Rwinkwavu Bound, Muzungu Love

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Flag of Rwanda  , Eastern Province,
Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hello all,

It has been so long since I have last posted, but I hope this fills you in.

I spent my first Christmas and New Years away from anyone in the US this year, and it was a nice experience. I am not going to lie – I really really missed being home at this time, but hanging out with Isa and Dominique made it enjoyable.  On Christmas, we hung out all day and relaxed.  On New Year's, Louis, a recently married teammate of mine from UGB, had the team over for a New Year’s Party.  Everyone came and danced and sang and it was a great time.  Dominique, Isa, and I then went to Kibuye for Dom's birthday, a quiet town on Lake Kivu about 2 hours away by windy, scary highway, for one night.  It was very nice going for a swim, something that doesn't happen very often out here.  It was so nice and cool there, there was a bunch of fog on Lake Kivu and you could not tell where the lake ended and the horizon began, because the fog was the same color as the water when you looked out.  We saw lots of wildlife, and even took a boat trip to Amahoro Island, a small island on Lake Kivu, where they had a volleyball court and served Fantas.  It was so surreal, it felt like I was on a movie set.

From then on, Isa and I had a bunch of busy work to do.  We had to get our bank account figured out, had to withdraw money to pay for our court construction at Gikondo (which was set up by Maurice and his sub contractor, Michael), our court construction in Rwinkwavu, we had to get our papers to get our shipment exonerated from taxes in Rwanda because the goods are donated, and we are working on some other paperwork.
The construction at Gikondo is now finished, but we are awaiting another paint job and the installation of the hoops.  It is imperative to note that Michael and his team of workers worked their TAILS off on this project.  They demanded that they work every day, even on Sundays, and even worked on New Year's Day. 
Every day this month would be different, whether it was dropping money off to our contractor to build the Gikondo court, meeting with people, trying to set up a bank account, emailing people, typing up official letters – no day was ever the same as the next.  While this was frustrating for Isa and I, it just had to be done to continue our program.  We really treasure the time we have working with the kids when you have a long time of doing busy work. 

Now, we are currently setting up a youth league.  After talking with each other, Isa and I  decided to take a different route of youth development.  With December Classic  (which only had 1 week of camp at 3 locations, then a tournament), we noticed that if we want to truly execute the mission of Shooting Touch – to improve the lives of youth through sport – we needed to do this in a different way.  One week of camp, and then never seeing the same group of kids again, just does not cut it in terms of real, long lasting positive effects on youth.  We had heard from some older Rwandan basketball players that Muzungus had come in the past and had done the same thing as us - run camps and teach life lessons - but had left after one week.  Hearing this, we decided to develop a more focused, consistent basketball program with a smaller number of participants.  We are now judging our effort not  by the total number of kids we affect, but by the number of "participant-hours" we get up.  Our program in Kigali is not yet set in place, but we plan on having 3-4 teams of boys and girls ages 12-14 who practice twice a week, and play against each other on some weekends.  We also will conduct coaching clinics for aspiring basketball coaches 1-2 days per week, for we feel that smaller, more consistent classes will help the coaches the most.  We hope that eventually, this league can extend into the all of the schools once we have a good number of coaches trained, and there can be a true youth league.  We feel that this will give them a sense of responsibility to the team, and they will have to develop a sense of discipline to show up and practice consistently.  Basketball gave me, maybe more than anything, discipline, and I know it will do the same for the kids here.  I am really excited to get the ball rolling with this new initiative, especially the practices.  Moving around to different camps, you really don’t develop any close relationships with the players, and you kind of feel detached from where you are.  Now, I can get to know the people I work with better, and I can see them grow every day.

This program will be primarily conducted by Isa.  I will be in Kigali for about 2-3 more weeks, but after that, I am leaving to start my program in Rwinkwavu.  Just as a reminder, Rwinkwavu is where our friends Matt and Cory live.  Cory works at a Partner’s In Health hospital and Matt runs the Library and Learning Center.  It is a very, very rural place, but they have such great facilities, and great community members.  The library is beautiful and has a bunch of classes to offer not only kids, but also adults in the area.  The court is currently under construction there, and should be done in the coming weeks.  After I install the baskets and paint the court, I will ideally run 2 practices or trainings a day for the kids, with coaching clinics 1-2 times per week.  Also, I am interested in teaching some English there, or at least volunteering in some capacity at the learning center.  I am looking forward to the more simple life in the rural area, without any mototaxis or buses or street vendors selling you things as if they are the coolest thing in the world, but really aren’t (for example, random belts, random shoes, socks, USB flash drives, wallets).  I am sure I will miss parts of Kigali, like the group of friends I have made here and my UGB teammates, but I am ready for a change of lifestyle. 

I cannot believe I am already 4 months in.  As much as there have been hard times being away from family, I have been so busy sometimes, and running around most of the time, that I forget how fast this is going by.  After 2-3 months in Rwinkwavu, Isa and I will switch places, and I will be back in Kigali.  Then, we will be close to our date when we have to leave Rwanda for South Africa to work at the NBA’s Basketball Without Border’s.  I feel like by the end of this, I will have to force myself to board a plane leaving Rwanda, I will want to stay.  Whenever I think I have it hard out here – being away from family and friends – I just remember that I really am doing what I love.  I teach basketball, and play basketball, and really have no worries in life, the weather is incredible, and I have great people surrounding me. 

