What It’s Like To Play Football In Brazil

After 10 days in Brazil, I’m back home in Germany where the butter is unsalted. What a week and a half it has been. Let me tell you more about it.

The whole thing started back in January when some friends and I decided to go to Brazil for the FIFA World Cup. But we didn’t want to go to Brazil with a consumer mindset, trying to make it a “good experience” for ourselves by watching games in the stadiums. Many of the poor population in Brazil were forced to relocate so that there would be room for the stadiums of which Brazil built twelve, even though eight would’ve been enough. So we wanted to do something for the people of Brazil. Mainly for the impoverished youth in the favelas of São Paulo. That’s when we started Project São Paulo.

Project São Paulo is a football tournament for the youngsters in one of Brazil’s largest favelas. We thought that they should have a chance to enjoy the World Cup as well, and not dwell on the fact that FIFA took away their homes. We worked together with seven local ministries who helped bring together eight under-15 football teams. For five days, they battled for the championship in the heat of the Brazilian winter.

One of the two turf fields.

One of the two turf fields.

The favela, called Vila Missionária, has two turf fields, which are owned by the local drug lords. So we had to get permission from them to use the fields for the tournament. These guys are members of the Primeiro Comando do Capital (PCC), which is the largest Brazilian criminal organization. They’re known for some really brutal things that I won’t mention here. But for some reason, they were totally excited to give us the fields and they said:

We love your project, and we want to support it 100%. If you need any help from us, we’re right here. And don’t worry, if someone harms you, we’ll take care of them. You are protected.

We had security guards by the fields who kept an eye out for us, and they didn’t look like police officers. So I guess they were PCC guys. But they kept us and the players safe.

I was assigned to the eventual sixth place holders of the tournament. My team may have not consisted of the best footballers, but according to a quick study I conducted, they were statistically the chillest, coolest, and funniest teenagers in all of Brazil. I taught them how to pass and move, they taught me how to dance. I taught them how to sing “We Will Rock You” and they taught me how to dance. I taught them how to respect each other, how to keep your chin up after a loss, and how to play strategically. And they taught me how to dance.

My group of Neymars and Ronaldinhos.

My group of Neymars and Ronaldinhos.

I also learned enough Portuguese to make a fool of myself in front of my guys, but that was alright because not one of them could pronounce my name correctly. My names were Ian, João, Jo, and Gringo. They challenged me to a little game they call rolinho in which you try to pass the ball through another player’s legs as many times as possible. I successfully rolinhoed all 14 members of my team in a training session, after which they dubbed me Gringo Pelé. What an honor.

Another thing that’s worth mentioning is that Vila Missionária has a large drug trade. You could always smell the distinct odor of marijuana wherever you were. However, one day during the tournament, one of the local drug dealers came up to one of our tournament leaders and said:

The drug trade has gone down 80% because of what you guys are doing here.

You’d think that the drug dealers would be upset about this statistic because we were basically reducing their income, but they were super stoked about the fact that less people were taking drugs, because they know that the drugs are destroying their community.

A total of 130 kids attended Project São Paulo, and my friends and I got to interact with them and change some lives. It was just an idea we had seven months ago, and now it has turned into an annual tournament with players and coaches from all over São Paulo. Some teams have even started to do weekly training sessions at Vila Missionária. And some of these kids are really good at football, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of them get scouted and signed by professional teams in the area.

After the tournament was over, the Project São Paulo team played against the tournament’s best players, coaches, and a few other Brazilian players. I scored the first two goals and assisted twice. The Project São Paulo team went on to beat the tournament MVPs 6:4.

Part of the Project São Paulo team. From the left: Ian, Eric, Josh, Trey, Mike, Jan, and Stefan.

Part of the Project São Paulo team. From the left: Ian, Eric, Josh, Trey, Mike, Jan, and Stefan.

So now I’ve played football with Germans, Brazilians and Americans. The Germans play strategically and rather slow, trying to build up the play from the back. The Brazilians play with the flow of the game and are insanely creative with their dribbling and passing, so you never really know what to expect. The Americans are good at… never giving up.

A few days after Project São Paulo had ended, some of us were invited to play against some footballers on an indoor court. That’s where the Brazilian magic happens. We lost the first few games but slowly got used to the pace and style of play, and eventually we beat the best teams 3 times in a row. The Gringos know how to joga bonito.

Shortly after that, we played against some semi-professional footballers on a full size turf field in São Paulo. I got to play center midfield, my favorite position, and I got two assists in a 4:3 win. One of Yugoslavia’s ex-national players, who is now a licensed FIFA coach, watched the game and congratulated us on our performance. It was a good day.

