Basketball Fever in Dry Season

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Flag of Rwanda  , Eastern Province,
Friday, June 28, 2013

Hey all,

I can't believe it has been over a month since I last posted. It is dry as heck here – there has not been a single drop of rain since I last posted an entry.  This means that the green banana trees on the side of the road are orangeish-red, that orange water comes off my body when I shower at night, and that people sprint across the road in front of huge transport trucks so that they don’t have to deal with the 4-minute dust bowl that follows. 

At times, people here can be seen wearing scarves over their mouth, but I knew dry season was serious when I saw a goat with a surgeon’s mask on to protect his lungs from the dust.  For all you country music fans out there, rain really is a good thing.

            My practice and life lesson content has changed quite a bit – we are working on more advanced skills now that the kids have the basic fundamentals down, like between the legs dribbles, behind-the-back, post moves, and reverse lay-ups, as well as basketball concepts like attacking the paint, running a perimeter weave, and ball-screens and screens away from the ball.  The kids are really getting a lot better, they are starting to understand basketball concepts like spacing, playing help defense, and boxing out.  I am realizing more and more that as much as you try to mold basketball players and form habits, in the end, you just have to teach as be as repetitive as possible, and the instinctual things have to come from them gaining more playing experience. As a marker for how much the kids have improved on the court, we just held a reverse-Mikan drill 1-minute competition, and the kid who won made 23 in one minute.  Considering the high score was 14 when we held the regular Mikan 1-minute contest, we have improved drastically. 

            The kids have improved so much that we held our first 3 on 3 tournament.  The week leading up to the event, I distributed both English and Kinyarwanda fliers announcing the times of each age groups tournament.  We had a primary division, a secondary division, and an adult division.  Games went from 9:00 AM all the way up until 2:00 PM, and the kids really had a good time.  We had a great turnout – with 14 primary teams playing, 8 secondary teams playing, and even some adults came to play pick up at the end of it, despite the fact that most adults go to Kigali for the weekends here.  Staying true to 3 on 3 single elimination basketball culture, the games were quite physical and intense, because nobody wanted to lose.  We had music going, a Shooting Touch banner put up, and even had a huge tournament bracket on a white board.  I was very happy with the turnout of girls, as about 15 girls came out and really competed and even showed up some of the boys.  At the end of the tournament, we had a huge game of giants, wizards, and elves, and discussed conflict management strategies with the kids because the night before, a troubled kid from another neighborhood came and had some conflicts with the regulars at the Rwinkwavu court. 

            I don’t know what it is about dry season, but ever since the rain stopped, girls numbers have been dropping.  About 3 weeks ago, I finally decided to tackle this and distributed fliers and made announcements for a "girls day" at the court, where only girls were allowed to receive training.  The first day, we had a solid 32 girls show up, and the next week, we had an INCREDIBLE 51 GIRLS come.  All but two were primary-age, and had never touched a basketball before, but I was amazed at how quickly they learned and picked up what I taught them.  Straight up, girls are way better listeners, and have way better hands than guys at this age.  Although I have had some difficulty to get girls to come to the regular-timed practices on Monday-Thursday, the numbers have been rising, and there are a solid group of about 10 girls who come and work on their game.

            Isa and I have also really been picking up our Shooting Touch “housekeeping” duties as well.  Last week, we released a first-of-its-kind English/Kinyarwanda Basketball Instructional DVD, complete with exercises in offense, defense, teamwork, rebounding, conditioning, teambuilding, life skills, and disease prevention.  It is on YouTube, and we are hoping to distribute the DVD to 40-50 coaches.  Additionally, we added to and edited the Shooting Touch instructional manual for next year’s grantees, Kevin and Priscilla, so they have a better idea of the direction of Shooting Touch in Rwanda.

            Additionally, I had parallel dip bars and a pull up bar installed near the court.  Once the concrete finished, the kids were all over them, and I was amazed at how strong these kids were.  Probably one of my favorite moments in Rwink happened when little Cedrick – this fiery little kid in Primary 4 (who FYI sliced his forehead open on the 2nd day the court was up and running) – came up and completely BEASTED the pull-up competition, getting 14 pull ups!  This kid is so small, he had to ninja-shimmy up the pull up bar to even reach the top bar. 

            I have been starting to write down 1 or 2 special things that have happened, because I felt I was just going through the motions and not stopping and realizing how awesome my experience is, so I will share some with you….

