India: reflections from a great start to 2017

Congested, bustling streets, fusing aromas of Indian food and filth, utensil-less meals with a kick – these are some of the constants I found in many parts of Mumbai, India. Safe to say, I wasn’t entirely aware of the ensuing adventure upon arriving January 13, 2017.

 

IMG_6102

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station

 

Though before getting to Mumbai, I’d like to share a few thoughts and pictures from the winter holidays – beginning with family Christmas in Rome.

(if you’d like jump to Mumbai and the OSCAR Foundation, feel free to scroll past the horizontal line)

 

15822705_10211616871405288_8099458319441940917_n

 

As someone who had only lived outside of North Carolina for two-and-a-half months prior to the Watson year, five months without seeing family was a bit longer than I was used to.

It was a special week for us – enjoying each others’ company and exploring the Eternal City.

 

Video: “Christmas Eve in St. Peter’s Square”

 

FullSizeRender (24)

View from St. Peter’s Basilica

IMG_4109

 

 

IMG_4379

Colosseo

Video: “Colosseo”

 

After Christmas in Rome, it was off to London to welcome in the New Year with a friend and experience professional football in one of the richest and arguably most popular leagues in the world – the English Premier League.

 

FullSizeRender (25)

Flight delay visit to the cockpit

 

IMG_4495

Oxford Street (London)

Video: “London’s New Year’s Fireworks”

We watched loads of football: attending a couple of London fixtures ­– Chelsea F.C. vs. Stoke City; Crystal Palace F.C. vs. Swansea City (post-Bradley) – while viewing several others on the telly. Experiencing the enthusiasm and attention around the game was extraordinary.

 

IMG_4457

Stamford Bridge: Chelsea F.C. vs. Stoke City

 

 

90EF508F-A75B-4F86-812B-65F935A09481

Selhurst Park: Chrystal Palace F.C. vs. Swansea City

Video: “Crystal Palace F.C. vs. Swansea City pre-game”

 

In between the football, we were able to explore London, watch hours of That 70’s Show, and go on a couple trips outside of the city to visit his family and Cambridge University.

 

IMG_4594

St. James’s Park

 

IMG_6422

Big Ben and Palace of Westminster

 

IMG_4848

Tower Bridge

 

 

 

 

The 2017 winter holidays were fantastic. Though after a couple weeks in England, it was time to experience winter in India…

 


 

Mumbai greeted me with a smoggy sunrise and a generous smile in the wee hours of the morning on Friday, January 13. After a near sleepless night on the plane, I was as excited as I was exhausted.

 

FullSizeRender (26).jpg

 

A grinning Govind Rathod – the poster child for the OSCAR Foundation – was waiting for me at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport arrival area. Once we met, Govind phoned his taxi driver cousin who drove us across town, towards the hotel that I had found less than a week before on Booking.com.

Like fish swimming upstream, we whizzed through virtually lane-less traffic, taking part in Mumbai’s relentless car-horn warfare. After 45 minutes, Google Maps told us we had arrived. But the $10-a-night Hotel Al Mehraj was nowhere in sight.

Govind spoke to some locals in Hindi, who sent us weaving through tight, crowded streets – filled with pedestrians, vendors, motor scooters – for another 20 minutes, before finally reaching the place.

 

IMG_5040

 

The neighborhood, and hotel, reeked (as my fried Xzavier could later attest) but I really didn’t notice at the time. Everything was so new and my mental state was driven by the tired will to carry on.

However I was aware enough to tell that my living situation would be better off than many in the surrounding neighborhood – recognizing the hundreds of homeless locals who claim their spot of sidewalk each night.

I dropped my stuff off. Before taking a nap, Govind completed his warm-welcome by treating me to breakfast at a local South Indian restaurant. I couldn’t read anything on the menu.

When Govind asked what I wanted, I told him, “no spicy.”  So he ordered Masala Dosa – resembling an Indian version of potato salad, wrapped in a crispy crepe. The dish – along with a local snack called Misal Pav – quickly became my regular breakfast (and sometime lunch and dinner) of choice. Both dishes usually cost no more than 50 Rupees – roughly 75 cents.

After the nap, I vividly remember going down to the busiest intersection in the neighborhood – filled with noise, people, (holy) cows and their waste, street vendors, trucks, two-passenger scooters fitted with four people – to simply stand and take in as much as I could. This is the area I get to call home during the next four weeks.

 

 

Govind soon picked me up again. I spent the rest of the day with him, becoming acquainted with the OSCAR Foundation who welcomed me as a volunteer for one month.

From day one, OSCAR and its cultural context felt special.

OSCAR originated in a Mumbai slum community called Ambedkar Nagar, where it still focuses much of its work today. For generations, the people in the area have experienced suppression from both imperial forces (Britain and Portugal) and the local caste-driven societal norms. This has contributed to extremely tight living conditions, rare upward mobility, and a youth culture threatened by drugs and poor education, among other potential harmful circumstances.

 

CBBA1539-DDD4-4EBE-ADE0-D1DBE2C248E0

Ambedkar Nagar

OSCAR exists to provide necessary development opportunities for disadvantaged youth, pushing the vision that these young people have the potential to drive positive change in their communities. Thus the name OSCAR is an acronym: “Organization for Social Change Awareness and Responsibility.”

It began over ten years ago, when founder Ashok Rathord – an Ambedkar Nagar native – began playing soccer with a group of 14 boys. What started as an effort to have fun and stay out of trouble, has now developed into a self-sufficient network of employees and volunteers that has impacted thousands of young lives: through leadership retreats, soccer training, academic scholarship support, early childhood education, and professional development.

During my first week in town, I was immersed in one of OSCAR’s leadership retreats – the OSCAR Girls Young Leader Training. The training is a 5 day, 4 night program designed to develop confidence, self-reflection, societal understanding, teamwork, leadership, and soccer coaching skills for young Indian women, ages 17–23.

At first, the 25 participants appeared a bit timid. However by the end of the week, the group grew from an outwardly shy, somewhat cliquey bunch to an enthusiastic, dynamic team.

The environment encouraged participation in a range of activities: from presentations and group discussions, to soccer training and abbreviated dance parties.

 

Video: OSCAR Girl’s Young Leader Training Game

 

OSCAR employees Ashok, Govind, and Sunita, along with recruited co-leaders and volunteers did an excellent job producing the week. A few examples of relevent co-leaders were: a professional in arts-based therapy and safe spaces; a nutritionist; a football coach educator.

 

IMG_5129

Sunita, Ashok, and Govind at work

As one of the two volunteers present, I like to think my biggest contributions were participating in some of the dance activities and being light-heartedly made fun of for my use of “dhanyavad” – the formal Hindi word for “thank you” – rather than “shukriyaa” – the more common, informal gesture. I also delivered a presentation on the millennium development goals.
16143636_10208369566342203_4583239011272999655_o

 

For some of the participants, it was their first experience spending a night outside of their family’s home. One of the parents said that was hugely impactful in and of itself.

 

16143546_10208369896590459_5338865193813785357_o

The week’s moto: “kick like a girl”

After a fun week at training, it was back to work at the office.

OSCAR’s top leaders, Ashok and Suraj, expressed that it would be helpful if I completed the 2015-2016 annual report to be shared with funders and other relevant parties. Initially, I was caught off guard by their request – given that I had yet to experience OSCAR for a full week. Though it turned out to be a great way to learn more about the organization’s structure and impactful work, while making a difference leveraging native-knowledge of the English language.

