If You Build It, They Will Come

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Flag of Rwanda  , Eastern Province,
Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Muraho (good day, if you haven't seen the person in a while),

It has been a while since my last blog post because I have been so caught up in work here and just am being present in the moment (more on this later). If you are in a rush and want a quick recap of what happened in the past month or so, watch this video of the court progress and completion in Gikondo:


After a long, long process of turning in international-shipping-jargon laden forms to different people, paying different fees that magically appeared, and getting signatures from government officials all over town, we finally got our shipment out of Rwandan customs.  The running around to get the full taxes exonerated was completely worth it though, considering our donated goods were only taxed at 20%, while normal, commercial shipments are taxed at 50%.  I don’t know where these tax rates lie on a world scale, but they seem pretty high to me, especially for donated goods (hello, you are getting it for free!?).   We then rented a truck, and dropped 2 of our really nice Spalding glass backboard hoops off at GS Mburabuturo to be put into storage, and took the rest of the things home.  It took about 30 minutes to load the stuff off of the truck because we had so many boxes.  In total, we had 4 more in-ground hoop systems, 400 pairs of shoes, 800 t-shirts, 280 deflated basketballs, and some other random basketball items.  Needless to say, Dom’s house had some serious redecorating, and the "after" did not look better than the “before.”  For odor reasons and to be decent human beings, we kept the used shoes outside.  Shoutout to Dom for being so cool with us basically taking over his house in some aspects. 

That afternoon, Isa and I sorted out the shoes, which took quite a while.  Some kids who walk through a sidewalk on the side of our house were utterly confused to see so many shoes put into a line and they just stared at us for 10 minutes while we sorted shoes and tied the strings together to the sounds of Fun.

 We then started our coaching clinics at Club Rafiki.  A solid group of coaches from SIRA Sports Inclusion has been coming once a week for 1-2 hours each time to learn to be coaches, for Isa and I aren’t going to be here forever.  It is so nice to have a small, dedicated group.  Being the guinea pigs, Isa and I tried to do a crash course, 3-day coaching clinic, and that simply doesn’t work.  Our coaching clinics consist of going over rules and concepts, then some skill work and strategy.  The biggest area of focus is learning terminology, so they can understand us when we refer to basketball jargon - jump to the ball, chin the ball, talk on defense, beat the man to the spot, pressure.  We always finish the clinics by watching Coach Hurley’s DVDs and the guys love that part of it, especially when they recognize a word they have recently learned.. 

We have also been starting training very consistently a couple of teams throughout the week.  Primarily, I have been doing the court construction and some practices while Isa has been doing an awesome job of coaching constantly and really improving some teams in Kigali.  We have begun trainings at 3 different locations, and will start a fourth soon.  This is all in an effort to have another huge tournament on March 10th at Club Rafiki, again, complete with a DJ, referees, giveaways, and a scoreboard.  Our good friend Benjamin is setting this tournament up, and Isa and I are coaching teams that are to play in the tournament.  Benjamin is also planning a trip for his team at Club Rafiki to go to Akagera National Park (where I went earlier, a huge park with zebras, giraffes, crocs, warthogs, water buffaloes, monkeys, tons of birds).  Since our court is in Rwinkwavu (just 20 minutes away from the park), we are planning on having a match between the team in Rwinkwavu and Benjamin’s team while Benjamin’s team is on their way back from Akagera to Kigali.  It should be an awesome experience for some of Ben’s kids to see Akagera and meet kids from elsewhere in Rwanda.  Also, it will be good for the Rwinkwavu kids to see kids their age that are pretty good at basketball, so they know where they should be skill wise.  And finally, it will probably make me feel like I am 40 years old being a chaperone on my kid's field trip, not good.

