Luz y verdad | Women’s football in the heights of La Paz

'On our team, we like for Petrona, who plays de pollera, to serve as goalie. If it gets past her hands, she's got a thick skirt to back her up.' Petrona

I am no soccer expert, but years of playing team sports taught me the basics, and that camaraderie is often as important as technique. Still, no amount of training ever diminishes the dizzying effect of playing soccer at 12,000 feet. Evolution has left Bolivia’s indigenous Aymara descendants with a bigger lung capacity, more red-blood cells and a real advantage when playing opponents, like myself, raised at sea level.

We have been working on the basics for about a year now. Stop the ball. Control. Pass. Stop. Control. Pass. Do not yell at your teammate!

Kicking the ball randomly only sends it into the sludgy “river” that runs by the concrete field. Fishing the ball out, you start to wonder what parasites are burrowing into your skin and when they will hatch. And so we practice: Stop. Control. Pass.

The real killers on the field are Aymara women “Susan Ellison has served in La Paz as a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission worker since 2001.


For more on Bolivian sportswomen, see the New York Times article on women wrestlers (Juan Forero,In This Corner, in the Flouncy Skirt and Bowler Hat …,” 21 Jul 05).

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