LTD on No Sleep

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Where I stayed
Paul Otiento's House

Flag of Rwanda  ,
Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Sunday night before I left was hectic. I drove back in the morning from alumni weekend down at Denison and began packing, trying to figure out how to balance the weights between my suitcases to reduce weight overage charges.  Packing and weighing was all separated by saying my goodbyes to my friends.  Two of my best friends from home made me stay up until 1:00 AM when I had to get up at 3:50 AM just so I could soak in my last SportsCenter for a year.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep much and I said bye to my mom and my dad drove me to DTW to fly to DC.  After getting through all the baggage and security, I sent some last minute texts and was off to DC to meet up with Isa.  Once in DC, we ate a final US breakfast and then napped on the ground before our trip to Ethiopia on Ethiopia airlines.  I had a minor freakout when I realized that my bags were only going to Ethiopia, but they fixed it and re-tagged them all the way to Kigali.

The flight from DC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is 12.5 hours.  Between reflecting on what I was about to do for the next year, watching movies, and reading the autobiography of Andre Agassi, I only slept 3 hours.  My mind goes through a process of escaping and re-entering reality.  If I am reading the Agassi book, or listening to my Ipod, I forget I am going to Africa for a year.  Once, I put them away, I am surprised that I am going (which is weird because I have been planning for this trip for forever it seems like).  Some cool things about flying 12.5 hours on Ethiopian airlines include: traditional (I think) Ethiopian music played on the PA on takeoff and landing, food/drink constantly, an assortment of movies to choose from, they give out free socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste and we saw the sunset and sunrise only about 4 hours apart from the sky.

On our way to our gate to go to Uganda and eventually Kigali, Rwanda, all the African males began staring at me because I was wearing shorts, or because I was white, or just both.  Also there is a smoking section.  I find that people aren’t afraid to talk, especially when the line of the conversation crosses through strangers.  I feel like in a US airport, only the really really outgoing people talk to strangers, whereas in Ethiopia, it seemed as though strangers were talking the entire time.  Also, on the plane and in the airport, I found that people’s sense of personal space is different than it is in the U.S. – they don’t have much.  I was frequently brushed up against, so that took some getting used to.

I finally got some sleep on the ride from Ethiopia to Uganda to Rwanda.  The final flight in from Kigali was amazing.  It was the darkest green and richest clay I have ever seen from the air.  Isa and I got through customs, which was way easier than expected.  It took less than 2 minutes, they were friendly instead of suspicious like they are in the US, and there were no guards with guns.

We get our baggage and head outside to buy a Rwandan SIM card, load it with some minutes, and call Paul Otiento – founder of the sports-based youth development non-profit CHRISC (pronounced "krisk) – to pick us up.  Here, I encounter my first TIA moment (this is Africa).  My cell phone needs to be unlocked to use the new Rwandan SIM card, and theres a 10-digit code.  I didn’t even know this SIM unlocking existed.  So, we figure we’d try to find another way to call Paul and out of nowhere, these two guys appear.  Ngabo and Titi are their names, and they work for Paul as coaches for the youth sports teams.  CHRISC’s ideals are very similar to those of Shooting Touch – developing youth by teaching them life lessons through sport – but they don’t have basketball.  They are extremely and help us load our stuff onto the taxi, but we have too much stuff, so we call another one and follow each other through town to Paul’s place. 

On the ride, all I can think of is that I am actually here in Africa.  The rich clay on the road and roadside reminds me of when my family and I would drive down to North Carolina and Virginia, and the geography reminded me much of my time in Cuernavaca, with huge valleys and one story houses, businesses with hand-painted signs, people outside constantly, a ton of motorcycles, and intense exhaust (I’m pretty sure the exhaust standards are different here).  I quickly realize I am one of a few non-African people for miles, and this is amplified by stares – but I’m cool with it, it’s a conversation starter.

Isa and I are completely exhausted once we get to Paul’s, but we want to learn and are eager to check out Kigali even on fumes.  We pump up 2 balls and start dribbling with Ngabo and Titi, exchanging stories and talking about what is a foul and what is not, what some cultural differences are, etc.  Titi then takes us around the neighborhood – to what we thought was to play volleyball. We are stopped by people, and littler-kids (under 10) start asking to dribble, which we are excited about.  However, we turn around a corner and there is a sharp drop off the road.

Down a short but steep hill lies a basketball court with about 40 kids playing on it, playing soccer, shooting around, playing tag.  One sees Isa and I and just points, and more so than any other time in my entire life, did I feel like an absolute alien – but in a good way… its hard to explain. 

We garner immediate interest because we are obviously not Rwandan and have two really nice outdoor basketballs (shoutout to Justin Kittredge), and are wearing our Shooting Touch tee's, which have the Rwandan border as the outline (Shoutout to ST and Baddie Wear).