Maybe next year’s annual report will include the 2017 Founder’s Day Celebration, which I was fortunate enough to play a surprise role in. For most of the event, I had been taking pictures. Then, with nearly a hundred OSCAR Foundation youth looking on, Ashok asked me to share a message and help a youngster named Bola unveil the Indian flag towards ceremony’s end. It was a special moment to share.

 

BC20A35E-C017-404A-960E-8D5382C0F007

 

DB3AC6B1-2E1E-4976-81FC-4806EC850583

 

In addition to these less-regular initiatives, I was able to join some of OSCAR’s more routine activities – such as weekly soccer training and early childhood education classes in Ambedkar Nagar.

The soccer training sessions took place at one of the city’s rare public grounds, the Oval – fittingly named for its shape. For a city of its size (18 million), Mumbai has very few green spaces, which typically makes the ones they do have – such as the Oval – quite crowded.

Crowded to the extent that many sessions take place virtually right in the middle of cricket matches – but that doesn’t stop the OSCAR Foundation!

 

7EA72EED-F0BC-46F6-924C-D8E66BC9262E

 

IMG_5310

 

IMG_4918

 

A few of key aspects of soccer training:
i) no school = no football; players must attend school;
ii) the OSCAR Foundation subsidizes the players’ school fees;
iii) the OSCAR Foundation gives Young Leader Training graduates the opportunity to coach, providing further development for trainees and a sustainable, growth-minded business model for the organization.

The fact that the players continue to show up week-in and week-out is a testament to the impact the program is regularly having on their lives both on and off the pitch.

 

OSCAR training

 

Beyond football, the OSCAR Foundation provides computer classes and early childhood education at their facilities in Ambedkar Nagar. During my month in Mumbai, I was able to help a few times with both of these initiatives, and had a blast!

 

 

One of my favorite India memories was during a visit to the early childhood education center. In the middle of class, the teacher asked if I could lead an activity for the kids – who were around 3-to-5 years old. Thinking quickly, I decided to take a lesson from Girls Young Leader Training – plug in some music and dance!

We began with some American favorites – Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” and Jackson 5’s “ABC.” To which the response was ok; a few kids danced here and there. It was clear I needed to try something different. So we went local with the next song –“Zinggat” – which lifted everyone on their feet.

“Zinggat” is an upbeat love song from a recent popular Bollywood film – think Bollywood meets Justin Timberlake’s “Don’t Stop the Feeling.” The faces of the young girls and boys were beaming with joy as they jumped along to one of their favorite tunes.

 

FBE81158-1CE3-4B49-950D-25E7C3A68B35

Early Childhood Education Center

 

Volunteering with the OSCAR Foundation showed me how sport for social change can be delivered widely and used for good on and off the (dirt) pitch.

Up to that point on the Watson, I had exclusively experienced elite soccer academies – where long-term participation and direct impact is largely influenced by athletic potential.

The OSCAR Foundation took a different approach: bringing the beautiful game and a positive message to as many people as it could; using their platform to directly promote education and civil decency to as many people possible.

 

IMG_0778

Members of OSCAR Leadership – including Founder Ashok Rathod (second from right)

 

 


 

Outside of my time with OSCAR, I was able to “be a tourist” in Mumbai and wider India, connect with friends old and new, and experience some fun cultural events in the city.

Enjoy select pictures from the experiences below!

 

Mumbai Sights:

 

IMG_5051

Gateway to India (Mumbai)

 

9BFE16B6-67B0-44AB-9BC7-CA1434BCC31A

Gateway to India (Mumbai)

 

4ED4B266-52E4-48AD-AC71-CD9B8BD4E0D4

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station – any Slumdog Millionaire fans out there?

 

IMG_6097

CST

 

818CA54F-AAB2-48B0-BB91-C9A0C577059F

Dharavi – largest slum in Mumbai (3/4 million people) – Slumdog Millionaire

 

F6C889A1-E507-4BA8-9DE2-7EAAE92F7BA6

Pipes near Dharavi

 

FCF8308F-69A7-4C1C-AC86-523FD406BF27

Municipal Corporation Building

 

 

F376777B-A4B9-4537-87D5-17D79DCEB9A8

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly Prince of Whales) Museum

 

IMG_5449

10,000 year old Buddhist caves

 

 

3D8FF032-63B0-48AC-994F-21EF70470D58

Looking towards town from the Buddhist caves

 


 

A weekend in Delhi and Agra (Taj Mahal):

 

58D5F5E0-980F-40F6-9446-F586CA28AAB5

India Gate

 

 

 

 

IMG_5814

 

8437E3B0-0728-4E9B-A3FC-BFBF648AD527

 

 

 

 

IMG_5962

The Red Fort

 

IMG_5985

Lotus Temple

 

41F4E172-2E41-4EBA-B8DE-90F302200F57

Mumbai Airport

 


 

Mumbai shenanigans:

 

EC5F3792-9092-48C7-8D1F-665FCFDD8479

A relatively uncrowded train

Video: “Mumbai train ride”

 

 

BCF66CA7-C671-42F8-A59E-22DB162BC503

Dabbing at the speed of light with Govind Rathod

 

B2771830-8E8C-4FBD-872D-08436AC45653

Kala Goa Arts Festival with Govind and Katie

 

E11A03FE-4ED1-46C8-B9E5-2F3ADBE5FA0C

Rickshaw taxi

 

79A59979-080C-4943-A152-A85652741B13

‘Watsoning’ with my buddy Xzavier

 

6328762B-9C13-437C-B11A-A1F4B09B178A

Do as the locals do – walk through the middle of traffic

 

IMG_6056

Mumbai Traffic

 

 

 

 

3C454B7C-2435-43E4-A6D7-D7792AB2FB17

Superbowl LI at 4:00 in the morning

 

99FF85FA-BE81-40F0-9A17-DBD8BA03904E

Fresh cut in Ambedkar Nagar

 

I’m grateful for the people met and experiences had while living and volunteering in India, and will continue the search for masala dosa and misal pav wherever I go!

Stay tuned for the next blog post about my experience in Thailand with Bangkok Soccer Schools.

Thanks for reading!

Please share or leave a comment

#kickingallovertheworld

 

IMG_0502

Ghana Half 2: One obruni’s West African journey

This post is divided into three sub-posts:

1. Culture – memories and observations from living in rural west African;
2. Travel – stories and sights from travels around southern Ghana;
3. Right to Dream – descriptions of my involvement with Right to Dream (RtD) Academy.

Feel free to skip around to the sections that most interest you, or check out all three at your convenience. Comments, shares, and insights welcome. Thanks for reading!

2db4da69-0b5d-4cfa-ad39-7e5ef80296d8

– Culture –

“Obruni! Obruni! WHAT IS YOUR NAME?!”

Far and beyond any other name during my time in Ghana, I was referred to as “Obruni” – which in the local tongue Twi technically means “foreigner,” though is probably most often intended as “white person.” The village kids especially loved it.

For instance, dozens of times I heard an excited shout – “Obruni! What is your name?!” – from the same elated little ten-year-old boy while strolling passed on my daily walk to catch the canoe across the Volta River. My ears perked to the sound of laughter, as I turned to find the bouncing boy leading the charge to greet me beside the road.

img_2875

“Obruni, take a picture!”

The boy with his hand up in the middle is the one who’s shout I knew all too well.

