The Big Event, Breaking Ground

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Flag of Uganda  ,
Monday, December 17, 2012

Hello everyone!
 If your looking for a quick recap, watch this video
If not, enjoy the blog as well.

A ton has happened since the last blog post. The easiest way is to just fly through the events, because there are so many.

On Tuesday, in the middle of AGR's Training Camp in Gikondo, we were called into immigration to discuss some paperwork issues.  This was a very stressful experience, and we ended up having to go to the embassy and talk to a bunch of people, but we all figured it out in the end.  We had to re-enter the country and re-apply for a volunteer visa under a registered non-profit.  I guess you could view this as a punishment, but we saw it as an opportunity to see some sights, and re-charge our batteries before our big event Saturday.

That Saturday was my birthday, and it also happened to be a teammate’s birthday.  Louis got married to his wife, and it was so awesome to experience a wedding from a different culture.  Everyone dressed up, a shirt and tie, and there was an elaborate gift presentation in which each significant "group" of friends of the couple came up, spoke, and presented a gift.  The UGB team – which has been instrumental in supporting Isa and I’s mission – gave Louis a framed picture of him and the team, as well as a brand new euroleague basketball.  Then, next thing I knew, I was surrounded by my team, and they mobbed me – rubbing my head and throwing me up in the air and singing happy birthday.  I had no idea that they were going to surprise me, it was one of the most surprising things to ever happen to me, and I feel so lucky to have such thoughtful teammates.  They also gave me a plaque with some pictures of the team that said happy birthday.  For the rest of the night, random people from the wedding were wishing me happy birthday.  The whole team is excited about our final championship weekend of our tournament, and some of them are planning to come.

We – Isa, my college roommate and close friend Tommy, and Isa’s friend from home – all met up in Uganda.  The road trip there was pretty hectic – the rural highways were bumpy at times, and it seemed like there was only one true lane, our bus would swerve onto the shoulder when another bus came, and multiple times I woke up thinking we were going for a head on collision.  Once in Kampala, the big city in Kampala, we brushed our teeth at a supermarket, and hopped on a bus headed for Jinja near the Nile River.  We then made the best of our exodus and went on a white water rafting trip down the Nile River.  I tend to talk in hyperboles, but this was truly the most exciting moment of my life – right up there with mountain biking in Arizona.  The rapids were level 5, and 6 was un-raftable.  We had to exit the raft and walk around the level 6 rapids, they were huge and you could hear the roar of the water from about mile away.  The water was incredibley warm and birds were flying inches off the water.  At some points, the river was about 1,000 feet wide.    

That night, we returned to Kampala and looked up bus tickets.  Kampala’s bus park is way more crowded and sketchy than Kigali’s.  Isa braved two pickpocket attempts and we went through a lot of bus-ticket purchasing adventures before we realized we coulnd’t leave until the next night.  We witnessed a street kid get caught trying to pickpocket an adult, and the adult and his adult friend grabbed the kid and started roughing him up.  Then, the two adults called over a cop or security guard who whipped out a metal rod and whipped the kid (only about 10 years old) and he was screaming.  It was very hard to watch, and my mind raced with questions about how the kid got to be a pick-pocketer, and how the justice system works there.  After talking to some people, we found out that is just how they deal with that there, “civil justice” if you will.  I figure the real police have bigger fish to fry, so people just take the law into their own hands.  That is not to say I am for beating up a little kid, but you gotta deal with situations with the cards you are given.  This also goes for peeing in public in Kigali.  At first, my euro-centrist self thought it was uncivilized, or that people here just don’t care.  Thankfully, I came around to realize that in fact, there are very few public restrooms in Kigali, and even those charge 100 francs to go.  I completely understand the reasoning behind going out in public now.

We then stayed at a hostel a few km’s (that’s scary I used that measure) outside of Kampala.  Angela, Isa’s friend, was very interesting to talk to.  She is volunteering at a hospital in Uganda about 6 hours away from Kampala, and is so knowledgeable about health risks in Africa and so many political situations.  I learned a ton from her.  One of the best conversations we had was when we discussed when, if ever, it is appropriate to blame African countries for their social, political, and economic hardships, or will the fault forever lie in the hands of western colonizers.  On one hand, you can always blame the western powers for making some African countries the way they are – for they took their resources, still have some control over their resources, and at times, set the scene for further political unrest even after independence.  However, on the other hand, it is important to consider the resources countries have.  Rwanda has almost no natural resources besides coffee, and has gorillas that attract tourists.  I guess the best way of saying this, although it may seem insensitive, is that some countries have to “flip the burgers” in the world economy – not every country has resources that favor a booming economy.  However, like in the case of the Congo, it is safe to say that some of their political unrest has come from, historically and today, the lack of self-determination of their own natural resources.  

