TIA the Hard Way

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Flag of Rwanda  ,
Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hey everyone,

Just when we thought we weren't doing anything – Benjamin, a guy who works for Brussels Airlines and loves basketball, and Jacque, a Rwandan coach who spent all last summer attending coaching clinics throughout the U.S. came along and took us around to all the nice basketball courts in Rwanda.  Perhaps our biggest break was when we visited a religious high school, which had 3 full basketball courts.  There were also about 15 free-range cows wandering around the yard, and they walked right onto the court.  One small kid, about 6 years old, didn't see the cows come up to him until the last second, and he FREAKED!  It was hilarious, everyone was laughing.  Needless to say, that was the first time I saw cows on a basketball court.  Anyways, this could be a prime spot for a huge camp.  We are waiting for the father of the school to come back from vacation so we can reserve the spot.  Also, during this tour, Benjamin showed us the Sprite court, at a youth club called club Rafiki (Lion King represent).  Earlier this summer, Luol Deng of the Bulls and Steve Blake of the Lakers (I think.. still) came there and did a clinic.  Benjamin and Jacque also showed us Camp Kigali, where Jacque’s team practices.  There, we saw a genocide memorial to 11 unarmed Belgian UN soldiers who were lined up and shot to death in military barracks on the second day of the genocide.  It was so quiet in the building, and it really was remarkable to think that less than 20 years ago, horrible things were happening right where Isa and I stood.

From there, Jacque invited me to his team’s practice.  At first, I thought I was going to help coach, but I brought my hoop stuff anyway, and participated in the whole practice with this team called UGB.  At the end, Jacque offered me the opportunity to play, and I accepted.  The practices went alright.  Honestly, I didn’t have much expectation from the practice considering my observations of the level of play from the league game Isa and I saw last Sunday.  The Jacque stopped practice constantly, pointing out mistakes.  The times he stopped practice was very frustrating for me, since I have played organized ball forever, and have gotten used to really simple drills.  However, the drills Jacque was making his team do were beyond the abilities of the players, and I mentioned this to Jacque at the end – that he was sacrificing quality practice and learning for trying to do too much with his team too soon.  Every drill, his players were trying to go so hard, trying to go so fast, and it just turned out to be sloppy.  Also, the practice was scheduled for 5 PM, and 10 players didn’t show up until 5:45, when we got started.  One day, even the coach didn’t show up until 5:45 (TIA).  I was pretty taken back by this, considering this is the pro league of Rwanda, but I understood it finally when I found out all of the other players have real jobs.  In fact, the captain of the team, who gave Isa and I a ride to a game from downtown, works 60 hours a week.  Through all of these surprises and frustrations, it still felt awesome to be a part of a team again.  To be honest, I was struggling for a bit the week prior, when I felt like I was doing nothing, that things weren’t moving along, and that I was an outsider here.  It is funny how a 2-hour practice can completely change your attitude about your current status – I feel a lot better after I play.

Here is where things get interesting.  On Thursday, my captain asks for a copy of my passport, and makes me sign a sheet saying that I am playing for UGB.  They ask me if I have an agent or if I play on a team in the U.S., which I laughed at because I thought they were kidding.  I explained that I played Division III ball, and have no commitments to any other teams in the U.S., and that playing here should be no problem