Witnessing his enthusiasm and colossal smile always brightened my mood. Though this is simply one example of a rather common occurrence for obrunis living in Ghana.

Members of a political parade shout “Obruni” as Liam and I pass through by taxi.

After “Obruni,” I was most often referred to by my real name; that is, only if you include each time Fati (one of the Right to Dream student-athletes) and her teammates rhythmically repeated my name in passing – “Alec. Alec. Alec. Alec. Alec…” – like the backbeat to a top-40 track.

If you don’t include the chants, then I think second place goes to “Erik.” Nearly every local I introduced myself to – “Hi, my name is Alec” – would respond with, “oh, hey Erik.” I have since worked on my pronunciation!

Then came (in order from most often heard ­– followed by who said it):

“Sir/Coach Alec” – Right to Dream student-athletes
“Aleco” – Vivian, a student in my Year 9 maths class
“Mr. Baldwin” – King ‘Solomon’, the RtD alum and Executive Assistant

667c574d-df35-4b5c-8033-f1601864088c

Royal Senchi Resort

“Mister Alec” – Mr. Eric, a bartender at Royal Senchi Resort
“White man” – people I didn’t know trying to get my attention
“Alec-man” – Shane-man, a RtD physio
“Homie,” “dude,” “home-slice,” “G,” and other ‘hip’ American stereotypes – Frazer, a RtD coach
“America” – Jeremy, a RtD scout
“Mr. White” – people I didn’t know trying to get my attention
“White” – person I didn’t know trying to get my attention

Amidst the well-intended name-calling, I was able to learn a few words in the local language, Twi. The most useful phrases proved to be “ete sen,” meaning “how are you” and “EyE,” meaning “fine.” When asked, everyone in Ghana is “fine.”

This minute mastery of local lingo proved effective in connecting with West Africans, and oftentimes brightened their mood. Furthermore, it would disengage those who might be interested in taking advantage of a foreigner, of which unfortunately there were some.

img_3891

Selfies with Obruni Erik who spoke Twi

You see I found that many Ghanaians – especially rural Ghanaians – typically didn’t expect to hear Twi from an obruni. As my friend Shane-man would say, “you just gotta hit ‘em with the Twi,” and they won’t mess with you. However, beyond it’s pragmatic purposes, learning to speak some Twi taught me a valuable lesson: making the effort to speak another’s language, however slight, can have an impact.

The last thing I’ll note about language is how the locals used the phrase, “you are welcome” – or in Twi, “Ayeko.” Different from being used in the U.S., the phrase is not most commonly found after “thank you.”

51220a30-56d4-478c-922b-5234f51ed762

Nora, Roberto, and me crossing the Volta River

Rather “you are welcome” was most often used as a warm gesture to physically welcome someone into your space. For example, when I would walk from the Academy across the street to Madame Lucy’s shop, upon reaching her fence she would greet me with “you are welcome;” or when I returned to the house after work, my housemate Nora would sometimes do the same. The clear message is a testament to the kindness of many Ghanians.

Language aside, living in rural Ghana was fascinating: lizards behave like squirrels, checks at restaurants must be asked for, tribal chiefs are well respected, and pragmatic child labor is part of life.

New Akrade Festival of Chiefs talent show

The West African environment offered constant reminders of material privileges mixed with common humanity. For the most part – in spite of certain voids I was used to having in the US – I was materially better off than my neighbors simply because of my accommodation: doors and walls; power outlets and indoor pluming; a fence and food security – which dismissed the need to raise chickens or goats.

img_2952Though even without many things I often take for granted, folks in the village went about their lives in similar ways as I was used to: families gathered for meals and conversation; playful kids were bundles of joy while at times being pains in the rear; vendors prepared to supply needs to customers; schools and religious centers offered development for youth; people like to share in a smile.

A favorite story of mine involves an experience with my kid neighbor. Earlier in the day, during a taxi ride back from Accra, I bought a battery powered toy lazar gun for 20 cedis (five bucks) from a street vendor walking through stopped traffic; a great investment, I know.

My neighbor saw me on the front porch trying it out. Next thing you know, he’s walking over to join the fun. As I’m taking the batteries out to sneak inside, I turn to the familiar sound of, “obruni.”

The shy kid, no more than three feet tall, stares up at me and says “give me the gun.”

Now, my still fresh liberal arts education, coupled with recent controversy involving guns, encouraged a instantaneous, seemingly obvious response of, “sorry, I don’t think so.”

He walks away. Then a few minutes later comes back with his older brother who shares that today is his 5th birthday. Excited for my neighbor, I smile and fork over 20 cedis along with a high five. Though with an awkwardly shy smile, the kid continues to stare up at me, demanding, “I want the gun.”

I turn him down again – “There’s no way I’m going to give this kid a gun,” I thought to myself. After re-entering my house, I began to have a change of heart, reflecting on the joy I had playing with toy guns as a kid, often gifted by or belonging to my neighbor Uncle Tommy. But I first needed to check with mom.

So I opened the door, ran down the two boys and asked for their mother. Our conversation was brief, followed minutes later by the kid neighbor sporting the biggest smile I had seen in all of Ghana, firing the toy lazar gun on his fifth birthday.

One thing I wasn’t used to in Ghana was the traffic culture; particularly the high volume of car horns for such a rural area. It was convention for passing vehicles to beep at virtually anything, about virtually anything – from saying “hello” to a fellow taxi driver or pedestrian, to telling a goat or chicken to “get off the road!”

I also wasn’t used to the tro tros, the mimg_2521ost common form of public transportation in rural Ghana. Tros are basically beaten down 1970’s ‘church vans’ with three or four rows, fit for 12 passengers but often cramming around of 16. Of course there’s no a/c (if you were curious), nor smooth suspension.

My first tro ride was going to church with Fafa nearly three weeks after arriving in Ghana.

Though as time went on, I frequented tros for trips throughout the southern part of the country.

fullsizerender-21

– Travel –

By the time I left Ghana, the tro tros had become commonplace. As for many people living in Ghana, Tros served as the main source of transportation to different cities, destinations, and landscapes throughout the country. I visited the nation’s capital of Accra, West Africa’s tallest waterfall, a slave castle that the Obamas visited in 2009, a canopy walk bridge in the trees of a national park, and a mountain top not far from the academy.

Though my first journey was not really to a destination, but a person.

970ae6ca-ee2b-43c2-9dd9-4095189cad4f

Blair and me at Right to Dream Academy

A lifelong friend was arriving in Accra to begin the second half of her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer, addressing food security with a community in rural Togo. I excitedly agreed to pick her up from the airport and show her around my area. Though I spared Blair and her luggage the two-hour tro ride, commuting by taxi instead.

During her short stay, we enjoyed touring Right to Dream Academy and meeting some of the players, eating at the Royal Senchi Resort, and even taking a couple canoe trips across the Volta River.

Live music at Royal Senchi

The next day, she was back in the taxi with George (a loyal driver to RtD staff) en route to Togo.

a0612029-95f6-425e-8a0d-2934c0ae3645

Sipping coconuts with George

A few weeks later I took my first real tro trip to Wli Falls, West Africa’s tallest waterfall.

img_3330

Again, I found myself struck by a blatant blend of material privilege and life’s necessities.

About halfway through the hot, crammed four-hour trip, our tro was trekking along a vacant construction zone by means of a two-way, one-lane dirt road. When, suddenly, we stopped for a scene all too familiar during certain family vacations – the 5-11 year old car sickness. As my Granny would say, “you see, we’re not all that different after all!”

