continues to be a story of unending generosity on behalf of Uruguayan. Generosity not only with regards to sharing material things, but also teaching me about history, society, politics, sports, music, and all things culture.
It’s no wonder that with every new city and experience my pride for Uruguay continues to grow, because there is a lot to be pride of here. And that’s why I continue to find myself cheering for Uruguay long after the soccer match ended.
Yo soy lo mismo que vos cuando grito, “SOY CELESTE!”
¡Uruguay pa’ todo el mundo!
A las ordenes.