Alemao “Player” Souza, who spent time as a refugee in Iraq, is the first poet to receive a political and social justice prize. (Alemao is pronounced Al-MAH-Oo-ee.) The award ceremony took place on Sept. 21 at TEDWeekends.
“Can’t read a poem in a language I don’t know? Give me your phone. After all, poetry isn’t written in any language, and it shouldn’t be written in any language,” Player reads to me during our phone conversation.
“It might be Shakespeare, but my world is not a fan of Shakespeare,” he adds. And I think, yes, I do miss sports. We both do. But for me, sport is really about teamwork and of being with like-minded individuals. I can never take that away from them,” Player says.
He has a fascinating political story. He attended an Arab School in Baghdad, where half of the students were Yazidis and his and his family’s tribe was Muhayyeen, an offshoot of the Yazidi tribe. Every time Player left the school, he faced a side street to a tree that was “tourist-y.” That was his only means of communication with home, even though he could hear his language on the radio playing nonstop, except he couldn’t read it.
In the midst of a story like this, which follows Player from a refugee camp to a soccer field in Kurdistan, I wonder what he was listening to back home in Baghdad. But that’s too difficult for me to speculate about. Instead, I ask what he misses the most.
“Soccer is what my friends and I did,” Player says. “It was the central aspect of what we did together as a family. You played as a team. The socialization that it fostered, the inclusion of people, the common sense that it brought, as well as the joy it brought.”
“And how did you think of the movie ‘Friends’ when you were writing it?” I ask. “That is a reference,” Player says. “Yes, there is a reference to that, which is just as sad to me as the coincidental way it turned out. That is a society that seems to be doing pretty well except for that one thing in their midst. And I tried to maybe think, ‘What if a play were written in the sense that it was written by two friends?’ ”
I ask what he thinks about the prospect of sport in the 21st century. “I think it has some possibilities,” Player says.