Alas, we got off in Hohoe where I piled into another tro destined for the Togolese boarder and Wli Falls. Upon arrival I found my way to the Waterfall Lodge, owned and operated by a nice German couple for about $20 a night.

img_3206

After a refreshing nap, I explored the rural valley town before preparing for the next day’s venture to the falls.

Joining me for the hike was a local twenty-year-old male guide and a late-twenties Italian woman who was working in Ghana. There are two main waterfalls. The path to the lower falls was smooth and level, taking about 30-minutes in total. While the trail to the upper falls consisted of a steep, narrow 2-hour climb through brush and over boulder.

Of course, we went up and up.

As our tired hamstrings began taking a mental toll, we were encouraged by our guide’s joyous army song and the good fortune of finding a wild magic berry, I kid you not, called miracle berry, to boost our spirits and sweeten our taste buds until we reached the upper falls.

I marveled at the sheer force of the crashing cascade.

img_3371

After cooling off by getting pummeled in the waterfall we began our way down.

For me and my tractionless running shoes, the descent proved more difficult than the climb. But it worked out, and we eventually arrived at the slightly more aesthetic lower falls where my co-climber and I devoured half-dozen tiny African bananas.

Hybrid Video: Hiking Wli Falls

I tro’ed back to the academy that afternoon.

The following day, after watching morning matches involving youth players from Right to Dream’s Danish club FC Nordsjælland, Shane-man the physio and I loaded into a tro towards the nation’s capital, Accra. That night we attend the Ghana Peace Concert, produced to encourage non-violence during the ongoing national presidential campaigns and subsequent election.

The experience was unforgettable. Complete bonkerz. Just to get in to the stadium, we had to bulldoze through a crowd so dense that every part of my body felt compressed by the surrounding mass of people, whose wave-like force better determined out movement than the will of our own legs. After 10-minutes of crammed progress and a few wavy stumbles, we finally funneled through a narrow gate no wider than Shaq’s shoulder length.

Such an atmosphere would never pass US regulations: the crowd was overcapacity; fans were constantly shooting off fireworks; the performances went on well until dawn.

14db64f6-3ecb-4701-8d3c-35419db12176

Ghana Peace Concert Music and Fireworks

My buddy Kristoffer and I only lasted a few hours, until 1:30 in the morning. But Shane and the fourth member of our group lasted the night, arriving back to the hostel around 6:30 am. They even somehow made it on stage during the main performance by Ghana’s mega mainstream artist, Shatte Wale. Good times.

The following weekend was the most impactful trip during my time in Ghana.

027598b1-62bb-43d0-9599-9b862391b403

In the rear corner of a tro tro with knees slammed against the back of the seat in front of me, I couldn’t help but reflect on my tight cabin compared to the conditions once common for many who inhabited my upcoming destination – Cape Coast Slave Castle.

1373d957-66eb-4395-951c-1c6b4149434d

Cape Coast Slave Castle

The whisping West African wind blowing through my hair (which hadn’t been cut for 4 months) reminded me that there was nothing to complain about and plenty to absorb over the subsequent hours.

I had learned about the slave trade in textbooks and novels. But it is something completely different to walk through the dark dungeons, untouched layers of crystalized waste for floors, and hear how crowds of people over ten times the size of our tour group shared such a hellish space for months, surviving only to pass through the Door of No Return destined for life as a slave or death on a boat. Our tour emerged from the dungeons only to pass through the accommodations, courtyards, and the church built directly above for use by the imperial slave masters.

There are two things that stuck out most distinctly during my visit to Cape Coast Slave Castle. One is disgust at the cruel, twisted reality that was the slave trade. While the other is wonder and conflicted appreciation of how the past shapes the present. I thought about my African-American friends, their strong culture, and the progress that was achieved as a product of slave-labor, shaping my life experience and that of countless others.

Hybrid Video of Slave Coast Slave Castle Tour

CNN Coverage of Obama family visit

The following day I took a taxi about 45 minutes north from where I stayed at The Oasis (evening entertainment at The Oasis) – a stone’s throw away from Cape Coast Slave Castle – to Kakum National Park and its famous canopy walk.

198e7e17-acdd-4689-9b61-6849f04b5bcc

Upon arriving, we were put in a group to hike through the forest and up towards the canopy. I was all decked out and ready to go with my Davidson Tilly Hat, Steph Curry T-Shirt, kaki shorts, and tennis shoes. Halfway through the uphill stretch, our guide halted the group to allow for some of the members to catch up. Taking the opportunity to rest my legs under a shelter, I heard a voice carrying a rather unexpected message: “hey, did you go to Davidson?”

Instantly I was thrown off guard. But then remembered the hat and t-shirt I was wearing, quickly becoming curious about how this person knew of my alma mater. “Yes I did,” I replied, smiling and looking up at my inquisitor.

“Oh okay,” she said. “Were you a Hall Counselor?”

Woah! Now that was a completely different type of question, which really threw off guard. Why yes, I was.

Turns out, the curious person was a current student at Davidson (only two years behind me) who happened to be studying abroad in Ghana, on the same tour of the same national park at the same time as me. It was a fun, friendly, refreshing connection to make.

15002424_236343440117261_8903676552398766651_o

Me and Shanice at Kakum National Park

img_3588

And proved to be a useful one as well. Thanksgiving was just around the corner, and since I was the only American working at the Academy I had to look elsewhere for compatriotship. When I asked Shanice for advice, she kindly invited me to Thanksgiving dinner with her study abroad group.

The food was a bit different than what I was used to on Thanksgiving, but it sure felt nice to be in the company of those who recognized the significance of the United States Holiday.

aff6dbc0-f451-4cc7-8c3d-2096a9f62dcf

During the trip, I was able to walk around the public college in Accra with Shanice, as well as spend the night at the air-conditioned guest house – which was a godsend after several months sleeping without such luxury – where I skyped home for the holiday.

82473760-ce61-4dca-a94e-b707acd093c0

Skyping with the fam

One of my last trips in Ghana was with about ten days left. The creator of the character program Paul invited me to climb a mountain nearby the academy, accompanied by a couple locals who worked security.  I jumped at the opportunity, as Paul had been very helpful and welcoming to me during my time in Ghana.

We began by following a trail. Though realized we must have taken a wrong turn when we discovered the trail we thought we were on had turned into a seemingly limitless crowd of six-foot tall thick, sometimes sharp grass.

We swam our way through the brush and our conversations, eventually finding our way back onto the trail until we reached the rocky summit with a large metal cross upon it.

img_4017

While appreciating the view, we eventually realized that we weren’t alone. A troop of maybe 20 baboons lay watch on the summit about 50 yards away, occasionally sending a scout to make sure we weren’t up to no good.

img_4004

Fortunately the troop didn’t feel too threatened by us and kept their distance. So we took a few pictures then beat the sunlight downhill, making it back to the academy before dark.

img_3162

– Right to Dream –

I had a great experience serving with Right to Dream Academy; over fifty employees contributing to developing some of West Africa’s top soccer talent through recruitment, coaching, treatment, innovative education, character development, nutrition, and health. Eighty boys age 11-18 and twenty girls age 11-15 strive everyday towards the ultimate goal of being the best they can be and giving back to their communities.

fullsizerender-17

They follow opportunities seized by numerous Right to Dream graduates who have developed into professional footballers in Europe’s highest leagues, top picks in the increasingly competitive MLS draft, scholarship recipients to elite UK and US institutions (including Wake Forrest, UCLA, Georgetown), and executive assistants of quality international football academies. Each player has a dream of her own, and grows in confidence to chase it.