Since the last blog post we have completely finished our court construction at GS Mburabuturo – complete with the in-ground basket systems.  Through the 3 day process of installing the baskets, I would be there with the masons and at least 10 to 15 kids would stand around and observe the entire process.  Once the baskets were finally installed, I shot around with some kids, and the look on their face was priceless – laughing, giggling, throwing up airballs and not caring because they were having so much fun.  In probably the best 4-minute span of my life (besides being born), I demonstrated the proper shooting form to kids, and about 80 kids surrounding the court were all holding their Jordan-game-six follow-throughs.  I then shot around just for fun, and the kids were going crazy and cheering after every shot.  Afterwards, they all joined in an the ball was in such high demand you would have thought it was a Barry Bonds HR ball, however, there was no biting incident this time.

I talked with the Headmaster at GS Mburabuturo and we planned to have trainings every morning at 9 AM there, and we went around to all the p5 and p6 classes (ages 12-15) to announce training.  We capped the number of kids to be trained at 40 – 20 boys and 20 girls training at the same time, so each kid could develop and not just be a small fish in a big pond.  Eventually, we hope to train and teach all the kids that want to participate, just not right now.  On the first morning, 60 kids of the age we were supposed to train showed up, in addition to (no lie) 120 tiny little kids surrounding the court, cheering, laughing, running onto the court.  It was complete chaos, and for our next training, Isa and I will be writing down 40 names and only training those kids.  I didn’t know how to react – whether to be happy for the enthusiasm these kids were exhibiting, or to be impatient that we could not get our serious training going.  At one point in the training Isa looked over from the other side of the court and just mouthed to me “this is crazy” – I will never forget that moment. 

Like much of my other experiences in Rwanda, the excitement of the first training – the elation experiences by the kids, the cheering, the energy – was all too good to be true, as we discovered our glass backboard had already been cracked by a rock.  This really angered Isa and I – we had put so much effort to even get the baskets here, and had jumped through so many hoops – and 12 hours after we finished the court, one basket was unusable.  Isa and I used this as a teaching point, and got all the kids together to pick up rocks and move them to the other side of the soccer field.  The next day, I got some masons together and we dismounted the backboard, and will replace the glass with indestructible (I hope at least) backboards.  In our training, our bosses talked about how big it is being the grantee to overcome challenges.  Now, more than ever, I see what they were talking about.  The backboard will be fixed soon and we hope to train a set number of kids as soon as possible!

Now, onto Rwinkwavu.  In early February, Matt (the guy who runs the Library and Learning Center in Rwinkwavu) picked up the basket materials.  Court construction there is almost done, and in fact, yesterday, I went out there to put in the first part of the basket and to meet with the person who runs housing at the Partner’s In Health hospital dormitories.  I reserved a room for 2 months.  I met Matt’s two brothers who were visiting and we helped with the installation of the basket poles.  The court is absolutely beautiful.  It is hard to even comprehend how much manpower was put into this project to make the court go from a grassy, wooded slope to a cleared, leveled, brand new basketball court in all under one month’s time.  I will be moving out to Rwinkwavu on Monday to finish the basket installation and to paint the court, and then begin training.  I am very excited for a change of pace, but will definitely miss hanging out with my friends in Kigali, and will really really miss working with my partner in crime Isa.  My life in Rwinkwavu will change drastically – I will have to find my own food, will be living on my own, will walk or bike to work, and will be able to bike through a beautiful valley and go for runs on the peaks of the valleys.  It will be a more simple and predictable life, and will be more quiet, but I am ready for a change from the hustle and bustle of Kigali. 