Anyways, Isa, Tommy, and I all arrived back in Kigali on Wednesday morning, and immediately got down to business – planning our final event on December 15th.  We met with the leaders at Club Rafiki, met with Benjamin to put the final plans together, booked a DJ, and came up with the schedule for the day.  We went to the community centers and talked with leaders there to make sure the teams had enough transportation money.

The big day finally arrived on Saturday.  It was strange, I had butterflies.  There was a ton of build up because this is something that has been in the making for 6 weeks, and it had a lot of weight considering it was Shooting Touch’s first big event in Rwanda – it was imperative that we have a good first impression.  Isa, Tom, Benjamin, and I all arrived at Club Rafiki at about 8:30 for our 9:00 AM start, and there were already kids there, which was a very good sign.  The DJ was setting up and kids were warming up, and we began to organize the first game.  Then, it started pouring rain out of nowhere, and we all went under a roof for about an hour until it passed.  We had a rain date for Sunday, but really wanted to have it on Saturday.  Thankfully, the rain passed, and 4 squeegees and an hour later, the court was dry and playable.  The whole day was just so awesome, it is hard to remember all of it.  Between the dance performances, the crowd, the music, the three-point contest, lay-up contest, skills competition, and hot-shot competition, there was never a dull moment.  Tom and our friend Julius were mc’s, it was hilarious to see Tom with the mic, getting the crowd excited with his commentary.  Needless to say, for those of you who know how Tom plays basketball, he got super excited when there was a kid who was scrappy, grabbing offensive boards and d-ing up on every single possession.  Tom was basically playing through him and I could see physical excitement whenever the kid scored – it was hilarious.  Isa and I refereed, and Benjamin helped coach some teams, and all in all, everything went smoothly.

The basketball had its great points, but there were a ton of turnovers, bad shot selection, and a lot of fouling.  While it is easy to perceive this as a bad thing, I think in the bigger picture, it was a huge success – people saw basketball as a fun way to spend time, and now know we are here and know what we are doing – perception is everything.

I think my favorite part of it was that it got the community involved – there were huge crowds the whole day, and we had to force people off the court during timeouts just because so many kids wanted to get shots up.  If anything, people in Nyamirambo now know the Shooting Touch name, and see what we are about.  It was a very surreal experience personally putting on a successful event like that, and Isa and I both at one point took a step back and had a "ahhhh!" moment where we just felt good to provide this to the community and the kids.

After the tournament, the t-shirt giveaway, and taking pictures, Benjamin, Tom, Isa and I, and Benjamin’s friend and fellow basketball player Gishoma played pick up.  It was probably the first time in history that 4 mazungus were on the same basketball team in Rwanda, and we drew a even bigger crowd than the tournament.  It was very surreal, every single inch of the fence was lined with people just watching.  Hopefully they witnessed what basketball is supposed to be played like, and copy us. 

All in all, I am so happy that the event went well, even with the roadblock.  Another thing I am learning by being the grantee is the importance of predicting the next step, you always have to think about tomorrow, 2 weeks from now, 3 months from now.  Next on the agenda:  get our shipment safely into Kigali, set up a youth league, meet with more health NGOs, really put out an aggressive campaign to get young female athletes involved (they do not hang around youth centers much – schools should be a great way to get female athletes involved), get the court construction in Rwinkwavu set up, and eventually start my project out there. 

On Monday, the afternoon before Tommy sadly left, we went and visited the genocide memorial.  It was… indescribable, and it is one of those places that you only visit once.  It was incredibly moving, and really makes you think about where we are in the world today, and where we are heading, and how fragile life really is.

We have also broke ground on our first court construction project.  We are adding some additional meters (wow, meters? Really Casey?) to an existing volleyball court in Gikondo at the Mburabuturo Primary School.  We have developed a strong relationship with the Headmaster there, and are employing a very trustworthy guy to lead the construction, planned out by the MAN Maurice who is the VP of UGB.  Maurice in fact got married this past Saturday.  It was such a nice event and I was so happy for him.Shoutout to all the coaches who have helped – Titi, Paulin, Ngabo, Paul, Benjamin, Tommy, Isa, Julius, Alli – to the people at Club Rafiki – Fannie, to the UGB family for being such great teammates and friends, and to Justin and Lindsey and everyone at Shooting Touch back at home, without all of you, none of this would be possible.  Isa and I are honored that you trust us, and not to sound cocky, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t disappoint!  Onto celebrate Christmas and New Year’s in Rwanda… Never ever thought I would say that in my life.  Until next time…

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