Similar to the student-athletes, I faced unexpected challenges while at academy that developed my skills, confidence, and relationships with others. My role was to teach two math classes, while involving myself further to gain a broader understanding of the organization for my fellowship project.

As discussed in an earlier blog post the math teaching got off to a turbulent start, but grew into quite a joy. My understanding of the skill progressed so that by the end of term I saw all my students working together and feeling accomplished through their learning.

fullsizerender-16

Year 7 field trip to Fergal’s Irish Pub to identify geometric shapes

Right to Dream is exploring innovative ways to develop young people through affiliations with Google and LEGO.

Student’s exploring the Arctic through Google Cardboard

I also regularly participated in the character program, which this term focused on ‘give back.’ Each Wednesday, the entire academy attended an interactive lecture led by Paul, the creator of the program, and Isaac, the incoming leader for the program in Ghana.

Right to Dream student-athletes giving back to the local village school

Immediately following the sessions, we left the Barack Obama Library spreading across campus to convene in our mentor groups: consisting of one or two staff members and about eight players of all different ages. For 45 minutes, the groups discussed take-aways from the core lecture, personal goals, challenges, and potential solutions in their lives.

img_2533

Further, one more time during the week, each student, along with a group of about 15 peers the same age, would have a smaller character session led by Paul, Isaac, or King depending on age. This session involved personally applied engagement of the theories that the core sessions had exposed.

img_4086

Filming give-back project presentations for the 11-13 year olds

If the students’ behavior was any indication of the program’s success, I’d say it’s working quite well.  In total, the student-athletes formally engage in character-based meetings and discussions for two hours a week.

Thanks to King’s help, along with coaches Addo and Frazer, I was able to spend the final month of term helping the football department on the pitch. With each of the four boys’ teams, I served as an assistant for one week. It was insightful being able to observe and help coach. I even had the pleasure of playing with the boys during a few of the sessions.

Several times during the term, I heard from veteran staff members that it should be part of staff training to attend a first-team away match. So I did. I attended two actually. They weren’t the best of conditions – uneven pitch, inconsistent competition and officiating, overzealous supporters ­– but occasionally a goat (yes, the actual animal, not the “greatest of all time” acronym) or chickens made their way onto the field, making for a memorable image.

img_3852

The home team’s number 10

Hybrid Video: Right to Dream away league match

To round off my experience with the football department, I attended a recruitment event in Accra to learn about a key component to Right to Dream’s international success – talent identification. The new media director Liam and I joined scouts Jeremy, Prince, and Kusi for a weekend observing hundreds of central midfielders, defenders, and goalkeepers ages 9-12.

Saturday’s midfield event was held on a dirt pitch being overlooked by one of Ghana’s largest mosques and surrounded by cows.

img_3900

Hybrid Video: Right to Dream recruitment event in Accra

Afterwards, Liam and I spent the night at a hostel called “Somewhere Nice.” For dinner we went for a burger where I couldn’t resist ordering “le big mac,” a tribute to the Tarantino classic Pulp Fiction.

f8438a74-5d54-4297-ba02-6261161b4c61

About halfway through the term, my housemate Nora – being the kind person she is – began organizing a Ghana-themed going-away party for me at our house. I think nearly 50 people showed from the Academy and neighborhood to enjoy company, homemade Ghanaian cooking, drinks, and music.

img_5331-1

What a fun night it was. When the crowed thinned, I found myself going back and forth between playing vuvuzela with the neighborhood kids, dancing to Ghanian music and Coldplay, visiting with the small crowd that remained, and (sort-of) helping clean up.

That night turned out to be the beginning of a festive final ten days of term. There were celebrations of Paul, Emma, and Victor’s combined 17 years of RtD contribution – the Paul Testimonial Football Match between the football and non-football staff, a surprise party for Emma, plenty of smiles and hugs for Victor – as well as a pro alumni vs academy match, end of year meetings, and a ceremonial party to inspire next steps while celebrating the good work of those who had contributed during the past year.

fullsizerender-18

From one generation to the next

8aad7152-7642-497a-881c-84e75b5f40b6

Founder Tom Vernon speaking at end of year ceremony

As one of the departing members of the team, during a final staff meeting we revisited some of the my contributions and bonding moments of need – how do I teach? how do I take video? what is a tro tro? – as well as many good times shared during school hours or after-hours at Wednesday Club – the weekly get together involving friends, Ghanian beer, pizza, street food, and, for one evening, lots of Celine Dion.

Fortunately I was able to express my gratitude towards the many who had helped me through friendship and mentorship. I was also able to share how the Right to Dream experience is a testament to the conviction that if you believe in yourself and believe in those around you, much is possible.

I’m inspired by the work done by Right to Dream and am extremely grateful for the development I had while contributing to it.

From Ghana, I went on to spend Christmas with family in Rome, followed by New Years in London with a friend. After London, off to Mumbai, India with the OSCAR Foundation. Thanks for reading!

Please share or leave a comment!

#kickingallovertheworld

fullsizerender-19

Thanksgiving in Ghana: A Tribute

Thus far on my Watson journey (which requires travel outside the US for a year,) I have celebrated an August birthday with new friends in Cape Town, and been MIA during Labor Day, Election Day, and Veteran’s Day. Each of these holidays carries unique significance, which I have been fortunate to tap into while abroad.

img_2269

Birthday Celebration with friends

Though with Thanksgiving upon us, things feel different.

For as long as I can remember, this distinctly United States holiday has been celebrated by spending long five-day weekends with family. For me, Thanksgiving is characterized by Christmas-morning-esque excitement to share time with siblings, relief over taking a step back from responsibilities at school, and mental preparation for victories both at the dinner table and in the annual Turkey Bowl.

However, as this year’s Thanksgiving approaches, my initial feeling is one of dissonance: partially prepared to pack a bag and help my family play suitcase Tetris in the trunk of mom and dad’s car, before flying past hundreds of truckers and construction workers up Interstate–81 through the Shenandoah Valley towards Martinsburg, WV and Lebanon County, PA; though I know it won’t happen. Not this year.

A week ago, I picked up an unpleasant illness – bringing malaria-like symptoms (the chills were actually quite nice, in the Ghana heat.) Fortunately, the malaria test was negative, and I was self-prescribed all-you-can-eat Royal Senchi breakfast plus the new John Mayer single “Love on the Weekend” – the kind of euphoric mainstream musical masterpiece that makes teenage girls swoon, tracing a guy’s visit to his affectionate partner for a weekend. It begins:

It’s a Friday,
we finally made it.
I can’t believe
I get to see your face.

Safe to say I overdosed on both prescriptions that Friday (which, for those who know me, will come as no surprise.) I spent most of the day at the Royal Senchi resort, then took a 5-minute cab ride home, where I tried to settle for a late-afternoon nap but couldn’t sleep.

Tiredly turning to my bedside table, I grabbed a book that Rachel kindly compiled in honor of my Watson journey, made up of laminated sleeves housing letters and pictures from loved ones.

fullsizerender-13

 

 

 

Before finishing the first line, my emotions were moved to tears.

 

 

 

fullsizerender-11

 

 

 

Life is full of many treasures.

 

 

 

I have loads to be thankful for – more things than I can imagine. Reading through this beautiful mosaic of notes from my parents, siblings, extended family, and friends served as a much needed reminder of this simple truth.

