I am Anthony E. Savvides. This is my blog.

Reflections & adventures of a writer at heart, a journalist by trade and a waiter by night.

Posts Tagged ‘FIFA World Cup

Iraq comes to Jordan. Or, my first international soccer match.

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Note: this post was written on June 4.

Last night, on June 3, I attended a FIFA World Cup Qualifying match between Iraq and Jordan. The two national teams met at Sports City, and huge park with a variety of complexes including the soccer stadium, located in the heart of Amman.  Think Boston Common meets Central Park meets Madison Square Garden meets a graveyard, but completely different.

Matt, Talal, Joe, Sam, Jon, Sean, Joey and I all went to the watch the match, but I didn’t know so many people from our program were going to be there.

At the dinner table the night before, my host brother Amir mentioned that the match was coming up. As soon as Matt and I heard, we immediately inquired about tickets. “We have to go,” I said. Matt agreed.

So, we handed over 20 JD and asked that he purchase four tickets for us. (One ticket cost 5 JD, or about $7. I couldn’t believe it. A match like this in the U.S. would probably cost upward of $50-$100. And by a match like this, I mean the U.S. national team playing another nation in a World Cup Qualifier on home turf.) Amir, Raed and Mohammed wanted to join us for the football match, so the four tickets would be for Matthew and I, along with Talal and whoever else wanted to join.

After the deal was done, I mentioned the possibility of a double byline story, and we began to discuss writing a story about the match. Jordan has never been so close to qualifying for the World Cup tournament, and the two teams have a long history between them, a rivalry that goes way back.

Who would we talk to? The coach of Jordan, who just so happens to be Iraqi. The players. The fans.

How could we get access? Invite Talal, who is such a badass and really should consider a career in journalism. He just pushes and talks his way into everything. He could also serve, as he has countless times over the course of this program, as our translator.

Could we fit in what would be our fourth story? Yes. It’s a game, I thought, and essentially a culture scene story. Quick turnaround.

We sat together in front of Matt’s computer, which I sort of commandeered away from him, and drafted our pitch to Carlene. It was almost midnight. Shortly thereafter, we turned in for the night. I woke up at 5 a.m. for a quick start to the day, and to fit in a morning workout.

About an hour later, I checked my email. Carlene responded, at about 4:30 a.m. (Does she EVER sleep!? I don’t know how she does it. Even if she was just then waking up, she has two kids with her on this trip and 16 student journalists reporting to her on a daily basis. She’s such a badass. God bless her.)

The email was simple, straightforward, but harsh. As I read the email, which was a list of 4 talking points, I began to sweat a little. Her questions were so cutting, so specific. It made me feel as though my pitch was garbage. What was I thinking? How will I ever be able to fully grasp the art of this thing called journalism that I do? Why didn’t I think of these questions?

Shortly thereafter, I heard my bedroom door creak open and light footsteps. It was Matt. He peeked into the living room area, where I was seated at the dining room table in front of my laptop. I told him that we got a response from Carlene. He just continued into the bathroom to brush his teeth and such, and I didn’t blame him. It was too early in the morning to be dealing with Carlene’s hard edits—and this wasn’t even an edit, it was just a response to a pitch.

Throughout the course of the morning, Matt and I talked, over breakfast and during our hunt for a cab, about our story idea. Why can’t we just do a story about this game?, we kept saying. Why does it always have to be so much more than just skin deep? I proposed it to Matt intending, and thinking, that it would be a no-brainer. We would go, cover the event, and just by doing that we would have a culture scene story.

As the day dragged on, my excitement for the game grew. I had never before been to an international soccer match, and the last time I saw a live match was when I was much younger. It was a New York Rough Riders game, and it was probably definitely awful. (I’m not even sure that team still exists.) So, needless to say, the chance to catch Jordan hosting Iraq in a FIFA World Cup Qualifier felt incredible, like it was meant to be.

The story Matt and I had hoped to write, though, was not. As Carlene explained later that afternoon, Amanda had pitched a soccer story two weeks earlier, and we couldn’t have TWO soccer news stories. You know, because people around the world don’t like soccer and would hate to read two stories about it. Oh no wait, that’s just in America. The rest of the world, I would argue, probably would have enjoyed both of these stories. Amanda wanted to write about why the Jordanian league teams are not popular here, and why fans flock to either FC Barcelona or Real Madrid. It could have been an interesting story, but would have been completely different than the story Matt and I had in mind.

Oh well. Matt and I went to the game and met up with the guys, and both looked at each other moments into the first half and had a ‘fuck it’ look. We were on the same page. I put my AP notepad down, and we just watched the game, enjoyed it.

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No reporting, no trying to convince anyone it was worth writing about, and no compromising on what we wanted to write. Just soccer with friends.

 

Written by AESavvides

June 8, 2012 at 1:01 pm

We landed in Amman. It feels so good to be back.

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I had a serious case of deja vu when I landed in Amman on Friday evening, almost one week ago. The airport looked and smelled the same as it did last May. The visa process and baggage claim were exactly as I had remembered them. Although this time, I was not asked to scan my irises when obtaining my visa. That made me feel like less of a badass. It also put me at ease. Apparently, this time I didn’t seem threatening enough. A good sign, for my journalistic prospects and aspirations here, I suppose. (Another good sign: a bird shit on my head when I arrived in Boston, before I met up with the rest of the gang at Logan Airport to depart for London.)

We waited as a group for about 20 minutes to exchange currency before standing in line for about 40 more to obtain visas. I exchanged $23, as I had leftover Jordanian Dinars (JD) from last year. The process was smoother this time around, because last year no one really knew what was going on. And, to be honest, Queen Alia International Airport (still, shock!) isn’t the most organized place in the world. (But really, what airport is organized? Exactly.)

