A Light in the Darkness

October 20, 2017 Updated: October 20, 2017

“It is very difficult to play ‘fulbito’ (indoor soccer) because we do not see. Sometimes we get hurt, but you always want to win and share with your teammates.” Those are the words of Genaro Limachi 50 minutes before entering the field to defend the colors of his club “10 de Abril” in the city of La Paz, Bolivia.

Genaro is a defender and captain of his team. His leadership stands out because he always gives orders to his teammates, and being the most experienced, the other players obey his instructions. He is not a very technical player, but his endurance is inexhaustible despite his age. The match ends and the rival team, “Milan” takes the victory with a 2-0 score. After the defeat, Genaro can only accept third place in this lightning indoor soccer championship, run by the Departmental Federation of Sports for People with Blindness. Teams from the cities of La Paz and El Alto participated.

Germán Espada, president of the Bolivian Federation of Sports for the Blind, states that in the month of February a schedule is drawn up with activities to be performed annually in all sports practiced by people with blindness, including indoor soccer. There are regular regional tournaments, but the national championships are held in August.

(Provided by the author)

In indoor soccer for people with blindness there are two teams of five players in which only the goalkeeper can see. The field is divided into thirds so that players can receive instructions. In the first third, the goalkeeper is the one who can advise to his teammates; in the second, the coach of each team; and in the third there is a guide behind each goal. All players, except for the goalkeepers, use masks to protect the eyes and avoid injury. The ball has a built-in rattle placed inside. The referee indicates all the actions that are developing. Each game has two periods of 20 minutes and a break of 10 minutes.

There are two categories in this sport, both are defined by the degree of blindness that each player has. The first category is B1, they are people who have little or no vision. The second category, known as B2, is for those who still have some visibility.

“It’s a fun that takes all the stress away from me. So many things happen to you at work and playing with your friends relaxes you”, says Genaro smiling once the match is over. Defeat does not seem to have taken away his good humor and the smile that characterizes him. He removes all his sports equipment quickly because it is Sunday and he has to make an hour and a half journey from the field, located in the center of La Paz, to the fair “16 de Julio” in the city of El Alto so he can sell his mobile phone prepaid cards. “If I do not sell anything, I do not bring the bread of the day to the house,” are his final words before going to work.

He lost his sight in 2003 in a traffic accident on the La Paz-El Alto motorway. The calendar was marked May 1 (worker’s day) and he was driving his minibus (common transportation in these cities). The brakes of his car did not respond and resulted in a fatal crash, his life changed since then.

According to data from the Bolivian Institute of Blindness, in Bolivia there are 5,474 blind people who are affiliated with that institution. People with the condition of total blindness reaches 80 percent, which means they belong to the B1 group. La Paz is the second department with many affiliates, the number reaches 1,274.

(Provided by the author)

The first few days after the accident, Genaro decided not to leave his house, but the need to bring food to his home forced him to live with his blindness. In fact, since his loss of his vision, he seeks to allow his six children to study, the two oldest are already attending college. At first, he sold chocolates in El Prado (downtown La Paz), with a broomstick to help him walk. However, he looked for another workplace because of problems with local vendors. In 2008, with the help of relatives, he joined the Bolivian Institute of Blindness, who provided him a cane designed for people with difficulties and workshops that taught him how to overcome his problem.

Nowadays, Genaro wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. to have breakfast, prepares his products for sale (disposable handkerchiefs and mobile prepaid cards) and says goodbye to his six children and his wife, who also has blindness. He should arrive at six o’clock at the red cable car station in El Alto city to sell his “Kleenex.” “I arrive early every day because it is the time when I can sell the most”, says Genaro.

His routine does not end there. He has lunch and later goes to the Tihuanacu Street of La Ceja of El Alto to start with the sale of his phone cards. “I have to sell everything in the day and then at night go see my children. I earn 60 to 70 Bolivianos daily (10 dollars), in the worst case 30 (less than 5 dollars),” says Genaro with a little sadness.

“When I sell, there are many people who take advantage of my blindness. They give me fake bills or they do not pay me.” However, he says that his anger changes when, at eight or nine o’clock at night, he arrives at his house to see his children and his wife, “La Franci” as he calls her with love.

“My children are my strength and they are happy because I practice indoor soccer,” he says with a smile and with tears in his eyes just before he says goodbye and goes to sell his products.