During the second transfer window this year, we signed four new players—Tish, Yao, Ben, and Paeng. I’ve known Yao since 2012 because, once upon a time, we worked at Global, and it’s nice to have him on my team. Paeng graduated from our academy, while Paul introduced me to Tish when he arrived, so I’ve been made familiar with them. As for Ben, I’d seen him around when Coach Adam was still our coach—I would even call him Bearded Louis Clark in my head—but never got the chance to properly meet him in person. One match day, while I was texting Juani to find me at Rizal Memorial Stadium, I saw Bearded Louis and the real Louis in the stands. Louis introduced me to Bearded Louis, and as my favorite and now most hated cliché goes, the rest is history. I actually forgot that I was playing hide-and-seek with Juani. I hope he’s stopped looking for me!
If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that people here don’t know Ben Bowra the way I do. People don’t even know that we’re friends. Well, now you know! Unfortunately, Ben is not here in the Philippines anymore. He’s probably climbing mountains or moving them—or is back to playing football in England. This blog entry is not related to Kaya or work but instead is a proper tribute to Ben, my friend and my window to the world. People offer us windows into different worlds, and Ben brought glorious Technicolor to my dull-as-dishwater life. He showed me the world from his eyes so I would go out there, take risks, and explore the world through my own lens. I’ve written tributes in the past, and here I am again, back with another one.
In the two short months that I’d known Ben, every moment was an opportunity to learn something new from him about the world and myself. I guess it helps that he is a seasoned traveler and was a teacher, and I was hungry for stories and adventures. He’s been to different places and countries. He said the number of countries he’s been to (currently 34 or 36) should always be higher than his age (currently 28). Not to compare or make myself feel bad, but I can still count the countries I’ve been to with just one hand. I usually read books and rely on my imagination to take me somewhere else without leaving where I am. Ben reads books, sure, but he doesn’t need to read about extraordinary people or exciting places because he always finds them. He creates excitement for himself. But believe it or not, football, our stories, and our obvious differences connected us. I want to share the top three things I learned from Ben.
Acceptance. I would always give Ben a disclaimer about myself because people are sometimes taken aback, but he would never put me down or judge me. For instance, I told him I’m not spontaneous and I plan everything, but he said, “Don’t be silly. I like it!” I was taken aback! It was always like that with Ben. I’d tell him something people often find weird about me, but he never criticized me. It’s quite refreshing to know someone who shows you that you can be strong in your own skin. Someone who sees the light in you as if that is all he can see. If some people can accept us for who we are, then we should learn to accept our flaws and imperfections. We should always be ourselves, but we could all be Bens! Haha.
Communication. I love technology. Video games taught me how to read, solve puzzles, and think out of the box. I played my first video game and got my first video game console when I was three, finished my first RPG when I was seven, and got my first computer when I was nine. Technology changed my life and probably affected the way I interact with others. Ben has a different view on technology, which is admirable. I like how he only got a laptop and a smartphone when he was in his 20s. Technology is useful. For instance, we can now stay in touch with others wherever they are in the world. But we can’t rely on technology alone to create unforgettable memories and fun moments. Don’t just document fun things. Experience them. Whenever we would have lunch, he would always remind me to put my phone down. He wants to talk the way people should be talking. No texting, tweeting, or posting status updates—just the two of you and, occasionally, some riddles to solve. A proper conversation that does not involve texting breaks or mirroring your opinions but always moves the discussion forward. Trust me, it’s not always sensible and not at all deep, but it doesn’t paralyze the discussion. Here are some snippets of our random conversations (don’t judge us):
Ben: I got robbed at knifepoint …
Me: OMG. You almost died. Did you get his name? We need to report him.
Ben: We didn’t get that far.
Ben: We watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and DodgeBall … been a very lazy day!
Me: I love The Boy in the Striped Pajamas! Shmuel made me cry! He reminded me of myself, not that I was ever part of a Nazi camp or accused of stealing cake.
Ben: Were you not?!
Me: Looks can be deceiving! I look friendly, but I’m not. You look like a sleepy British Gerard Pique from afar, but you’re not. But not always deceiving … for example, I look annoying because I am. You look posh because you are. OK, running out of good examples here!
Ben: That made me chuckle! I have had the Pique comparison a few times, actually. (Although, unfortunately, only ever regarding appearance.)
Me: The things I do for you should be a crime.
Ben: What are friends for …
Me: For breaking rules?!
Ben: At times!
Me: Wait, let me find you your perfect partner in crime!
Ben: What do you mean “find”? You are it!
Ben: I’m not that unreliable.
Me: Not questioning your reliableness. I’m sure I can count on you to kill someone for me.
Ben: Yep, known for my contract killing!
Me: We really are partners in crime, then.
Me: I’m grooming you to be the next Gary Neville!
Ben: Works for me!
Me: I’ll try my best. Otherwise, you can groom yourself. All you need is a razor.
Ben: Look at you with all the jokes today, Miji! No razor.
Thinking big and moving mountains. Ben would encourage me to travel and explore the world. He asked me how I would know that I like something if I’ve never done it. Very true. It’s a big world out there, and here I am, clueless about what the world can offer. Sometimes I would tell him things that I want to do or want to be, and then I would negate myself because I don’t think I can do it. But Ben would always remind me that I can do it or be it, that I should take my dreams and passions to heart instead of suppressing my inner voices just because I don’t want to leave my comfort zone. Ben somehow made me think and rethink things—I can do whatever I want, but it requires taking action and facing my fears. It’s all down to me. “Believe it. Achieve it,” he would often tell me. But like I told him before he left, “Someday, I want to be everything that you think I can be!” But not today …
Not trying to be soppy, hammy, and overly sentimental here, but I hope I was able to give you a clear picture of Ben from my point of view. He is truly a great friend. Ben would probably be the best friend or brother I wish I had. In a lifetime’s journey in football, we inevitably meet some people who teach us a thing or two (three, in this case) not just about the sport per se but also life in general. If interviewing Paul Scholes was my highlight of 2014, one of this year’s highlights would definitely include learning from Ben, my window to the world. Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Perhaps you can say it’s a window that must close. After all, real adventure awaits right outside my window.