The Simple Life - Basketball and Goats in the Lib

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Flag of Burundi  ,
Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hello all,

A lot has happened since my last blog (I always say that, but it is extra true this time).

I have moved out to Rwinkwavu, in the Eastern Province of Rwanda.  Rwinkwavu was one of the most devastated communities after the 1994 genocide, and because of this, has received a ton of aid and is really starting to flourish.  To get there, you take a bus from Kigali 1.5 hours to the east and then take a moto down into this huge valley.  The view from my dorm room in unbelievable, it reminds me of family trips out to Nevada and Arizona. There is a Rwandese hospital, as well as a training and research center run by Partner's in Health.  To me, this means I have super fast internet, random muzungus to hang out with, and good food.

Anyways, we installed the baskets and painted the lines 3 weeks ago, and the kids have been loving it.  I must not forget to mention that presumably 95% of Rwinkwavuans (don’t know if that is the right spelling) have never even seen basketball.  Each day, I have 3 hours of training – 2 sessions for Primary 4,5, and 6 and 1 session for Secondary school students.  Kids were so eager to play that we just had to make rules about which age to start at.  I have also been lucky enough to have an "apprentice coach" – Patrick, who already has a huge basketball knowledge base, but even more importantly, can translate what I say to the young athletes.  He comes to every practice, and I pay him a little bit.  After holding crash course coaching clinics in Kigali, and seeing Patrick develop in the 2 short weeks we have had trainings, it is obvious that this is the way to go – just have your coaches at practice. 

            I have been really emphasizing discipline in the camps – making kids run if they are late, making them do pushups if they are disrespectful.  Even though it is difficult to change a cultural practice that (seemingly) is so ingrained in the culture (being OK with being late), I think I can do it if I just keep persistent.  I think the running-as-punishment thing has started working judging by the faces of the kids when they show up late and look at me.  I have also started giving out t-shirts to kids who consistently show up on time, who I don’t have to make do pushups, and I think the jealousy is starting to work.  There is really nothing like positive peer pressure.

            Basketball wise, Rwink has been a blessing and a curse in that it is a COMPLETE fresh pallet – these kids have never played before.  As frustrating as it is to repeat kinyarwandan phrases 1,000 per practice like:

Inabwe imbere – step forward when passing

Kumanura – stay low

Kureba imbere – look up when dribbling

Espeed – quicker

Vuga name, vuga ball – call names, call “ball” when passing

Inawbe rimwe iburgio, inabwe cabiri ibumoso – first step right, second step left, layup.

(these are all memorized thanks to Matt and his brother Ryan for bringing over a quarterback play-calling wristband so I could have the translations ready to go)

…it is SO rewarding once it clicks with them.  I have them emphasizing fundamentals to the point where I make Bo Ryan look like he is as laid back as Steve Fisher (ok that’s an exaggeration and not even humanly possible to be that strict), but I believe these constant reminders will help.

    I have also been implementing things where the young athletes can be leaders on their own, doing some teamwork building and leadership exercises, as well as selecting a “leader of the day” who goes through the plyometric warm up and the stretching. 

The thing I love most about working with these kids here is their sheer excitement to play every single day.  I guess the only thing I can relate to that is when a new song or a big game was coming on TV – because it was something I didn’t know the outcome of, but was super excited for it.  Because basketball is so new out here, and there are good trainers (myself and Patrick), the kids are always at the court before I show up, and stay way later after training.  I had to even have a talk with them because some of the primary school students were coming to two trainings a day and skipping school!  Every morning when I walk into the library to set up my computer and eat breakfast, the same group of 10 primary kids sprint towards me, yell my name, and beg for a ball. 

