Youngsters new to America enjoy Braves game
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/04/08
They learned the tomahawk chop and the wave.
As for who was playing or who was ahead at Wednesday's Phillies-Braves game at Turner Field, they weren't sure.
A group of refugee youngsters — new arrivals to America — celebrated the Fourth of July early. It was their first time in a major league ballpark, witnessing America's pastime.
The scoreboard was a mystery. The game of baseball, confusing.
For Thomas Mufolo, 16, the biggest thing was that everyone in the ballpark seemed happy.
"I'm having fun. I like the music," said Thomas, who fled war in Congo and grew up in a refugee camp in Zambia.
"I've never seen this game in Zambia," he said. "I used to play basketball and soccer."
World Relief, a refugee resettlement agency in Stone Mountain, brought a group of 19 middle school and high school students to the game in two big vans.
The children, ages 11 to 18, are from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Burundi, along with a pair of brothers each from Congo and Cuba. They have lived in the United States with their families about one year, in apartment complexes in Clarkston. Those from Myanmar, Congo and Burundi fled their countries years ago and grew up in refugee camps. Some were born in the camps.
Jerod Morant, a parking lot supervisor at Turner Field, drove his cart up to the group to say hello. He immediately sensed this was a special group of fans.
"I thought, 'Let me go over here and be nosy,' " Morant said.
He asked the kids where they were from and told them to shout "GO BRAVES" on the count of three. Their first try was weak. On the third try, they got it down.
Htoo Ra Moo, 14, of Myanmar, took in the view from the group's upper balcony $6 seats. She said she had never seen so many people in one place before. She was amazed at the size of the stadium.
Ya Day Moo, 18, also of Myanmar, agreed.
"I'm interested because I never been in a place like this before. I've never seen people playing — with my eyes," she said, meaning she's only seen baseball on television.
When the bugle call came over the loudspeaker and the crowd cried "charge!" some of the Burmese children looked up into the stands, wondering where the music came from. Earlier they were able to ride the escalators to the upper level with no problem. This was a big improvement over their first days in America, when escalators and revolving doors puzzled them, World Relief workers said.
Refugees from Myanmar are the newest group arriving in Atlanta. They fled their country and have waited in refugee camps, some for as long as 15 years, to come legally to the United States.
The brothers from Cuba said their father was a political refugee, an opponent of dictator Fidel Castro, who waited many years to leave Cuba.
Baseball was familiar territory for the Cubans.
Gabriel Ulloa Blanco, 15, pointed to Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar, who is also from Cuba. Gabriel and his brother, Grabiel, 12, had visited ballparks in Cuba, but they were smaller, he said.
The two boys commented on the green, uniform look of the field. They were impressed that it was real grass.
Grabiel couldn't take his eyes off the park's huge video screen, and he noticed that there was a restaurant inside the park — the Braves Chop House. Luxury! Vendors sold a wide variety of treats.
The kids didn't get the typical hot dog and peanuts at the ballpark, though, because the refugee agency operates on a tight budget. They had to ask donors for money for tickets and gas. Instead, each kid got a bag of chips, a bottle of water and a granola bar. One girl from Burundi was ready to leave at the seventh inning because she was hungry. The kids were told to eat before they came, but not everyone got the message.
Little Jula Paw, 11, of Myanmar, took some time before she enjoyed herself.
She hardly spoke a word and sweated streams up in the sunny seats. She kept rolling her program up into a cylinder.
Did she like baseball?
"Because I can't play it," she said through an older Burmese girl, who translated for her.
After the sun went down, though, Jula started to revive.
She joined the other Burmese girls in the back row doing the tomahawk chop, the wave and the "YMCA" song.
When Braves third baseman Chipper Jones hit a home run in the bottom of the eighth, and fireworks came out of the giant Coca-Cola bottle, there were smiles and giggles all around.