Every time I played, I noticed an odor. It wasn't my forehand. Just beyond the fence lay a pile of garbage where men gathered to pick through the scraps for food and to defecate. My curses mocked me. While I fretted over my second serve, men a few feet away gnawed on potato peels.
I pushed that from my mind, consoling myself with the teaching I was doing, and slowly my game improved. One afternoon I trailed my wife by only 5-4. Never had I won a set from her—here, perhaps, was my chance. She hit a ball low and deep to my backhand. I swung and hit the ball off the rim of my racket and high into the air. It soared over the fence and landed where it belonged—in the pile of garbage.
"Chico," I called to the little boy scavenging there for food. "¿Puedes lanzarme la pelota?" ("Can you throw me the ball?") If we lost this ball, we would be down to only one.
The boy picked it up, looked at me, then turned and began to run. That little sonofa.... I dropped my racket, raced for the gate and tore after him.
He ran two blocks, turned a corner and scrambled over a fence. My god. I hadn't seen spunk like this since I had arrived. I chased him through a lot and back onto the street, the green ball pumping in the little brown hand at his side. As I was closing the gap, my feet slowed beneath me. He had a $2.50 ball in his hand, half his dad's weekly salary...now he could toss it against a wall with his friends. My feet came to a stop, I turned and walked back to the courts.