Somewhat intimidated, I decide now is the pivotal point of the journey (so far at least).  I have two choices – either throw yourself completely in or be semi-uncomfortable the whole time.  Luckily I chose the first, and began shooting around, introducing myself to the kids.  They are eager to practice English and are proud and excited when they get to say “Hi" or “My name is….”  At one point, I turned to Isa and said “I will never forget this moment for the rest of my life…. We are playing basketball overlooking a valley,” with 40 people who we have never met before.  That right there was my first LTD moment (living the dream).

Quick side note – a couple kids said “what’s good?” to me, and many of the kids could rattle off so many American pop/hip-hop stars, so just in case you were wondering that US media doesn’t influence the rest of the world, you were wrong.

Eventually, some older people playing there ask us to play, and we start playing 3 on 3, with Isa and another Rwandan man on my team.  The court culture there was nice – it went first team to 3 buckets stays on, and the losing team is replaced by a new 3-person team, so everyone gets to play, even if it is only half court.  One weird thing is that they take the ball out of bounds – even on a made basket in make-it-take-it – underneath the basket.  In between games they are asking what we are doing there, and we explain we could be working with them.  We are currently eyeing the court there as a place of renovation, seeing that we brought rims, nuts, and bolts with us (see my suitcase).

After that, I join a circle of kids and begin passing the ball – after a couple of regular passes I start throwing in some no-look passes and either I was throwing them funny or the kids have never seen them before because they were cracking up!  Another side note - the game “tips” does exist outside of the United States.

Isa and I venture off down to parallel bars, where kids are taking turns doing dips, but they are doing them with a huge leg swing.  Of course they ask me to do some so I do them and they all just stare and are quiet.  By now a huge crowd is forming, and there is singing coming from behind another building.  Before we head down, a guy who works as a security guard somewhere starts doing all these crazy acrobatics on the parallel bars – flipping his legs over.  He does one move and the kids egg me on to do the same – so I did it.  I'm really eyeing this part of the park as the central spot for the "health and fitness" aspect of the HELP curriculum. We also talk to a guy named John who attended Colorado State, and he was very helpful with telling us about the culture of Rwanda.

Titi leads us to the traditional singing and dancing.  Isa gets in there and starts dancing, and I’m not much of a dancer unless it’s a dark dance floor – but I go on in and do it anyways (When in Rwanda….).  Feel free to skip the video that Isa posts of us dancing.  Isa and I talk some more with some adult leaders around the Youth Center and talk with the kids.  We learn how to say “thank you” (mura kuze – probably not the right spelling) “my name is..” and some other things. 

On our way out, about 20 7 or 8 year olds walk with us, talking to us, trying out their English, asking when we are coming back, exchanging smiles and laughter with us.  I do the give-dap-and-bring-it-in and the kids crack up, and take second turns trying to ram me with their shoulder as hard as they can and they are laughing hysterically - that right there was LTD 2.  Titi tries to tell them that we have to go but they are persistent – asking for a couple more dribbles, a couple more passes – the enthusiasm is contagious but I know that if I give one kid an inch, every kid will want a mile, and I will never get out of there – I need to eat and sleep desperately.  One kid grabs my hand and doesn’t let go until I tell him I absolutely have to go – needless to say he is my favorite to-be camper already.  It was the first and last moment in my life where I was happy to be like a member of One Direction.

Off to a internet café, where we call our respective parents and leave a message for Lindsey Kittredge (she runs Shooting Touch and is a beast) to tell her that our first day went as good as possible. 

Now I sit, typing this next to Ngabo as we watch Rwandan news.  I don’t think the first day could have gone any better – besides being absolutely exhausted.  The people here are so friendly, so outgoing, and the kids are so enthusiastic about basketball.

Tomorrow, we plan to head to town to obtain a work visa from embassy, get internet, get a cell phone, and plan our plan of action with CHRISC.  Titi invited us all out Friday night – so I’m excited about that, and Ngoba and I talked about going to the National Football (soccer) Stadium Sunday afternoon to catch a game.  I am constantly pinching myself to make sure I realize exactly how awesome my experiences are right now (that was conceited, but its honestly how I feel).  The future of the program here looks very bright, but we must remain humble... after all, right when I wrote this sentence, the lights went out (TIA - This Is Africa).  I am so thankful for this opportunity.  Don't worry, more pictures (and even videos... if we're lucky) to come once we hit an internet cafe with faster speed. Now off to bed to get the best sleep of my life. 
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Comments

Matt on

Byiza cyane (very good)
Murakaza neza(welcome)
Tuzabonan kua gatandu? (see you Friday?)

I'm only 3 weeks into the African experience like you... Steeep learning curve.
I can already tell you're made for this though

leahwestbrooks
leahwestbrooks on

Casey!!! Awesome first day!!

LTD baby!!!!!!!!!

jonboy on

lol the part about the kids saying "what's good?" made me smile

Mike on

DU shorts, Dwight Howards and Ghiloni jump ropes #herewego

Briggs on

Yolo.

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