I grew up watching my father play a lot of beach volleyball. Since living in Cuba, I have also become fond of conventional volleyball, a game quite popular on the island.
Last week the Chinese and Cuban men’s teams squared off at the Havana “Sports City” indoor coliseum for two exhibition matches. Unable to make the first, I didn’t want to miss the second. Despite it being a school night, I took my 6-year-old grandson for his first visit to our “superdome”, built in 1957 with a 15,000 capacity.
Tickets are sold for one and two pesos, the equivalent of 4 and 8 cents of a US dollar, within anyone’s reach. The more expensive tickets were for wooden seats on the first two levels, and the cheaper tickets bought a space on benches higher up.
The first thing we did upon entering the stadium was to buy some popcorn. Others around us were snapping up the other food items for sale: lechon pork sandwiches and chocolate coated ice cream bars.
We arrived a half hour early to get good seats and see the players warm up. However, finding seats turned out to be not all that easy. We attempted to sit down twice, only to learn that we had chosen blocks of seats that were reserved for a large group of Chinese students who are in Cuba to study Spanish.
Finally seated on the second level, I started explaining to Axel who was who, which he had already figured out, and observing the stadium and its decorations. There were no advertisements; just a couple of small scoreboards, a large portrait of Ernesto “Che” Guevara (there was no need to tell the boy who he was), and a potpourri of red, white and blue banners tastefully hanging from the ceiling, giving a kind of birthday party atmosphere.
Down on the court, the warm-up resembled a choreography of giants jumping up and down and more than a dozen blue and yellow balls flying in the air.
After the passing drills it was time for practicing attacks. This proved quite humorous from our vantage point, as several hard spikes flew past the court helpers and into the ground floor crowd which had to be on red alert so as not to get bopped. A few did!
The practice ended, and the player announcements and national anthems of both countries were played over the loudspeakers. One amusing detail was that the announcer for the Chinese team called out the players’ numbers in English, despite the presence of several hundred Spanish students in the crowd.
Play ball began right on time at 8:30.
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