T he pool table in our meeting room is one of the most appreciated features. There is always a small huddle gathered in the corner contemplating angles and force. Several of our friends have told us that the main reason they started coming to our meetings was to play a round or two of pool afterward. Since it's so loved, we hardly ever play ourselves. Pouria* wanted to change that though.
Pouria had a vision that through pool Austrians and asylum seekers could get to know each other, build friendships and learn from each other. Pouria came as a refugee himself and has lived in Austria now for several years. He has learned German very well and has even married a local girl. He has made it one of his life purposes to help refugees to integrate in their adopted home. He decided to hold a billiards tournament and invite refugees and locals to compete against each other.
Forty people signed up for Pouria's tournament. Each player was randomly assigned to a group of five. They each play against everyone in their group. When a player has won two out of three games they win the match. The top three players from each group advance to the next round. As I said I never play pool, but since I am definitely in favor of integration I also signed up. No one, especially me, expected much from me.
In my group there were two Austrians, an Afghan, an Iranian and myself. Five or six others also came to watch the matches. My first match was against one of the Austrians. If we had been betting I don't think anyone would have bet on me. After three close games though I managed to pull off a win. The next match also went to three games and amazingly I was able to sink the 8-ball twice. My third match was against an Afghan refugee who had come specifically for the tournament. He doesn't usually come to our meetings but he was a friend of Pouria's from other billiards tournaments. Luckily for me in our third game he scratched on his last ball which made me the winner. I had now won three of my four matches and the onlookers were starting to think that they had judged me wrongly
My last match was against one of the Iranians who comes faithfully every week to church. He was baptized in September this year. I could tell he wasn't looking forward to playing me. He had lost a match already so if he didn't beat me he was out of the tournament, but he thought that it might be disrespectful if he beat me. He was perplexed and didn't know what to do. I encouraged him to play as well as he could. My feelings wouldn't be hurt. He must have taken that to heart because of two quick games my brief winning streak was over.
The tournament continues and I will be playing in the next round, possible against the pastor of the German speaking congregation. I've been really encouraged by the experience. It was a lot of fun to try something new, to compete and to spend some time with people from different cultures. I liked that we didn't need to be able to speak each other's language in order to have fun together and I think there is definitely room for more billiards tournaments in the future. One of the things that impressed me the most about the experience is that Pouria emphasized that before each match and at the end of each we shake hands. A handshake is a simple, traditional show of goodwill and respect, and respect for each other is the basis for integration. Wish me luck in the next round!
*Names have been changed for privacy and security reasons.