The Rio de Janeiro FIFA Fan Fest

The Rio de Janeiro FIFA Fan Fest

We also got to go to Rio de Janeiro for two days and walk on the Copacabana and attend Rio’s massive Fan Fest. We witnessed USA’s loss to Belgium and saw Ruud Van Nistelrooy sitting in a van by the Christ Redeemer.

All in all, it was an unforgettable trip. I have amazing friends with whom I made crazy awesome memories. I’m glad I got to be an older brother to the kids in São Paulo. Thanks for the all the support and I hope I get to go back to the land of football in the near future.


Project Sao Paulo

Hey guys! I’m doing something cool for the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil. It’s a football tournament for the impoverished youth of São Paulo. In order for us to do this project, we need your help. Find out how on Indiegogo – Project Sao Paulo.

If you don’t have the coin, then you can contribute by sharing the Indiegogo link on Twitter and Facebook, or by sending a video of yourself doing something awesome with a football to projectsaopaulo@gmail.com, because guess what, we’re making a 30-minute documentary out of it, and your video might get featured.

You can follow #ProjectSaoPaulo on Twitter and on Facebook.

For more information, visit www.projectsaopaulo.com.

Let’s do this!


A few days ago, I woke up with a terrifying realization:

I am a millennial.

Do you know what a millennial is? Even if you do, it won’t stop me from explaining it anyway. A millennial is someone who was born anywhere between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. I was born in 1992, so I’m pretty much right in the middle of it all.

Why was this a terrifying realization?

Well, millennials are notorious for their narcissism, selfishness, laziness, and entertainment addiction. In fact, pseudo-scientists have recently created a formula that can accurately assess how narcissistic a millennial is, based on the amount of selfies taken per hour.


Vermeer Selfie

In his TEDxSF talk, Scott Hess talks about the five milestones in every twenty-something’s life:

  1. Complete school
  2. Leave home
  3. Become financially independent
  4. Marry someone
  5. Have a child

And here are some statistics about the matter:

  • In 1960, 77% of women and 65% of men have reached all five goals before hitting 30.
  • In 2010, 13% of women and 10% of men have reached all five goals before hitting 30.

As you can see, there is a drastic decrease in the percentage, which speaks for the fact that millennials are lazy indeed.

Except me; I’m a hard worker.

- Every millennial

And I’m one of them. How great.

Young baristas at coffee shops, cashiers, and waiters and waitresses have a bad reputation for being annoyed by the arrival of new costumers whom they have to serve. In this short clip, Louis C.K., an American actor and comedian, states that 20-year-olds “haven’t done anything for anyone, ever,” mainly because young people have just been consuming “education, food, love, and iPods,” and have nothing to offer the world.

But you know, we are treated like children up until we go to college, and then suddenly we are supposed to behave like adults. What kind of human is capable of switching from childhood to adulthood over summer break? How are we supposed to be mature adults capable of dealing with the hardships of life, when just a few weeks ago, we had to ask our teachers if we could go to the bathroom?

There are hardly any parents who initiate their children into adulthood once they reach that age. Most of us have to figure it out on our own. Some people may argue that this helps us become independent, but you can’t deny that we are known for being emotionally fickle and irresponsible, and not primarily independent.

The face of a fickle, irresponsible millennial

The face of a fickle, irresponsible millennial, who succumbed to the pressures of fame and fortune

My generation seems to be full of people who want to be understood and accepted. But more than that, they want to do something significant. It’s the same with every generation. And the older people will always think the younger people are crazy.

“I can understand why the youth perceives us, their life predecessors, as hypocrites; we smoked pot when we were young, and now we get mad at our children for smoking pot as well.” – Jonathan E. Mule

Also known as the YOLO Generation, Generation Y, or the Swag Generation, millennials are actually deep thinkers. Contrary to popular belief, these young people are asking great questions to which authority figures don’t have the right answers. Young people are used to hearing unsatisfying responses such as, “That’s just the way things are,” or, “You can’t do much about that.”

In turn, young people don’t see these figures (teachers, parents, employers, etc.) as people with authority, which is precisely why teenage rebellion is so common in the West. We’re the ones who stand in the front of protests. We have the zeal and the energy to change things, because we have realized that there is something wrong with the world. So what kind of a kick in the nuts is a statement such as, “You can’t do much about that”?

Obviously the world isn’t offering us a mission worth our while. So we make our own missions: how many bottles of vodka can you chug before passing out? Is it possible to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon powder? Can you climb to the top of the One World Trade Center and B.A.S.E. jump off it?