After I paid my 20 JD, had my passport stamped and was officially welcomed back into the country, I ventured down the escalator to the right. Carlene was just ahead of me, and only a handful of students remained at the visa counters.

This piece of luggage belonged to the lady who checked in at the kiosk next to the one I stood at. I lingered just a few moments after my boarding pass had already printed to snap this shot without being too obvious. Lingering and the lack of taps on the screen probably made it more obvious. Oh well. It was a cool suitcase, and I don’t care if it was obvious or seemed weird to her.

Down at baggage claim, just off to the left off the escalator, my eyes were quickly drawn to my spotted bag. This time around, I packed only 30 pounds of shhtuff. That’s 20 below the fixed limit set by Virgin Atlantic. (Also, it just occurred to me that we, as a group, will be flying back to the states on, yup, Virgin Atlantic. But, I stand by my previous post- it’s not my decision. I hate that airline.)

I also noticed an interesting bag that another passenger was rolling around earlier in the day at JFK, pictured to the left. An omen of my future as a traveling reporter? I hope so….

After hopping over the baggage belt to snag my bag before it traveled back around, Laura helped me to spot Sam’s bag. Again, I tried to pull it off of the baggage belt so I wouldn’t have to wait for it to come back around. Moments later, almost as though it were rehearsed, Sam came down the flight of steps. In London she was told that her luggage wouldn’t be put onto the connecting light since she had lost her ticket. Needless to say, she was pretty upset. I was here in the region last year, but most of my peers this year went out and purchased entirely new wardrobes that are deemed more appropriate this culture. Sam was one of those people. When she saw me rolling her bag toward her, a smile immediately stretched across her face. I was just happy to help, and relieved that a missing bag wouldn’t be occupying her mind; there would be enough going on in the coming five weeks for her to worry about.

We all waited there until everyone in the group gathered their bags, and walked through the narrow, short passage to get to the exit. There stood Ahmed, who was our handler last year. He smiled and shook my hand, welcoming me back to his coutry. I was pleasantly surprised that he remembered me, as we did not have any especially memorable interactions last year. This only furthered my belief that this nation and its people are unique, and different than other people I have met in my lifetime.

Over the course of the last five years of my life, I have done quite a bit of traveling. After living in New York for 18 years, I moved to Boston to attend university. Since then, I have gone on a road trip along the eastern seaboard to New Orleans and back. I ventured to San Diego, California, for a brief if unpleasant trip. I went to Germany and the Netherlands with my brother during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. During our time in Amsterdam and Cologne, we watched the semifinal and final rounds of the tournament. In Germany, it was a pleasure watching the fans drink themselves silly after Spain embarrassed them. (In my aunt’s words: the Germans deserved it. And she lives there, among them. And I agreed with her. My brother and I were very excited about a Spain v. Holland final match.) In the Netherlands, people were very friendly after the national team defeated Uruguay, and after my brother and I made clear we were not there from Spain. After the last minute loss to Spain in the finals, though, the people were in a different state of mind: miserable.

In Jordan, the people are always nice. It could be weeks without rainfall in the world’s third-driest country, and the people are cheerful. Amman might be overrun by protests on any given Friday afternoon, but the general population (read: those not protesting) reamins in good spirits. The culture here is a welcoming one in which the people open their hearts and homes to strangers, always. (My host family has done so two years running now. More to come on my new host family later today. And a shout-out to my host family that I lived with last year. I hope to see them again this time.)

The Ammani people are always so eager to help, and so happy to speak with me. I think that’s another reason why I love to be here, both personally and as a journalist. Back home in the states, most of what I write is still for a grade; here, what I’m writing means something, and it means something for more than just me and a professor and the registrar. We are writing and reporting stories that would otherwise never be told. We are writing for a global audience. I am writing for more than a grade here. I’m here to be a journalist first, and a student second, but in Boston that gets turned around. I like it better this way.

Another thing about reporting in the states: people feel so burdened by reporters, it seems. Whenever I call for an interview, or to request an interview, I can usually feel the “ugh” on the tip of the person’s tongue, and sometimes it even comes out. I find it especially infuriating when I am working on a piece for the Huntington News and Northeastern professors say they can’t comment or don’t have time time. In Jordan, people jump at the chance to speak to someone who will listen to them. Reporters don’t roam the streets here. News media in Jordan don’t have the kind of control over information- and the information society has access to- that the American media do. America is a country run, essentially, by the media. (I guess politicians technically run the country, but lately it all seems like public relations and nonsense. It’s on the brink of unbearable.) Jordan is a nation run by the regime of King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein. The media, though a free one, is censored and filtered by that regime, and its government. I’m not going to say it should be one way or the other, but I think a happy medium would be ideal. I look forward to these next five weeks as my input toward that cause.

Here, a bunch of us posed for our first shot of the journey through Jordan. Pictured, clockwise from the top: Gina-Maria Garcia, Brianna Hollis, myself, Christina Bivona, Caroline Edwards, and Jessica Teich.

Note: this post has been sitting in drafts for almost a week now. It’s been modified slightly, since it’s almost a week since its inception. I need to stop over-thinking this blogging business. From now on, they get written, skimmed, and posted. Well, I’ll start living by that after I run through, edit and post the 3 or 4 other drafts that have been written and stowed away in the depths of the wordpress inter-webs since we arrived in Amman. All of that will be up later today, as I play catch up. We now have internet access USB drives, so, expect said posts shortly, after I sleep for a bit.