These kids are also tough as nails.  Some of them play barefoot (we have already given out 2 boxes of shoes (thanks to the Ann Arbor YMCA and Common Bond Basketball Club), and have the rest in Kigali waiting for a car ride from Matt to get out here.  For those of you who know what a close out is, imagine closing out on piping hot concrete barefoot, and try to tell me  you would be excited about playing basketball.  One day last week in particular will stick with me the rest of my life.  It was cold and rainy – I mean POURING, and those kids were still out there playing.  I was not sure of how safe it was but I stopped myself and was like, “well, if they are gonna be out there in this, there is no reason I shouldn’t be” – so we had a full training.  The balls were slipping through their hands and smacking them in the face and they were slipping and sliding but they could not be happier.  Their energy and enthusiasm is contagious and it is basically impossible to have a bad day out here.

Last Thursday, we had our first viewing night.  I’m going to be honest, I was a little mixed on having the kids watch the adult pick up games here because the basketball is seriously so terrible here – adults who think they know how to play really play basketball like soccer – turnovers don’t matter, hugely risky passes – and in addition, they have little to no fundamental base (I’m talking scud missile three-pointers that seriously have me worrying that a basketball, not a rock, will shatter the backboard.  So, to combat this, Matt suggested that we show real basketball – NCAA ball – on the projector every Thursday night in the library.  We announced the event the day of and had a great turnout, and the kids and some adults really enjoyed it.  We showed a Duke vs. UNC game from last year when UNC blew out Duke in Cameron – not the best, most exciting game to show, but it was what we could find on the internet.  It was hilarious, Matt and I announced the teams and told them to choose a team and cheer for them.  Not knowing the outcome of the game, we announced the two teams, and since Duke was announced first, most people cheered for them, and they got BLOWN OUT!

To top this all off, I came into the library to relax and read on my off day this weekend, and looked out to the court to see the guys doing the warm-up, stretching, and passing drills I had taught them.  One kid in particular – Erique – is a street kid and doesn’t have enough money to pay for school fees, so he comes to 2 primary trainings per day, and then plays at night with the rest of the kids.  Anyways, Erique took charge and ran his own practice, and I could not be happier.  At Shooting Touch, we preach continuity, but we conceptualize this continuity as being from our sabbatical grantees to community coaches, and not from the coaches to the players.  But seeing these kids basically run their own practice made me so happy and excited for basketball and the community in Rwinkwavu in general – that these kids were taking the initiative and responsibility to coach themselves, to hold themselves responsible to each other.  Not to sound romantic or anything, but to me, that is beautiful and 1,000 more powerful than a coach taking a responsibility for a team.

Outside of basketball, I have continued to experience new things… here are some quick hits.

-        The lifestyle in Rwinkwavu makes me never want to leave.  I am awoken by cows mooing 30 feet from my dorm room, I look out the window and see mist roll through the valley, I walk to work, and in comparison to Kigali, Rwinkwavu is great because there are no: public buses where you have other people’s armpit sweat on your shoulder because you are crammed in like sardines; death defying motos; noise all the time; annoying street vendors; and people trying to rip you off.  It is funny how the urban vs. small town dynamic in the United States is similar to the Kigali vs. Rwinkwavu dynamic here.   In Rwinkwavu, everyone says hello, and the pace of life is slower (even by Rwandan standards), and the day ends when the sun goes down, whereas in Kigali, there is a lot more hustle and bustle and constant movement (although things are moving behind schedule, they are still moving, ok?)

-       I went to Bujumbura, Burundi with Isa and Jake a couple of weekends ago and had an awesome time.  Bujumbura lies at the bottom of these huge mountains, and is along a huge lake.  There is absolutely no English there, but being on the beach was an awesome way to spend a weekend, especially with your two best friends here.  We some how got hooked up with the most hospitable person I have ever met, and life was so easy there (shoutout to Vivek and his cousins for making us feel like celebrities, specifically giving us a car out there, taking us to his bar, and showing us every cool place).  Also shoutout to the U.S. Marines who hosted a going away party for a Marine at the U.S. Embassy and let us in!