Here are some other short non-Shooting Touch related stories for your enjoyment:

For Isa’s birthday, I surprised her with a monopoly game from Simba.  We opened it the other night with Jake only to find that it is possibly the wackest Monopoly set of all time.  First off, the front cover has a picture of a late 80s/early 90s all-american white family complete with a 12-year-old boy with a bowl cut.  The picture is not enough to take up the whole panoramic of the game box, so the people just made a mirror image of that white family sitting down at the dinner table and playing monopoly on the other “half” of the rectangular box.  It is actually kind of trippy when you look at it.  The box issue is only the beginning though.  Once opened, we found no hard material, aka no actual game BOARD.  The “board” is a folding piece of paper, made out of the same material as those free tourism brochures you find at highway rest stops.  Next, the cards were non-existent, and came in full papers, non-perforated, so we had to cut up the cards ourselves.  Lastly, the game pieces (perhaps the part of the game we were so excited for) were not metal, and weren’t special pieces at all – no train, no ship – just pieces that were very close to, if not identical to those little Hershey kiss-like pieces that you have when you play the game “Sorry.”

Twice in one day, I had a “Muzungu love” situation.   Cesar, the clearing agent, drove me in his Toyota Prado (a beast of a car, I think can be used on safari’s, surprised it didn’t have an open roof) to  Mburabuturo Primary School – now called Gs Mburabuturo – so that I could get yet another signature on a form from Yves Mulihira (I now know his full name because of how many times I have had to meet with him, I am usually horrible at remembering names), and when a couple of kids in their yellow tops and green bottoms spotted me in the car, they all started staring, pointing, and saying “Muzungu!”  Once I stepped out of the car, 20 little kids not taller than my waist surrounded me and hugged my knees and reached out their hand for a handshake.  The way they were all looking up at me reminded me of the scene in Monsters, Inc. when all the dolls who are being picked up by the claw always say over and over again “Mike Azowski.”  These kids were just saying “Muzungu” instead. I only had to take 20 steps to the Headmaster’s office but it took forever because the kids wouldn’t let me go by without a handshake.  It was so cute.  Later that day, I was walking in Gikondo and a little child, who had just learned to walk about 2 weeks ago, sprinted away from his mom and ran up and hugged me on the legs.  I can’t tell which situation was cooler, probably tied.

We have begun making more of a conscious effort to teach Michel, the guy who works around our house, English, a trend started by Isa and Tommy.  He is actually getting pretty good, and it is cool to see him use the new words we have given him.  I put my hat down (the hat that I wear all the time and am therefore proud of how dirty it gets) and in those 5 seconds I was away from my hat, Michel took it and washed it and was laughing because he knows I like to get my hat dirty, maybe as an effort to make myself feel tough or something.

Lastly, Olivia, the lady who runs the shop down the street that I buy bananas, donuts, suckers, and mango juice from, didn’t have any change when I tried to pay with a 2,000 rwf bill (of course, no one ever does), and she just told me to take the donut and pay the next day.  Pretty cool.  .  Olivia always says she sees me what she calls "doing sport" when I run.  She also runs every morning.  I have been doing Air Alert - a jumping program to get (white) basketball players to dunk, in a last ditch effort to throw one down before I officially, completely transition into old-man basketball defined by set shots and playing absolutely no defense, and calling really wimpy fouls.

I have slowly realized that when you are here, you have to play by the rules of Rwanda.  It is very frustrating at times to have time tables in your head, to expect things to be done - papers to be ready, signatures to be signed - and they don't happen.  I have learned to lessen my expectations,and just deal with things as they happen.  Also, culturally, I have begun texting (or as Rwandans call it, "sending SMS" or "flashing" (lolz on the second one)) the way people text here.  For example, when I need a ride from the clearing agent to a meeting, I always text him if he can "receive' me at my house, and then "deposit" me at the customs clearing building.  I feel like a piece of mail every time I say this, but if it makes communication better, you just have to do it.  I have also noticed that Rwandans get very very excited when you use Kinyarwandan.  Sometimes I say "hi, how are you?" in their language and they get very excited, and then overzealously continue our conversation as if I am fluent in Kinyarwandan.  That is when I tell them I only know a few phrases, and we go back into a very slow conversation in english, with lots of clarifications.  I am pretty sure I get overzealous when a Rwandan uses English as well.

A video is to come soon detailing our court construction process, to keep your eyes peeled.  Thank you for your continued support!  Special shoutout to Shooting Touch for making this all possible, Maurice and Michael who really got our court going in Gikondo, Matt for, besides being a good friend, an awesome communicator and making the court at Rwinkwavu a reality, Emmy, the contractor in Rwinkwavu for being an every-man and just being on top of a million things at once, Isa for being a great partner, and everyone back home for the little random notes.
One last PSA - the 2013 Shooting Touch Sabbatical applications are now available.  If you are interested in doing what I am doing, but just having an easier time (because Isa and I are the guinea pigs here in Rwanda), please download and fill out an application.  It is a tough job, but it is by far the most rewarding experience you will ever have in your lifetime.  I feel like I have won the lottery with this opportunity.  The application is available on the ST website:

www.Shootingtouch.com/ShootingTouchSabbatical.html

Thanks!

Casey
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