I am completely exhausted as I write this post – played in my first "pro" game today and didn't account for the sun coming out because it was cloudy and cool at the beginning, and ended in my shoulders being completely burnt (sorry mom).
Wednesday was just a simple planning day, it rained a lot so Isa and I read, planned out some things, and headed down to Gatenga to coach the team because we switched Tuesday’s practice to Wednesday. The team wasn’t there and it all sounded like a bad day until this man came up to us and introduced himself. He told us he had seen us before, and he was a father at the school. He told us his whole life story, which, usually I am not that interested in, but this guy was incredible
. Born in Montreal, raised in New Jersey, lived in Europe, and has been in Rwanda for the last 29 years, this guy spoke 5 languages, was 79 years old but looked like he was 60, and he has an obsession with orchids. Father Jean Paul brought us to the back of the Gatenga school administration building, and showed us this giant collection of orchids. He went through the rows of hanging orchids, naming each one and explaining their significance. Isa and I were amazed at how this guy basically perfected his hobby. He explained with such joy and humility how he, by himself, had discovered 50 + new species of orchids in Rwanda, and showed us his picture on the co-author section of the world’s leading orchid book. It was refreshing that after a day of staying inside, and having no kids show up to practice, to have him speak so passionately. I don’t even have the slightest bit of interest in flowers besides the price of them, and he actually made me interested in plants.
Thursday was an awesome, productive day. Isa and I went downtown to use the fast internet, and we held practice for the Gatenga school again. We had a more disciplined practice and made the kids run for being late. If they stick to Rwandan culture, they will run every single practice for being late, so hopefully, they will eventually get the point. One awesome thing about coaching kids who are from a non-basketball-as-the-dominant-sport country (and therefore, kids who completely lack fundamentals and basic basketball IQ), that they immediately respect you because you’re from the US, and are like sponges
. Kids at US basketball camps would never raise their hand to ask a question, but here, its really nice to know they are learning and eager to learn more.
Friday was another rainy, boring day and practice got cancelled. I finished a conspiracy theory book and moved on to a book about the US prison industrial complex, also started studying kinyarwandan phrases. All these nights, I have been setting my alarm for 3:30 AM to listen to the last 4-5 innings of the Tigers game. It hasn’t been going so well, but I still have faith.
On Saturday, Isa and I headed to the Prime Minister’s Office to have a practice with UGB – my pro team. It took us 45 minutes to get through the gate because although Isa is a member of UGB, she hadn’t received her card yet. Once we got into practice, we ran drills and played some 5 on 5. A good number of UGB alums were there – about 7 or 8, and it was so cool playing with them. They tried to hop in the first drill, but bailed in the first two minutes. One guy, who is now the president of UGB, is pretty old and nimble, but he could LIGHT IT UP. I’m telling you, he hit 90% of his threes and was hitting fall-away jumpers from 17 feet with guys half his age and twice his athleticism. It was awesome watching him
. This brings me to another point – the culture of UGB. I guess I should have explained this earlier, but UGB stands for United Generation Basketball club. They really play up to the name, as a good number of alums (or people who are just too old to play anymore) come and watch the game, yell at the refs, and try to coach from the sidelines. UGB does have a purpose in helping Isa and I - the people are well-connected and passionate about our project and passionate about basketball in their country - just the people we need to be around. After this practice, Isa and I headed into town to hangout and indulge in some Bourbon coffee, which was nice. We took the week off from a Hash Run because I was just too tired, the sun is way stronger closer to the equator. I went to bed excited that I was GURANTEED to play in the next mornings game.