-            The other day I had to chase 2 baby goats out of the library.  They got their shots in though, and peed and pooped on the floor.

-       The best experience of my time in Rwanda happened on a way back from a hike with Matt’s brother, Brad.  Side note: I hangout with them (Brad, Matt, and Matt’s wife Cory) basically every night and it has been awesome sharing stories, watching movies, cooking (rather mostly me watching them cook), and realizing how creepily similar our families are.  The food they make is so good I almost feel bad about eating it.  Back to the story – Brad and I are coming down from a hike up along the valley ridge after talking about how there is a certain balance between being friendly and being fake friendly, and the struggle between how far these conversations we have with Rwandese can go considering our lack of Kinyarwanda speaking skills and their lack of English skills.  At times, it is not the right timing to be stopped by a stranger and you think to yourself (here we go again, another 3 minute conversation that leads to nothing…), but, if you step back, you realize that the fact that you are communicating on ANY level is so special, you just have to do it.  From this conversation, we give it a shot to extend ourselves out, and follow some singing noise in the neighborhood to find a circle of 25 kids clapping, dancing, and singing, with an adult female leader.  Initially, our plan was to just watch from a distance, but the group saw us and surrounded us, clapping and singing, and we soon joined in.   They all sang a chant and clapped while two people danced in the middle, and then those people branched off and grabbed two new people.  Needless to say, Brad and I rarely spent time on the outer circle clapping, and were always in the middle dancing with people because they had selected us.  This lasted for about 10 minutes and at this point, Brad and I started to sweat.  We then did another chant/song where you count up.  We did this in Kinyarwandan, and then English, and got up to some pretty high numbers, to the point where I was the only one counting and every one else would just be silent for the second it took me to shout “THIRTY ONE!’ at the top of my lungs.  This lasted for another 15 minutes, and by that time, I felt like I could have been a kid with the group the whole night, but I was also exhausted.  Typical of my experience in Rwanda, it took us another 10 minutes to say goodbye as kids would hug us, shake our hands, ask us to pick them up, and tell us their names.  Brad and I then walked in complete silence for about a minute while we took all that in, and then I looked at him and told him that was a top 3 moment of my life.  I had never felt what I felt during that time ever before in my life, and it was so special… I guess you just had to be there.  On the walk home, we walked past two groups of cows (the ones with 3 – foot horns) and got pretty scared.

-       This was my first full weekend in Rwink and it was the longest weekend ever, but I had so much fun.  I did some gardening and hoeing in Matt, Cory, and Brad’s  house and got blisters within 5 minutes but it was still pretty rewarding.  I also learned to respect and accept that organic products are so expensive – farming is some seriously tough work, but I can see the pleasure people get out of it.

-       On Sunday, we had a St. Patty’s day celebration in Matt’s backyard, and a lot of muzungus and Rwandese came, and it was fun.  We shared our celebratory practices with them and had a great time.  We even ate a goat that was butchered in front of my eyes the night before by a guy named Adam who is a jack-of-all-trades guy.

-       Just like my experience in Rwanda thus far – the ups and downs, the highs and the lows, my great moment of watching the kids take charge of their basketball growth was then shadowed a bit by a kid shattering the backboard by throwing a rock at it.  It was probably bound to happen at some point, but we are on the upswing once again as Emmy – the contractor for the court, came running to my rescue.  Just 16 hours after the backboard was shattered, we had replaced it with a metal backboard, complete with a paint job and a square.  Huge shoutout to Emmy!

Thanks for listening to my extreme rambling, but as you can see, I’m quite excited to be here.  And… I almost forgot, a HUGE congratulations to Kevin Kettl and Pricilla Dodoo for winning the 2013-2014 Sabbatical Grant!  Welcome to the family, and you better worship Tome, Leah Isa and I for being the Rwandan guinea pigs and making your life a billion times easier, right Is?

Until next time,

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uwitonze paulin on

that was realy good brother casey

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