How far can I go?

We love to push our limits. And the older generation scoffs at it, thinking we are irresponsible, entertainment-addicted narcissists. But in reality, we just haven’t found a mission worth our while, so we settle for superficial stuff like coning, planking, and twerking. Then we post it on Vine, Facebook, and YouTube, get millions of views, and become famous for something trivial.


We’re idle because we have no mission, not because we love being idle. So wouldn’t it be absolutely fantastic if someone gave us something crazy to do? Something meaningful. Not a job, but a mission. We need it. We need to lock eyes with a vision that is bigger than ourselves. Something so extraordinary that entire governments have to change their focus from spending money on prisons and military to supporting its own youth and their innovative projects. Young people rallied together for Kony 2012 and Occupy Wall Street all over the world. Isn’t that a clear indication?

“You can’t just go about your life with such lofty ideas. Life is hard work. You first have to complete school, leave home, become financially independent, marry someone, and have a child. Once you have your life together, when you’re more mature and experienced, around the 30 year mark or so, then we can talk about changing the world.”


How The Information Age Has Deformed Our Society

A few days ago I was invited to speak about alternative education at a meeting near Heilbronn, Germany. The meeting was awesome and I had some great conversations and made some new friends. One of the conversations I had with a guy, who was around my age, was about a special thing that has the power to make you rich, get you killed, or allow you to graduate college amongst other possible scenarios. This dangerous and amazing thing is called information.

Konrad Zuse

Thanks to the invention of the microchip in 1941 by Konrad Zuse, a German inventor, a new era was born: the Information Age. Zuse’s invention spurred a global revolution in terms of how information was stored and, later on, shared.

Having information meant having power. The news organizations who were the first to know about something could control how much they wanted the public to know. Just like governments, corporations, churches, schools, and, of course, the general media – film, music, and contemporary literature.

But not only did they have the ability to control the amount of information shared with John Doe and Jane Roe, they also had the ability to manipulate information. You know, “tell the people what they want to hear.”

This enabled the media, especially in the West, to easily mold and shape the social system. They set the trends. They dictated the pace, quality, and structure of life. Where else would you get the most up-to-date fashion and lifestyle trends?


The media allowed itself to define buzzwords like money, equality, sex, democracy, and happiness. What clothes should a woman wear? What car should a man drive? The media gives you the illusion of freedom to do what you want. Bigger is better. Be rich and famous and drink Coca-Cola. Cosmopolitan will tell you exactly how to lose 10 pounds in one week, and, at the same time, remind you to feel beautiful in the body you currently have, and, most importantly, let you know how to sex a sexy sex with sex because, well, sex.

Fast forward to the year 2014.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as Harvard and many other prestigious universities are offering their curricula online for free. You don’t necessarily need to attend a college to get the same information as college students. It’s all available on the Internet.

Having trouble jumpstarting your car? Look it up on YouTube. Forgot who Henry VIII of England was? Wikipedia’s got your back. Want to know what your ex is up to? Facebook. Hungry for lasagne but have no clue how to make it? Google it.

More information, however, automatically means more opportunities to manipulate it. It also means that more people and organizations create and provide an increasing amount of irrelevant information that does nothing to help society grow in a positive way but instead does a lot to help society set their focus on things that should never be a priority in the first place.

Distract them. Real life is boring and hard, so make society focus on the fun and entertaining aspects of life.

For example, depending on the size of their online following, the opinions and musings of some people who have nothing to say somehow matter more than the voices of some of those who are capable of instigating a world-changing movement.

There are thousands of teenagers who are incredibly famous for virtually no reason. When they tweet things like, “Just ate a sandwich with wayyy too much cheese lol #cheeseoverdose,” they get retweets and favorites in the thousands.

There are also thousands of teenagers who have written amazing but ignored (not undiscovered) articles that might shift your paradigm of, say, the concept of tithing in churches or the effectiveness of alternative education.

The man who shouts the loudest will get the crowd’s attention. It doesn’t matter if the man is saying anything important; the fact that he’s shouting it means the crowd is listening for however brief of a moment, and a handful will continue paying attention.

- Jonathan E. Mule

Homer Simpson, for example, can attest to the validity and degree of truthfulness of Mule’s quote.

Homer Simpson

This is especially dangerous when considering that, on average, the young generation spends north of twenty hours a week perusing the Internet and consuming content that doesn’t necessarily require the participation of the brain. What kind of teenager in their right mind would go on the Internet to learn something when there’s Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr?