- In a broad picture, kids are addicted to basketball.  Granted there is literally nothing else to do in Rwinkwavu, the kids are here all day, every day, and even into the night.  Kadogo, a young boy in primary school, was working on his game in the pitch black as I was walking home from the court the other night.  I saw another girl dribbling in the store front, using the limited light from the store inside to see where she was going.  I can’t remember a time when I smiled bigger than that.

- I have extended a coaching invitation to all of my secondary kids to help coach the primary kids, and they are really taking it seriously.  They even began coaching them without me pushing them to do so in the 3 vs. 3 tournament.  They will be getting DVDs and more instruction as the weeks come up.
-       Kababa coming full circle – he started off as the cheeky kid who constructed a fishing pole to fish Shooting Touch t-shirts out of the storage room, and just the other day, he was the leading investigator in a successful attempt to recover a stolen basketball.  He went from mastermind thief to mastermind detective.

-       Cutest story thus far: I made a note for the 3 v. 3 tournament for adults to email me the members of their team, and some of the primary kids thought that applied to them.  So, the Friday before the tournament on Saturday morning, about 4 kids came into the library to hand me little notes with the members of their team.  Runner up – Erique doing cartwheels (in his Spice Girl platform sparkle shoes, nonetheless) after each one of his team’s baskets in the 3 v. 3 tournament.

-       Kids GO CRAZY at match night when Chris Andersen a.k.a. Birdman from the Heat comes on the screen.  Every time, they react to his tattoos as if they are seeing them for the first time.

-       Kids have started picking sorghum – a long, skinny, bamboo-like stalk that is sweet and the kids chew on (they call it sugarcane but it is not sugarcane) – and keep me stacked with an endless supply during practices.  It is actually very refreshing, and the kids think it is hilarious to see a muzungu chewing on sorghum, but I can’t help myself.

- This little girl named Bambine (pronounced Bam-bee-nay) –kind of like Babe Ruth’s nickname, the Great Bambino – has only been coming for two weeks but she absolutely loves basketball.  I always pick her to bring us out for “1, 2, 3, icyin ubupfura (respect)” at the end of practices, and she is so tiny, but I love challenging her to be loud and speak up!

-       I have been hanging out with the kids more, talking to them about their families, their favorite colors, music they like.  The other day, a group of 10 kids walked with me all the way from the Umudugudu (residential area) to downtown to get some pineapples.  The whole way, we were chewing sugarcane, singing songs, rapping, and dancing.  I am really gonna miss these kids.

-       Paul Farmer – the Tiger Woods of the humanitarian world and the doctor who started Partner’s In Health and is profiled in the super-popular book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, has been in and around Rwink doing work.  I met him the other day and he is a really nice, laid back guy.  This weekend, I will have dinner at his house, which I am super pumped for.

-       I have been getting to know the kids a lot better, and have been asking about their families, brothers, and sisters, etc.  I am so surprised at how many siblings these kids have. I would say the minimum number of children I have come across is one family is about 4, with the maximum being 8, and the average around 6.  I know Rwinkwavu is a farming-based place, and the high number of kids could  be needed for labor purposes, but I really question the lack of birth control in Rwandese society when a mother has 7 kids, and can only send 4-5 of them to school.  Perhaps that is just the way it is – that farming is such a powerful part of this part of Rwanda that it trumps the normal (normal  in my western world perception) idea of “providing” for your children so that they can go to college.

Sadly, I just booked my plane ticket home from Johannesburg.  Although I am excited to see Cape Town and work with NBA Basketball Without Borders, I am going to be VERY sad the day I have to leave this paradise.  My lifestyle here will never again be matched at any point in my life I believe.  I work doing what I love, I hangout with well-behaved, basketball-loving kids, I can mountain bike, read, and play guitar, and I still have a social life.  Every day I try to stop and remind myself how lucky I am.

Some last minute shout-outs to some very deserving people – Brad and Matt for helping with the 3 v. 3 tourney, Jean Maries for always helping set up match night at the library, Issa for being a huge help in translating documents, doing administrative things and helping deal with conflict management issues amongst the kids, my co-coach Patrick for always working his tail off and really blossoming into a good coach, and lastly, the kids, who “bring it” every single day.

Turi kumwe (we are together),

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