South Africa Half 1: Soccer, Outdoor Adventure, and Local Accents

Slightly in a daze from forty-three hours of travel, I jumped straight into my Watson project. Casey – the co-founder of Ubuntu Football – and Yannick – a young Cameroon-native who plays and coaches for Ubuntu – picked me up from the airport and we drove to the Old Mutual soccer fields. With several of the Ubuntu coaches, I watched afternoon matches for the Under 17’s, reserves, and first-team of Fish Hoek AFC (Ubuntu’s club partner). It was great to meet and interact with many of the staff during my first few hours in Cape Town.

Through my weary eyes, I remember being impressed with the Under 17’s level of play and feeling a bit concerned over the sometimes dirty physicality of the senior matches. The fields were pretty bumpy, which made for a surprise when I heard that I was looking at some of the better pitches in the area. I was also caught off-guard when I noticed that the under 17 match was officiated by only one referee – there were no linesmen. I had only been in Cape Town for a few hours and was already beginning to learn about its soccer.

When the matches were over, I went back to Casey’s home in Ocean View, a colored township in Cape Town where some of the Ubuntu players are from. He, his wife Sarah, and their two kids Kieren and Keller gave me a warm welcome for the night and brought me along to church in the morning. It was there that I caught my first glimpse of the youthful passion for soccer here in South Africa. With a tiny rubber ball, a concrete pitch about fifteen yards long, and two small goals created by chairs, I watched with a smile on my face as seven young boys enjoyed a kick-around before church.

This turned out to be the first of many times I

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Kick-around at church

would see soccer being played just for the pure love of the game. It’s part of the culture here; you don’t need to have a training schedule in order to play. Even the boys in the academy will kick around in the Academy House yard on their own time when they could otherwise be watching tv, on their phones, or playing video games.

After church and lunch (and a much needed nap), Casey and the kids took me across Ocean View to move in with my host parents – Reggie and Doreen – on Keating Way. There, I live in a loft on the second story. It’s quite nice: including a bed, outlets, my own sink and toilet, a few chairs, a dresser, and a small balcony with an actual ocean view on the horizon.

Doreen is very sweet. She always asks me, “how was your day?” and makes sure I’m fed each night. She typically cooks up a meal including some form of meat, white rice, and vegetables served with hot tea. Reggie has fascinating stories to share. He grew up on a farm with 14 brothers and sisters. Then after apartheid, he became a brick layer and struggled with alcoholism until he was saved while hearing a preacher’s message on a train. He continued to excel in construction, eventually building the house I am currently being hosted in, along with several others that now serve as homes for a few of he and Doreen’s four children. I am in good hands.

Later on during my first week, I had one of the most wonderfully overwhelming experience of my life – meeting the Ubuntu players. Part of the culture at Ubuntu is for the players and coaches to greet by shaking hands whenever they enter into a space together. One night during my first week, there was an award ceremony with the whole Ubuntu Academy of nearly one-hundred players. Consequently, I had the better portion of one-hundred young South African boys introducing themselves to me in their distinct South African accents (which I am still developing an ear for,) many of them with names I had never heard before like Khanyile, Ndumiso, Vusumzi, and Lihle.

IMG_1284I remember thinking to myself, “how in the world am I going to remember these boys’ names?!” It was a slow start. From that night alone, I only had two of them down: Antonio because his name is similar to my brother Anthony, and a boy named Striker (a nickname) because he played striker at the beginning of the season and now plays right back but still goes by Striker (lol!) I’ve included an image of the group-responsibility board found at the Academy House with the resident boys’ names are at the bottom.

Don’t worry, I know more than two names after spending three and a half weeks here. Not only that, but it’s been a joy to get to know the boys. Despite many of them coming from disadvantaged neighborhoods and communities, they are good kids that mean well. It’s clear to me that Ubuntu’s mentorship plays an important role in each of their developments. I’ve been fortunate enough to witness such personal growth during my time with Ubuntu.

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A Football Forward (grassroots development and recruiting) training session

On a normal day in South Africa I spend most of my time operating between Ocean View, the Ubuntu Football Academy House (where some staff and 15 players live during the week), Sun Valley Schools (where many of the players go to school on scholarship), and Fish Hoek AFC’s training grounds (where training and matches for the boys take place). It’s a great set-up, as the locations are only a few kilometers – yes kilometers, rather than miles – apart. The drives are easy, even though I have to stay on the left side of the road while driving my manual Hyundai rental car. There is also a gym in one of the two malls in Sun Valley that I go to regularly.


The Under 12’s training on one of the pitches at Fish Hoek AFC

I will devote a full blog post that goes into more in detail about Ubuntu Football Academy and how I have been involved later on. But if I were to create headlines at the moment they would read: help out at the Ubuntu House with the residents; assist some of the older boys with college applications and SAT prep; drive players to and from training sessions, matches, youth group; facilitate homework class (after school tutoring); observe and help coach during training sessions; train with the first team; attend and at times times record matches.