For example, there is this thing called clickbait. An article titled, “Five Surprisingly Unhealthy Foods You Should Really Avoid,” makes you want to find out what these five surprisingly unhealthy foods are. And after reading the article, you find out that the five items were McDonald’s burgers, Domino’s pizza, soda with high fructose corn syrup, deep-fried potato sticks, and chocolate-coated chocolate balls with a core made out of chocolate. But the phrasing of the title lured you into wasting ten minutes of your time, hence the name “clickbait.”

The point is that we have too much information and no guidance to find content that actually matters. This means that a large part of our social structure is powered by misinformation and irrelevant content that has been filtered carefully, effectively puppeteering the lives of several generations worth of potential world changers.


In regards to how this affects the youth: they don’t get authenticity. Nobody looks them in the eye and calls them out on their bullshit, because the main source of information on how to live life comes from the media, which tells them that everything is ok. There is an overabundance of tolerance, anybody can do what they want to do, and nobody should judge a person who takes selfies at funerals and then posts those pictures on Instagram for the whole world to see. That’s fine. Why do you care? It doesn’t affect you. Mind your own business and be politically correct. If someone wants to take selfies at a funeral, let them do it, you know? It’s their life and they’re in control of what they do, and you need to be ok with that.

As William Ernest Henley said in his poem Invictus:

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

You are in control of your life.

What a sexy statement. I love that. I control my own life. Absolutely brilliant!

That is the biggest lie the media has effectively turned into a truth. Welcome to the Information Age and may the odds be ever in your favor.

I Wrote This Short Story With A Complete Stranger

I did an experiment the other day. I wanted to see if two writers who have never met each other could write a good short story together. I did this experiment on a site called omegle.com, where you can chat anonymously with random people from all over the world. I put “writing” as my interest and got linked with some person who also put “writing” in their interests list. We didn’t plan a plot line or anything. We just alternated writing back and forth, and what emerged was this strangely good piece of prose. A few spelling adjustments were made, but otherwise I haven’t altered the story.


It wasn’t the prettiest of days and the early morning commute was the same monotonous drag as always.

He had been staring across the street. A crow was standing unusually tall on a naked tree. He didn’t notice the bus coming from the distance like he usually does and was surprised when it slowed down in front of him and opened its door. He stumbled into it and scrambled in his back pocket to get out his transit pass. The grey-haired driver gave a tedious nod, oblivious to the post-expiration date.

The man shuffled to the middle of the bus and found an empty seat next to a seemingly nervous woman who appeared to have pulled two different socks out of her drawer earlier this morning. He raised his vision to see what was in her hands: a black book with no front or back cover.

He knew the hour was too young to strike up small talk with a stranger, but, an avid reader himself, he couldn’t contain his curiosity. He leaned a bit towards the old woman, causing her to idly move her arms trying to find a more comfortable position. He caught the title from the corner of his eyes in its usual resting place, the top of the left page.

“The Dark Collector”

Fitting title, he thought.

He tried not to think much of it, but the woman’s nervous fumbling, her mismatching socks, and the black book all had a distant sense of eeriness about it. He looked out the window on his right and spotted another crow sitting smugly on a wire. It was just a moment’s glance before the bus passed by it, but he felt the crow staring right back at him. He looked back to his left, but the woman had closed her book and now had her hands resting on their respective knees.

Maybe just an odd start, he mused. Considering the fact that he had burnt his toast and had spent a good five minutes looking for his keys before having left his apartment, he instinctively knew the day could only get better from now on. He glanced at his Swiss-made wrist watch, not fully having registered the time, and then back out the window.
Suddenly he heard a soft voice.

“Excuse me, sir?”

It was the lady sitting next to him.

He let out a nervous cough while turning his head towards the woman, and squeezed out a reply.


“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, barely audible over the rumbling of the diesel motor, “but aren’t you Thomas Harten? The chief editor at TIMES Magazine?”

Why would Thomas Harten, chief editor at TIMES Magazine, be taking the bus in the morning? he thought. Nonetheless he wanted to know what she had to say.

“I’m surprised you recognized me, ma’am.”

“I’m a fan of your work,” she said with a forced smile. “Elisabeth Parre.” Her outstretched hand was met with a firm handshake.

“Pleasure, Miss Parre,” he said. So this is what it’s like to be famous? he mused.

The woman cleared her throat and opened her black book. The pages looked worn out and the print was sloppy. “I was wondering if you might have some room for a quote for your next issue.”

Just as he was about to blurt out a yes, he thought there’d be no way TIMES had any room left on their next issue. She’d see right through it – they always work several issues ahead.

“No, I’m sorry,” he said, with a saddened voice out of small smile – perfect for a chief editor, he thought – “although we may be able to squeeze a quote from a fan of ours in the following one.”