I was encouraged, inspired, amused, loved by the choice-words and images of some of the most dear people in my life.

I even felt messages from those whose words did not appear in ink – most notably my late grandparents (Grandpa, Richard | Grandma, Nancy) whom love the Thanksgiving holiday, followed by other family members and dear friends.

 

 

FullSizeRender (12).jpg

 

 

LOVE TRAVELS AND NEVER DIES.

 

 

The notes brought me laughter, too. A few of many laugh-out-loud moments:

 

img_4788

“We look like we just did a mission for the FBI (then) got our stuff together in 5 minutes for a family Christmas party LOL”

img_4791

“4 Years” – a creative friendship comic

 

 

 

 

fullsizerender-10

Inside jokes galore

May Thanksgiving bring you reminders of life’s most cherished treasures.

 

Family Pic

 

 

Graduation Dinner

Ghana Half 1: Cultural Contrast, Difficult Moments, and the Help of Others

“Really understand that you’re gonna have difficult moments, and that’s when your real character comes through. It’s very easy when you’re winning; it’s very easy when your scoring goals or you’re winning trophies. I think the challenge – what you’re going to be judged on – is when you go through a difficult moment.

It’s going to happen. I always tell young players: I can’t guarantee many things, but I can guarantee that you that you’re gonna have tough moments in your career… Football is a team game, and you need a support system around you. You can’t do it by yourself.”

Claudio Reyna
Current sporting director for New York City Football Club
Former US national team captain

fullsizerender-7

It had been nearly a month since arriving in Ghana – the longest period of my life without seeing a fellow American – and the first compatriot to cross my path is Captain America himself, Claudio Reyna. His above words, stated during an interview at Right to Dream Academy, keenly capture the inevitable but unforeseen challenges that have revolved around my Ghanian experience.

(The next few paragraphs describe the end of my time in South Africa. If you’re tired of reading about Cape Town, please skip.)

Before arriving in Ghana, I spent six weeks in Cape Town, South Africa, a global tourist hotspot. Cape Town seemed to offer everything: from some of the most marginalized communities in modern history lingering in the shadows of Africa’s shining beacon for democratic ideals, to multiple world-renowned natural landmarks – Table Mountain, Robben Island, Cape of Good Hope – standing as close neighbors to the vibrant urban metropolis that has developed in their back yard.

img_1982

But on September 8, it was time to turn in my Hundai rental car and continue on to the next leg of my Wanderjahr. I said “bye” to my host family, friends, Ubuntu Football Academy, Cape Town. After dropping off the keys at Kristenhoff Rental Cars, I packed my belongings into Shawn’s bucky, and we left for Cape Town International Airport.

Steering through the wind and rain on well-paved roads, Shawn conducted my “exit interview,” a friendly series of reflective thought-provoking questions concerning my time in Cape Town. Questions like: “What were your expectations of South Africa, and how do they compare to what you found? In your opinion, what is Ubuntu Football Academy’s biggest strength and weakness? In under a minute, describe your Cape Town experience.”

I cherish these twenty minutes with my new friend.

Once arriving at Cape Town International, Shawn ushered me to security where we said our “goodbye” for now. Up next, an eight-hour overnight flight to Dubai for a short layover, before another eight-hour flight to Ghana’s capital city of Accra.

The first leg of my travels nearly went off without a hitch. I say “nearly” because of several unpredicted disturbances courtesy of two comically social (and at times heavily intoxicated) South African women in their mid-to-late thirties, whom I was seated next to.

Alas, after a nearly sleepless night, I arrived to Dubai International Airport in one piece. Upon first glance, I couldn’t agree more with Donald Trump’s description from the first US presidential debate – “incredible.”

img_2066

Dubai International Airport

But after a much needed trip to the washroom, I think an asterisk belongs next to his description –

Incredible*img_2068-2

*except some of the stalls don’t have toilet seats

I quickly freshened up, solo-toured the airport, bought a bag of peanuts, then boarded the plane for Accra.

During the sixteen hours of airtime between Cape Town, Dubai, and Accra, I enjoyed a few movies: Invictus, the story South Africa hosting the 1995 Rugby World Cup; Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the latest episode of the epic Sci-Fi classic; Finding Nemo, a personal favorite.

Wheels touched ground in Accra. After moving through customs with my carry-ons and necessary documentation, I found myself waiting at the baggage claim. While surveying the area, my eyes became fixed on familiar sight – a Carolina Panthers hat. With a grin, I introduced myself to the boy wearing the black and blue and we visited for the next thirty-some-odd minutes while awaiting our luggage.

Turns out, the friendly sixteen year-old Englishman has family in North Carolina. It was as encouraging as it was unexpected have my first West African interaction hit so close to home. However, the frequency of this American familiarity during my time in Ghana would prove to be few and far between.

After collecting my bags, I walked out into the West African heat for the first time to meet Robin (Right to Dream’s Managing Director) and King (Robin’s assistant and first generation Right to Dream player, who just retired from ten years of professional European football.) Both were very hospitable as we drove off – asking about my Watson Fellowship and stopping by the mall so I could purchase a few essentials before leaving modern civilization.

After a full day of air travel, my attention slowly began to drift from our conversation towards the herds of cow, goat, and chicken parading along the dusty side streets. I was beginning to feel that my Ghanian experience would differ drastically than the one I had in South Africa.

fullsizerender-8

A herd of cows outside of Accra

After a bumpy two hour ride, we arrived to Right to Dream Academy, the shining oasis adjacent to the village of Old Akrade – with its dirt paths, mud-brick houses, and (much to my suprise) “local Irish Pub.” Upon arriving, I received a short driving tour of both campuses – school and sport.

img_2082

Right to Dream Academy – School Campus


img_2438-2

Right to Dream Academy – School Campus (building on left is the school, buildings in back/center are staff housing and the girls’ dorm)


img_2581

Right to Dream Academy – Football Campus (8v8 field)


img_2427

Right to Dream Academy – Football Campus (me and Isaac on the 11v11 match field)

After a much-desired nap, I went for a drink with King and Ibrahim (the Right to Dream facilities manager) at Fergal’s, the “local Irish Pub,” before spending the night on campus.

Around lunchtime the next day, I returned to Fergal’s for Manchester United versus Manchester City – the most expensive game every played (with player payments amounting to more than 600 million Euros or 660 million US dollars.) I felt great privilege and wonder watching the world’s richest game in possibly the poorest environment I had ever been in.

 

This minor tension was a small taste of the cultural contrast that surrounds my experience as a white male volunteering at one of the world’s most elite football academies in the middle of impoverished rural Ghana. However, these emotions failed to foreshadow how the next ten days would prove to be some the most difficult of my young life.

With school scheduled to begin in two days, there was much to do – I had yet to move into my accommodation, meet the remaining fifty-plus Right to Dream employees and the nearly one-hundred Right to Dream student-athletes, nor learn how to teach math – my primary duty at the academy. The more I thought about my list of things to do, the larger it grew.

That is until a familiar adage, often used by my father, helped narrow my focus:

“How do you eat an elephant?”
– one bite at a time.

First bite: move into my accommodation.

I was told that I would be living in a house that was located a “fun canoe ride” across the Volta River from the academy. Throughout my time in Ghana, I have routinely taken two canoe rides each day, however, thanks to my luggage the first trip would be by car with King and Ibrahim.

img_3977Along the way to my accommodation, we stopped on the side of the road to enjoy my favorite Ghana ‘drive through item:’ soft coconuts.