However I would like to include more about the other experiences I have been fortunate to have during my time in Cape Town. The nation hosted Voting Day and celebrated Women’s Day during the first week I was here. As a result, the kids had off school and stayed at home. So on Voting Day my South African friends Shawn, Hannah (both Ubuntu workers), Micaela (who goes to Shawn’s church), and I decided to go on an adventure. We ended up cruising from Sun Valley along the picturesque Chapman’s Peak Drive to Hout Bay, where we began our pathless ascent to the top of a mountain called the Sentinel.


Chapmans Peak Drive

The view from Chapmans Peak Drive looking towards Hout Bay
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The Sentinel (peak on left) overlooking the town of Hout Bay

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Daisy the dog

It took us several hours to hike to the top, but the journey and views absolutely made it worthwhile. I enjoyed getting to know my fellow hikers amidst the dry, and at times very steep, terrain. If you were to ask any of us, I think we would all agree that in order to do justice when sharing about this experience, you would have to mention Daisy (left), the runaway dog who met us as soon as we got out of the car to join (lead?) us all the way to the top and back!

The view from the top was tremendous. Looking north towards downtown Cape Town, we could see boats docked in Hout Bay with Table Mountain – one if the areas major landmarks – resting in the background. Turning to the south, back towards Ocean View, we had a beautiful view of the vast sea as it rushed against the massive Chapman’s Peak cliffs. The majestic vantage point provided perspective (and a great backdrop for pics.)


Looking north towards town


Looking south towards Chapmans Peak and Ocean View

A few days later, we celebrated Women’s Day with a braai at the Academy House. A braai, essentially, is a long cookout where everyone brings something to share and hangs out for a very long time. I really enjoyed meeting many of Shawn and Treswill’s (one of the coaches who lives at the Academy House with his family) friends from church. We shared stories about growing up, through which I was able to learn more about the people of South Africa.

Though we were missing one person at both the hike and braai – mon frère Yannick. I hear he decided to lounge around the Academy House on Voting Day and went into town to visit friends on Women’s Day. However the following weekend he, Micaela, and I were able to wonder down to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope –the most southwestern point of Africa – while Shawn and Hannah were both out of town. Another wonderful experience.


Yannick and me at Cape Point

The landmarks are located on a marvelous and expansive reserve where you can see indigenous vegetation and animals in their natural habitat. We saw five ostriches walking along the beach, a group of about twenty baboons and a buck chilling by the road, and hundreds of birds swooping alongside the massive cliffs at Cape Point.

It had been clear all day. You could see the mountains clear across False Bay – twenty miles.


Mountains across False Bay

Throughout the afternoon, I took pleasure in looking back along the coast at the wonderfully jagged cliffs we had driven along that day to get to Cape Point. When we finally arrived to Cape Point and began hiking away from the more touristy areas (and our car), we turned around expecting to see our usual view. But this time, instead of seeing where the cliffs meeting the sea, we were confronted by a rapidly approaching gigantic cloud of rain. I guess that’s Cape Town weather for you! We couldn’t help but laugh as we found ourselves on the trail caught in the rain during an previously-clear afternoon.


Yannick, me and Micaela at the Cape of Good Hope



In addition to my time spent with the academy and my South African friends, I have also run into a few Davidson Wildcats here in Cape Town. The other week, I went into town to have dinner with my friends Zari and Claire from the class of 2018. We ate without utensils at an antique-filled Ethiopian restaurant called Timbuktu. It was so good to catch up with them and hear about the fascinating work they are doing through their study abroad program. Zari is helping parents prepare their children for kindergarten in Cape Town’s most dangerous township and Claire is outlining healthy prenatal lifestyles for expecting mothers.

Since arriving on the morning of July 30th, I have interacted with over a hundred players and coaches, hiked beautiful landscapes alongside new friends, and continued to constantly struggle developing an ear for the local South African accent. I can confidently say that my time in here has been nothing short of extraordinary. Way up I feel blessed.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been in Cape Town for over three weeks. I guess time flies with open eyes.

I will be in South Africa from now until I travel to Ghana on September 8. I hope to create two more South African blog posts – one specifically about the Ubuntu Football Academy and one more generally about my adventures living in Cape Town. Thanks for reading!
Please share or leave a comment!

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Sunset from Chapmans Peak

4 thoughts on “South Africa Half 1: Soccer, Outdoor Adventure, and Local Accents

  1. Alec
    Sounds so exciting. I can see your presence is definitely making a difference with these people. I know they love you as much as we do. Keep up the good work and have fun doing it.


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