It is a balmy afternoon on the Gunston Recreation Center soccer field in Arlington. Parents put Gatorade on ice, and the sounds of children fill the air.
But while the laughter of children sounds the same as it usually does on this field, there is something different about some of the words that cut through it.
One of the teams on the field has come from half-a-world away -- Central Asia -- to play three local teams in exhibition games and learn about a land and people they've heard so much about, yet know so little about.
The kids come from many regions in the former Soviet Union, which are now independent countries. Among them Kazakhstan (the largest), Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. They were in Washington, D.C., from May 7-11, and continued on to Boston, Tuscon and Colorado.
The tour was the idea of Abt Associates and the United States Agency for International Development, (USAID). Abt is a firm which consults in other countries on various projects and oversees business research and development. Abt is currently in Central Asia consulting on hospitals. It was while doing consulting work on hospitals Abt decided to sponsor students from the various countries and have them come to the United States and play soccer.
Among the players was Kuanish Umiraliev, a 14 year-old from the country of Kazakhstan which is in the middle of Central Asia.
"Today has been really fun. We visited the Capitol and shops. I am looking forward to playing soccer now," Umiraliev said.
Boris Petrochenko is a 13 year-old orphan form Kazakhstani. He recalled his favorite sites during his tour of Washington earlier that day. "We saw the wheelchair of one of the Presidents. I don't remember his name, but I felt bad because he was in a wheelchair. I also liked it when we went up in the big pencil." After a few questions through the interpreter, one realizes Boris meant the FDR Memorial and the Washington Monument.
Others helped sponsor this tour, some not until after the youths were already here. Notable among these were the Chickasaw, Mohegan and Southern Ute Indian tribes.
"We did it for the children," says Charles Blackwell, Ambassador to the United States from the Chickasaw Nation. He explained how his accountant was one of the host families which housed the youths during their stay in Washington. She walked in his office the morning of the game and told him how the kids had arrived without proper cleats, uniforms, shin guards and socks.
"She told me they had blisters on their feet," Blackwell said. "What could I do? I thought, 'This is silly, we ought to do something about this.' Taking care of your young is a tribal tenent. I called the other tribes and without hesitation, we all agreed to donate money."
Through the donations, each of the youths received three pairs of sox, a soccer ball, shin guards and new cleats. Blackwell thinks this tour is a combined triumph of many individuals and groups. Blackwell also knows beyond all of the donations, planning and logistics, one need never forget the bottom line of a tour like this. "It's simple, I know when a kid needs a hug. When they do, I give it to them."