In rural Ghana, each coconut costs one Cedi (the equivalent of 25 cents.) To eat, right there on the side of the road, the vendor takes a cutlass (more-or-less a machete) and hashes at the coconut, creating a hole in the top through which you can slurp the quenching coconut water. When the juice runs dry, you return the coconut to the vendor who then chops the coconut in half, allowing you to scrape out the edible inside using one of the outer shards.

Absolutely refreshing.

Though similar to dancing in rhythm, the local west Africans were noticeably better at swiftly eating the coconuts; by the time I finished one and a half, King and Ibra had gone through three a piece.

We continued on and reach my accommodation, where for the first time I saw the house and room I would call home for the next three and a half months. Plenty of space, including a decent size bed and two chairs. No issues, I thought.

img_2138

My accommodation in Senchi

But as the days progressed, I found that the “fun canoe ride” would represent a divide in two contrasting worlds – both very different from the one I found in Cape Town.

Right to Dream Academy was the purposeful world: offering social connection with colleagues and student-athletes, functioning wifi, fulfilling vocational challenges, consistent running water, and three complementary meals a day.

My accommodation was the isolated world: where I had yet to meet my housemates, had no cellular data or wifi, discovered many issues (including a dysfunctional shower, broken bed frame, zero televisions, dressers, drawers, tables, or desks) and oftentimes struggled to sleep-in thanks to the heat, a noisy fan, and several uncalled-for alarms.

img_2327

Broken bed-frame

The alarms included: cross-village “cock-a-doodle-doo” contests inches outside my window; a waste management truck bulldozing through my front yard like a tank from World War II; the local radio blasting through the streets to disperse news to the community’s illiterate; all night Christian funeral parties packing more energy than high school senior prom.

fullsizerender-5

The neighbor’s chickens five feet from my bedroom window

The contrast was stark, the struggle real. I had never in my life felt purpose and comfort so deeply dependent upon one space. I felt lonely, like Chuck Noland – Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away (this comment has little to do with the fact that I haven’t had a hair-cut since July.) But the difficulty didn’t stop there.

img_2275

One of the last pictures taken of my original Wildcat Tilley Hat

In addition to the above mentioned, I suffered several cases of “Ghana stomach” (aka: travelers diarrhea,) I lost my Davidson Wildcat Tilly hat, the couch cushions swallowed my trusty Canon point-and-shoot camera along with my pictures, the village power went out for three days, my debit card didn’t appeared to work, the water at the house stopped running for eight days, I felt immensely ill prepared to teach, and my dog died.

Well, not really – I’ve never had a dog.

But what I have had were difficult moments. And through those difficult moments, I have learned about myself, developed new skills, and – something I’m continuing to realize more and more – strengthened relationships with others.

“you’re gonna have difficult moments, and that’s when your real character comes through.”

Life brings challenges. You can either let them linger, fuss, and fold, or work smartly, triumph, and learn. I strove for the latter, and things got better.

I met my roommates – Mohammad, Nora, and Gurleen (Nora’s 5 month old daughter) – and they’re great. I began making use of my time at home by reading, journaling, and watching films on the iPad. My friend Isaac purchased a SIM card for my phone while he visited family in Accra. I bought a new Tilly hat, and found my camera after several anxious days of searching.

img_2595

Me and Nora canoe across the Volta River


img_2604

Good times with my girl Gurleen


IMG_2735.JPG

Mindset by Carol Dweck helps shape the Right to Dream philosophy


IMG_2885 2.JPG

The Alchemist over all-you-can-eat breakfast at Royal Senchi resort


IMG_3292.JPG

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Extended Edition)


img_3311

Davidson Tilley Hat 2.0 (Thanks, Blair)

I spoke to Ibrahim about some of the needs of the house, leading to a functioning shower, dressers in my room, a fixed bed frame, and running water. I figured out my debit card. I swiftly began to recognize the symptoms of “Ghana stomach,” and how to treat them (thanks for the meds, Todd.)

img_2320

My bedroom with dressers


img_2549

Travelers’ Diarrhea is real

With the help of my fellow teachers, I received much needed education mentorship. In ways both formal and informal, I foraged bonds with co-workers and students, such as during Staff Sports Day (link to Hybrid Video below.) I even (kind of) grew accustom to waking up with the chickens.

Ghana: Right to Dream Staff Sports Day (Hybrid Video)

img_2423

Staff Sports Day: I took home gold in the obruni 100 meter sprint


FullSizeRender 17.jpg

Matt and Nick invite me for a night out in Atimpoku


img_2527

Fafa welcomes me at her Sunday morning church service

Though in the spirit of progress – as one set of challenges starts to wane, new obstacles lift from the horizon. Just as I was getting used to the demands of teaching and gaining excitement for an increased role in football and character development, I was asked to help carry the Right to Dream media load.

Before embarking on my Watson journey, I had very little formal media experience. The pinnacle had to be creating and running the Davidson Men’s Soccer Instagram and Twitter (follow today @DavidsonMSoccer) – in which I basically took a few pictures with my iPhone, found a cool filter, wrote a decent caption, #done.

But what was being asked now was in another league altogether; I was now being asked to capture and edit footage to share with the broader Right to Dream audience, using near-professional equipment.

img_2800So I did what I think any Watson Fellow should do ­– lean in.

The following week was spent engaging in one-on-one photography tutorials with Paa-Joe, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) teacher and supervisor of the Right to Dream Robotics Club. I studied and practiced the rule of thirds and exposure triangle. Then, to hone my videography skills, Paa-Joe sent me to “chase anything that moves” (ie chickens and goats) around the academy.

As the weeks went on, I captured footage for a week-long youth leadership summit and school-wide assemblies. I even designed, scheduled, recorded, and edited multiple interviews of our array academy guests – including Claudio Reyna, consultants from Google, English Premier League Physios, and visitors from Right to Dream’s professional Danish club affiliate, FC Nordsjælland.

My two most recent projects were to produce a tour of the academy for prospective players and families from Côte d’Ivoire (done in French,) and to capture a wonderfully produced theatrical performance of Lord of the Flies.

None of this would be possible without the help of others.

“Football (life) is a team game, and you need a support system around you. You can’t do it by yourself.”

My support system at Right to Dream has been wonderful. Not only have they given me their friendship and mentorship, but just as importantly (and maybe even more so,) they have given me responsibility through which I can grow.

In addition to Paa-Joe’s media mentorship:
– Robin, James, King, Ibrahim, and Atsu have guided my experience for matters related to management and facilities;
– Emma, Bright, Nick, Matt, Fafa, Darteh, Kofi, Joel and the rest of the education staff have offered their friendship and mentorship about how to lead a classroom conducive to learning;
– Paul, Isaac, Keith, Lydia, Harry, Linda, and Addo have allowed me to study and take part in the character development program;
– Frazer, Gareth, Joe, Jeremy, Rich, Shane, Prince, Isaac, and the whole football-physio-recruitment team have openly shared their insights on talent identification, development, and maintenance;
– Chef John, Raymond, Moses and the entire kitchen crew have provided delicious food and friendship throughout my stay.

img_2442-2

All in all, my experience at Right to Dream is as challenging as it is rewarding. And I couldn’t be more grateful.

For the next five weeks, I look forward to continuing to ride the current wave I’m on, while increasing involvement with the football department, traveling to multiple tourist destinations in west Africa, and engaging further in the village community.