I woke up tired from interrupting my sleep to listen to the Tigers and Umich football game – both of which were disappointing. But, I grabbed some food on the way, and Isa and I met up with our friend who works at CHRISC, Paulin, to head to my game. It was so nice having Paulin there, he is a great guy and always checks up on Isa and I. Paulin is very interested and dedicated to our mission, and has really bought into what we are doing. Anyways, we get to the court, which is a huge multi-sport field at the bottom of a valley, with one story houses on the steep slope that created a pretty cool backdrop
. I got the start, and on the first play of the game, I got to shoot 2 technical free throws because one of their players wasn’t dressed appropriately. All four sides of the court were lined with spectators who would taunt people and scream on free throws, but it wasn’t clear which team they were rooting for. Oh yeah, our jerseys are sick and I made UGB promise to let me buy one before I left as a keepsake. The other team wasn’t extremely talented but had 2 players who were athletic. It was pretty fun playing again, and feeling part of a team. I hate to be one to complain about the refs, but the two that worked our game were not the best by any means. They hesitated on calls, made crazy calls -I was called for an open court travel when I picked up my dribble and passed in the same motion; a player on the other team drove under the basket, tried a reverse layup, didn’t shoot and came down with the ball and wasn’t called for a travel; and some players took 4 steps (a double euro step?) and were not called for travels. Anyways, the craziest part of the game occurred when I was pushed and lost my footing, but was called for a travel. My coach, their coach, their alumni, UGB’s alumni, and everyone in the stands started arguing, and the refs took 20 minutes – no lie 20 minutes – to decide what the outcome of the call was. In fact, they didn’t know what to do, so one of the refs actually called some higher official to get the ruling. I looked at Isa and told her I felt like it was the 2000 election recount (sorry, too soon), except the officials were using skype on dial-up internet connection in a hurricane to get the official call
. The game went down to the wire and eventually we won, 80-77. I finished with 17 points on 4 threes and 5 free throws – some to seal the game at the end, and got a standing ovation (I’m cracking up as I write this, this is a dream!). I couldn’t tell if the fans were mocking me or not, but I’m going to just go with that they weren’t. It was such a cool experience playing in a foreign country, and having random people come up to you and say hello.
After the game, the UGB posse all went to a restaurant and hungout. It was unbelievable to me how much a team could get along for such a long time. They all really genuinely like eachother. At one point, they were all making speeches about the game and the President made me give a speech. I told them (they made me speak slowly) that I was so thankful that they worked out my paperwork and that while being here can be lonely at times, I feel like I am a part of something special when I’m around the team, and that I really feel welcome.
Yesterday, Isa and I had our first day of our coaching clinic. It was slated to start at 2:00, but really started at 3:00 (of course). It went well, we explained terminology and rules, and the prospective coaches were very receptive and interested, which is inspiring
. We saw a monkey before the clinic started so that was nice . Also ran in to Jean Paul the Orchid Man again. Afterwards, we went to Master P’s house, a teammate of mine, and hungout with him and his friends. Master P is the funniest teammate I have ever had on all the teams I have played on, I plan on hanging out with him a lot more. From there, we went to trivia night and came in a career-best 4th
place. More importantly, we were on a team with a guy we met earlier named Jake, who is from Boston, loves basketball and J. Cole – so he got along really well with Isa and I. He brought some of his friends, who all happened to be 22 and in their first or second month in Kigali, so it was really nice meeting some people like us. Were planning on hanging with them this weekend. Jake and his friends all work in NGO's here in Kigali, so hopefully sometime along our journey, they can collaborate with us.
We finally realized that its easier and cheaper to cook at home, so we have started by making omelettes. Although some may think that cooking an omelette on top of a propane tank with a camping stove grill thing, a knife and a spoon as a spatula, and a flat piece of metal is more difficult than making one on a regular pan, you are mistaken. The “pan” is perfect – it has no walls that mess up the angle of the spatula (knife), and it dips down just slightly so you have a perfectly circular omelette
. I took my cooking one step further to then wrap the omelette in a chapatti (a better, butterier version of pita bread), and its like an omelette taco. I know this may gross a lot of you out, but I don’t really care because this is a huge step up for me from a microwave (I’m pretty good at the microwave too). Isa and I have gone through 26 eggs in 3.5 days just to give you an idea. If you calculate the price, it comes out to less than 1 dollar per omelette taco. This was a huge relief because I was having some anxiety about food affecting our budget. I feel full for the first time in weeks.
Isa and I are pumped to finish our coaching clinic, and we also plan on visiting some other organizations later in the week. Hope all is well in the states and elsewhere!