So on Friday, I think I’m going to play in the game at 6, which is held at this really nice sports club in Kiyovu, a section of Kigali.  They have nice tennis courts, ping pong, a pool, a sports bar, and 2 full-court basketball courts with lights.  I get there at 5 like Jacque told me to, to warm up and get ready for the game.  Then ten minutes before the game, I learn I can’t play because I need "clearance from the American Basketball Federation."  A guy from the Rwandan Federation says I can’t play without clearance. Still thinking that this is a simple adult basketball league, I call the guy from the Rwandan federation and explain that if he were to call or email the American Basketball Federation, they are not gonna know who I am.  I’m a 5’9 white guy with no hops, and I played Division III basketball.  The guy doesn’t budge and I didn’t end up playing in the game, and I can’t play in today’s game either because the American Basketball Federation didn’t get back to the guy from the Rwandan Federation.  This was extremely hard for me to understand, because I am still thinking in the context of the United States.  For me, if, say, a visiting professor at the University of Michigan wanted to play in the City’s Adult League, he would have no issue playing regardless if was from a foreign country.  However, this league, I learned later, is the professional league in Rwanda, and must abide by FIBA rules and everything.  This was, again, hard for me to grasp because practices didn’t start on time, players and coaches came late, and even the game started half an hour late.  Not to mention the level of play.  Don’t get me wrong, these players and these coaches, and even some fans that showed up – care tremendously about the game.  They are getting on the floor on concrete outdoor courts, taking it to the rack hard, and hustling.  However, the IQ and ball control is extremely lacking.  Quality, crisp passes, good shot selection, and fundamental play are hard to come by.  I guess this will be motivation for the next generation of hoopers that Isa and I are training to especially focus on fundamentals and good, solid basketball.  At the end of this, I was pretty frustrated with not being able to play, but hey, at least I still have the opportunity to play and be a part of a team.

 Some TIA moments since the last post:

-Breaking News - While watching the Rwanda national news, a report on how it is now required of all bartenders to check ID’s of patrons to prevent underage drinking was featured.

 -The PSA - In the same newscast, a Public Service Announcement came on announcing the requirement for all public buildings in Rwanda to be wheelchair accessible.

 -The Irony of Rwanda being the cleanest of African countries.  Before coming here, I read in guidebooks and the internet that Rwanda is one of, if not the single cleanest African country.  In fact, the resources said that Rwanda does not allow plastic bags into the country, and takes them away at the airport (which they didn’t… to my luggage at least).  This is true inside the country, though.  All groceries are packed in paper bags, and there are no plastic bags blowing in the wind.  Actually, on the surface, Rwanda is a pretty clean country – the streets are cleaner than many U.S. streets.  But then, every Saturday, everyone burns all of their trash because there are no trash pick-up systems.  I can’t imagine that being very good for the environment.  Also, to diminish the cleanliness of the country, Isa and I witnessed a man peeing on the side of the road in broad daylight for the third time in four days.  At least this time, that man wasn’t our busdriver (which happened Wednesday). 

 -Rwandan T-shirt of the day – “Macco for Flacco” with a football on it.  Joe Flacco has fans in Rwanda.

Although this all seems pretty negative and sarcastic, the reality of the situation is that this is how things work here.  It is hard for me to even begin to understand how to put together a country after decades of enduring colonization by western powers, not to mention a horrific genocide.  I think the best way to see Rwanda right now, in basketball and in life, is that they have come so far, but have so far to go.  I’ve started seeing these new situations as an opportunity to learn and to expand my perception, instead of looking down on them, which is very easy to do coming from the U.S.

As for next week, Isa and I plan to meet with some concrete companies to get estimates on adding onto an already-existing slab of concrete at the school that CHRISC works with, which will be our first court.  Also, visiting rural areas of Rwanda to find spaces to build courts is on the horizon. We are also looking to finalize plans for our coaching clinic.  We are hoping to train coaches so that we can eventually run camps starting right when the schools get out for break – November 9th.  Also, during the game last night, we met an American from Boston named Jake, who is here working with a public-health non profit.  He was nice and told us to come to trivia night Monday night at this bar in Remera (where the stadium is), and he said there are a lot of Americans there, so Isa and I are definitely going there.  Hopefully I get everything straightened out with the federation so I can play soon, and hopefully the Father at the school will give us permission to renovate the court and hold our coach’s clinics there.  Missing everyone at home and elsewhere, but starting to feel more comfortable here, and still pinching myself that I am living this opportunity!
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uwitonze paulin on

keep up bro

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