SAN DIEGO — Chacha Namdar is a 28-year-old soccer player from Tehran, Iran. His roommate, and teammate, on the San Diego Sockers professional indoor soccer team is Waad Hirmez, 25, from Baghdad, Iraq.
Iran and Iraq are at war. Hirmez heard recently that several of his relatives had been killed by Iranian soldiers. Earlier, five of his friends were killed.
He doesn't blame Iran, he said. He simply sees it as the nature of war--a war he and Namdar never talk about.
"I guess we're afraid there would be no end to it," Hirmez said. "There's probably no way we'd agree. I don't know . . . We're very close. We're the best of friends. We just hope that one day the war is gonna stop."
Brian Quinn, 25, is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. One of his closest chums is Gary Collier, 31, a teammate from Great Britain. They gingerly avoid the issues that separate their countries.
"Sure, I have me own personal views," Quinn said. "How could I not, growing up in that environment? But I don't have any--how should I say it?--any personal problems with anyone from England. Naturally, my views are those of Northern Ireland. But I lived and played in England for two years. The situation, as we call it, was never discussed."
Nor will it be, he said, as long as he and Collier are teammates and friends. It isn't really a safe topic.
"But I think we could talk about it," Collier said. "We could handle it, even if we disagreed."
The Sockers are 19 players representing 15 countries, including El Salvador, Hungary, Poland and Haiti. All but three are naturalized U.S. citizens. All have family and friends who remain in troubled lands--who lack the luxury of exit visas that talent in professional sports affords.
Somehow, the Sockers maintain their delicate balance of cultures and styles. They have five consecutive indoor championships, two in the now-defunct North American Soccer League and three in the Major Indoor Soccer League, in which they play. They are widely acknowledged as the proven masters of the indoor version of an ancient sport, one native to their home countries.
Much of their success, say the players and Coach Ron Newman, is derived from a shared respect of beliefs and attitudes--even fears.
Along with winning, they say, comes pain. It comes in homesickness, uncertainty about the well-being of family and friends, anger at circumstances beyond their control.
In a strange way, sadness about homes-in-trouble often translates into a looseness and elan that makes even the grittiest athletic competition a cherished alternative. After all, the Minnesota Strikers are hardly as fierce as Islamic Jihad.
Hirmez is a good example of the pain. At the moment, his American citizenship does not allow travel to Iraq. His mother and five siblings are in the United States now, avoiding the war.
His father stays behind, cut off from family, unable to flee. Hirmez hasn't seen his father in seven years. During war, Iraqi men are not permitted to leave. Fortunately for him, Hirmez left before the latest hostilities broke out in 1980.
"Waad and I never talk about it," Namdar said. "It's not worth talking about. I don't understand what they're fighting about and never have. The Persians and Arabs have a long history of animosity. This is just one more ugly chapter."
Collier is not a religious person, nor does he harbor anger against religion. He merely marvels at how so many wars now and throughout history are fought over religion--between his country and Northern Ireland, between Iran and Iraq.
He wonders if religion is necessary. He also marvels at the ignorance people show over conflicts that shadow their lives.
"Most of the people in England don't even know why the British are in Northern Ireland," he said, shaking his head.
Each player admits he chose to leave, rather than stay and fight. Each fought for the opportunity to compete as an athlete, to sign lucrative deals and cash in on the special bonus of leaving a tattered birthplace behind.
They describe the choice with a mixture of relief and regret.
"Everyone back home (in Iran) says it's a dream to come here," Namdar said. "They actually believe people over here hand out money in the streets."
"When I go home," Collier said, "people say, 'Never leave (the United States). You'd be a fool to do so. Never come back.' England is so depressed right now. I wouldn't want to go back.
"Most of the people around the world think the conflicts their governments are involved in are stupid anyway. You have to remember, it's governments deciding these things, not individuals--not the people who make up a country. Those are the people who count."
"I just couldn't stay there," Quinn said of Belfast. "Northern Ireland has 50% to 60% unemployment. Shipbuilding was the big industry, and now that's dead. No new technology has taken its place. There's nothing to do. And you still see the sad old guys in the bars, drinking beer and cursing the British."