In non-Shooting Touch related news, Isa, Jake, Jake’s roommates, and I all went to Kibuye (where we had went with Dom earlier this year) and had a great weekend.  On Friday night, we stayed at Home Saint de Jean, a really nice and cheap place to stay, with an incredible view of Lake Kivu and good, cheap food.  That night, we ate dinner overlooking the lake and talked with everyone.  There were people from Germany, Switzerland, France, and of course, the Americans, and it was so interesting to hear their stories, and our perceptions of one another’s culture.  The euro's kept getting on us Americans for how much we express our amazement at things.  For example, they did an impression of how we talk when we first meet someone and how when someone explains that they are from Europe, Americans (or maybe it is just Jake, Isa and I) react by oo-ing and ahh-ing and saying "that is AMAZING... INCREDIBLE!"  I thought they were being prejudice but sure enough me and my two American homies caught ourselves saying those exact things...#smh.
The language of communication as constantly changing, and I had a “living the dream” moment, realizing how lucky I was to be in such a beautiful place, talking with such a knowledgeable, diverse, fun group of people, on a vacation from my “job” which consists of teaching basketball.  This did not fit into the “too good to be true” tradition - it was good, and it was true.  On Saturday, we left for Amahoro Island (Amahoro means peace).  On the way to Amahoro island, we stopped at Volcano island, and watched as some fisherman showed us something that I thought I would only see on the discovery channel.  They went toward the center of the island, and started clapping, yelling, and throwing fruits and stones at trees and before you knew it, 4 million bats (yes, 4 million – they have counted estimates) came out of the trees and were circling the island.  At one point, I looked into the sky and there was more black than blue because there were so many bats.  Amazingly, we didn’t get pooped on.  At this point, with the beauty of the lake, the temperature, the sun setting, and 4 million bats flying overhead, I had reached my peak of unbelievableness.  Anyways, we eventually got to Amahoro Island. It is like something out of a movie, with a small sand volleyball court, a small restaurant that advertises many menu options but only really has 2 or 3 on any given day, and a toilet.  Jake, Isa and I camped across this little rock walkway on the other side of the island and made a fire, and stayed up late into the night talking about whatever came to our minds.  Sunday morning, Jake and I got up and swam to a nearby island, and swam back, which was pretty tiring.  We ate fresh fish and chips before boarding a boat back to the mainland in Kibuye.  Jake and I thought about eating a rabbit, but we wanted to know how big it was.  Our waitress went back in the kitchen and returned with a little white and black rabbit and the rabbit looked like he definitely knew what was going on - his eyes were popping our of his head with fear.  Needless to say, we did not order the rabbit, especially after we petted it.  At around 6, we headed back to Kigali and just could not believe how incredible our weekend was.  This weekend was tied with the Uganda trip for my best weekend here.  And the best part of it all is that we (Isa, Jake and I) and I are headed back to Amahoro Island this weekend, and then are going to Bujumbura, Burundi the next weekend.

Some quick hits:

Rwandese squirt guns – Kids have them all over the place, a water bottle with a nail-sized hole in the cap.  The kids squeeze the bottle and shoot a little stream at eachother.

Marble shooting – at GS Mburabuturo, there is always a circle of kids crouching down.  I was wondering what they were doing so I checked it out and they play this game where you must flick a marble with your thumb at a marble, and if you hit it, you keep going, and it not, it’s the other persons turn.  Little kids are awesome at it because their hands are so small.  That is probably just a explanation for hwo bad I was at this game, because I missed the marble by 2 feet when I only shot it from a foot away.

Had a slight freak out moment when we were installing the baskets.  Kids started taking the Styrofoam packaging and eating it.  Once I realized this, I made all the kids spit it out, and then fled the scene (just kidding, everyone was ok).  I guess you can’t blame the kids though, they probably had never seen Styrofoam before.

About earlier, I am living more and more in the moment here.  My first 4 months, I was pretty frustrated with having time expectations, expecting things to work out perfectly because I had put in the preparation for them to turn out that way, and then being disappointed.  I have learned that here, you just must focus on doing the best and most you can for one day, getting the most done, and being happy with it, because most of what prevents you from obtaining your expected results comes from outside forces. 

Shooting Touch 2013-2014 applications have moved into the second round, and I am excited to see what next year’s prospective grantees have in store for us with their application videos.  Moreso than anything, I am excited to see how the intros to their videos go, considering Isa and I’s intros were on point!

This was a huge blog, and I will wait a while until the next one, but I just wanted to thank everyone here and at home for all the work they have been doing.  For those of you involved in the Court of Dreams fundraiser, I hope the video makes you feel proud!

Until next time,

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Carl Cohen on

Casey, you earn my admiration and affection.
Be well.

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