The woman’s face lit up, but, looking closely, he could tell that she was acting. He didn’t know why – she’s talking to the chief editor of TIMES Magazine after all.

“Brilliant,” she exclaimed. Pointing to a sentence in her book, she said, “This is the one I had in mind. I think it’s beautiful.”

He squinted at the smudgy script and managed to decipher it. What he read wasn’t a quote. It was a name. “Thomas Harten.” A moment of shock gripped him. The bus slowed to a stop, and the woman immediately shut the book and swiftly stepped off the bus. Before he could say a word, the doors closed behind her and the bus kept moving.

He tried to open up a window to get some air, but the damn thing wouldn’t budge. He looked up from the mechanism and made out a shadow on lamp post far ahead, another one of those odd crows. This was too much, he had to get out of the bus. He ran past the other passengers, pushing a few of them along the way, and got to the driver.

“I’m feeling sick”, he said. “I need to get off. I think I might throw up.”

The bus driver irritatedly sighed, stopped the bus at the nearest intersection, and opened up the door.

He stumbled out of the bus and grabbed onto the bus sign post.

“What the hell,” he exhaled heavily. He shook his head trying to clear his mind. “What the hell was that?” he said, louder than he intended. Breathless, he scrambled for his phone in his pocket.

He scrolled past his contacts, made out the entry for his work place, and dialed it.

“Hello?” he paused, waiting for a reply and heard a warm, “Yessir!” He thought it was strange but made nothing of it.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to make it today, I feel horrible.” He waited and added, “I think I’ve been cursed.”

He heard a nervous laughter on the other end, “No problem, I’ll make sure to inform everyone,” said the man on the line. He was about to say thank you and hang up when he heard, “Anything else I can help you with, Mr. Harten?”

This is my brand new drum cover of Dustin Dooley’s song “Miracles.” Hope you guys enjoy it. You can buy Dustin’s debut album on iTunes or on his website. It’s special because he sang and played all the instruments himself like the boss he is. Cheers.

Jan Simson – Dustin Dooley – Miracles Drum Cover

Why We Love Apocalyptic Movies

Photo credit: Zombies by IcedCoffee

Photo credit: Zombies by IcedCoffee

I recently watched World War Z with Brad Pitt. That sounds weird. I don’t mean that Brad and I were hanging out and then watched World War Z together. I watched the movie all by myself in my office with a bag of potato chips and a can of diet coke, because I gotta watch my line.

It’s quite the motion picture, so if you haven’t seen it yet and you’re into apocalyptic narratives, I suggest you go ahead and proceed to eventually come to the point at which you feel ready to watch it.

There seems to be this trend going on about the apocalypse. Zombies. Pandemics. The end of the world. Global destruction. And the film industry seems to have understood that we crave stories about surviving the end of the world.

Since the beginning of film till the year 2000, about 112 apocalyptic movies have been released. Since the turn of the second millennium, there have been a total of 114 apocalyptic movies. That means in 14 years, we’ve created more apocalyptic movies than in the past 60. Of course there are more end-of-the-world movies, though. I haven’t mentioned the dystopian movies (Equilibrium), the post-apocalyptic movies (The Hunger Games), and all the terrible and amazing zombie movies, or the immensely popular television series The Walking Dead.

But why do we love it so much?

British philosopher and pipe-smoker Jonathan E. Mule recently ventured to state that, “Apocalyptic movies carry a certain sense of a semi-irrational yet eerily realistic possibility of such events happening in our lifetime.” Upon asking whether the attraction to such movies has a cultural aspect, Mule said, “Of course. Our lives are boring enough, and we can’t afford adventure because we’re too bloody busy working, so we escape into a fictional world where buildings are collapsing and havoc is spreading and zombies are gnawing on your neighbor’s leg.” The best part, Mule said, is that, “we feel like the heroes. We watch a movie where the hero saves the world from its seemingly inevitable death. We love the concept of one hero saving the entire human species.”

We’re looking for some kind of thrill, some kind of intense action. But not like a war where humans are fighting humans. We want to fight zombies and aliens in unity, where all humans come together and battle a common enemy. We want something to attack our home planet, and we want to defend it against all odds and still come out on top. “Such movies cater to our natural survival instincts,” Mule said, “and that’s why I think we can’t help but love it.”

Unfortunately, apocalyptic movies are made for entertainment, not training. And that means even after watching World War Z, we’re still stuck in our dead-end jobs in our meaningless existence. Unless, of course, there is something else out there worth fighting for other than merely our own unimportant lives.