Can’t wait to tell you all about it.

I will be in Ghana from now until I travel to England on December 17. I plan to write one more blog posts about my continued adventures in Ghana. Thanks for reading!

Please share or leave a comment!

#kickingallovertheworld

img_3064-2

South Africa Half 2: The People of Cape Town

I am under the impression that one could spend decades in Cape Town, South Africa and still find wonder each day. Throughout my time in the western cape, I’ve walked on sandy beaches, stood next to African penguins, winded along curvy roads on seaside cliffs, climbed mountains in the shape of tables and felines, watched families of baboons walk on all fours through streets and brush, tasted local wines in scenic valleys, watched a whale’s fin strike against the sea, devoured a delicious array of food, ventured to lighthouses at the corner of the continent, given rides to needy hitch hikers… the list goes on and on.

img_2297

Though, amidst the marvelous variety of experiences, landscapes, and wildlife that Cape Town has to offer, it’s the diversity of the people that I will remember most about my six sacred weeks. Thanks to them, I was able to make the most out of my experience, constantly learning about the complex realities of Cape Town society. So for this blog post, the goal is to illuminate my experience by highlighting some of the people that made it unique.

But as a little warm-up, here is a list of some of the South African language that I frequently heard and sometimes used:

– Cape Town Vocabulary –

– Ubuntu: I am what I am, because of what we all are. Humanity towards others.
– Coach: If you were an older person involved with the academy, the players would call you “coach.” Not only would they call you “coach,” but they would say “coach” at the beginning and/or end of everything they said. Such as: “Coach, can we get a ride to school coach?” or to answer ‘how are you?’ they might say “fine, coach. And you, coach?”
– Maybru: my bro.

img_2470

A braii at the Ubuntu Academy House

– Braii: The act of grilling. Also the word for a communal barbecue, or cookout.
– Bucky: Pick-up truck. Also a rectangular container.
– Full-stop: The word for period, the point at the end of a sentence. “.”
– It’s chilled: It’s cool/ it’s okay/it’s chill.
– Lekka: The Afrikaans (one of the three main languages – with the other two, English and Xhosa) word for“sweet” or“cool.”
– Hectic: Same meaning as in the US, but the connotation is not as extreme when used in South Africa. Example: “traffic was hectic today.” or “Yo, that must be hectic.”
– Sheyo!: “Woah!” Usually responding to something surprising or unbelievable.

img_1758

Me and a chicken gatsby

– Eyo: “Oh.” This word’s meaning changed based on how it was said.
– Chips: French fries, or any other type of braiied or fried potato.
– Gatsby: A huge sub, filled with chips, your choice of protein, veggies, and a sweet sauce.
– “Thank you paw:” Before Reggie and Doreen’s dogs (Moogley and Cleo) ate, they gave Reggie a “thank you paw” handshake to express their gratitude. Video below
– Matriculate: To graduate.
– Lower School: Elementary/Middle School.
– Upper School: High School.
– Lulla Bell: (No, not the late-laundry service at Davidson College) The name of maybru Yale’s noble steed of a tiny red car.

– Older Academy boys –

One of my major responsibilities during my time volunteering with Ubuntu, was to help prepare some of the academy’s oldest players to continue their footballing careers in the United States at university. This happened in two ways: conducting daily SAT tutoring with Carl, Themba, and Wade, three of the Under-18 players who had already matriculated, as well as helping Wade and Chadley, one of the yet-to-matriculate Under-18 players, complete their very first college applications.

Through these experiences, I was able to gain insight in to the academic standards of the area, and re-acclimate myself with the college application process. But more importantly, these experiences allowed for me to build relationships with the boys, and learn about the impact Ubuntu has had on their lives.

fullsizerender-4

(from left to right) Carl, Wade, me, and Themba’s album cover

The three matriculated boys – pictured above – are a trip. Rarely was there a dull moment when we were together – particularly with all of Wade’s self-proclaimed famous relatives. In exchange for the daily SAT maths tutoring, Carl, Themba, and Wade challenged me to learn how to roll my “r”s, a common linguistic ability for the native tongue. Despite their incessant laughter at my attempts, I think I made reasonable progress.

Through Wade and Chadley’s application process, I met with the principal of the upper school to see if she had any questions, and to clarify some of the American lingo found on the Common Application. The conversation we shared outside of her office remains on my mind over a month later –

“He has a great integrity about him,” describing one of the boys,“despite coming from very difficult circumstances. You know, some of these kids come from a place of absolute privilege,” she went on, growing visibly frustrated and tense, “and can act like little sh**s.”

“It goes to show we all make choices,” I reacted.

“Yes, it’s choices,” she paused for a moment to look up. Then confidently continued with easy eyes and a soft smile, “and it’s how your parents love you.”

– Reggie and Doreen –

My host parents were warm and welcoming throughout my entire stay. Towards the end of my visit, they offered to take me and one of Reggie’s fourteen siblings, Jenny, around the peninsula in their new car. It was funny. We planned for our drive to be on Heritage Day, but in stereo-typical Cape Town township fashion, we scheduled for the wrong date! Fortunately, the misunderstanding did not keep us from our venture.

img_0160

Reggie behind the wheel

Our first destination was Red Hill, the village in which Reggie and Jenny grew up – not far up the mountain from where they now live in Ocean View. As we slowly drove along the rural two-lane road, my tour guides shared stories from their farm-life on the mountaintop. They told me about about how they attended school, walked down the mountain to Simon’s Town for groceries, and didn’t need lights to see at night because they were used to the pitch-black. I was wide-eyed, holding on to every word, when we began to slow to a stop.

Following Reggie’s eyes, I looked left out the passenger-side window: saw nothing. We kept inching forward. Finally, as we moved passed some brush, I could see several small piles of stone resting on the ground – Reggie’s former home.

img_2283

The remains of the Higgins’ former home in Red Hill (foreground)

It took my breath away. “Yeh man,” Reggie said in his normal, conversational voice, “the government came through and tore down all the houses once Apartheid began. That way, no one would try to move back after we were removed.” If you ever need a reminder of how the past shapes the present, Cape Town is a decent place to visit.

After turning down an offer to have his picture taken with the foundation – because he already had one – Reggie drove us forward.

Before we made it off the mountain, we stopped again. This time for a tribe of baboons.

img_2471

One of the many baboon street signs throughout Cape Town

Seeing nature at work was fascinating. At first, the mood amongst the tribe was calm. Then suddenly the alpha male appeared with his chest out, forcing several commanding calls. Immediately, the tribe became unsettled. I can’t say with certainty, but I think he was warning his tribe about us.

After a few minutes, the baboons cleared the street, and we began our descent from Red Hill towards Simon’s Town – home of South Africa’s largest naval base (and the South African Penguin).

After driving down the mountain that Reggie and his family used to scale to attend school and purchase groceries, we spent a few hours at the Simon’s Town Museum. We then ate a packed-lunch in the car at Jubilee Square, a beautiful public park overlooking the bay. In response to having to pay for parking, Reggie laughed toward the parking marshal, “I used to park here with my horse wagon every week, and never had to pay.”

img_2493

Jenny, retracing her childhood footsteps, on the trail she used to scale to get to and from Simon’s Town

img_2286

Jenny, Doreen, Reggie overlooking Simon’s Town

After lunch and a stop to see the penguins, we drove towards Cape Point – the most south-west point of Africa – to loop back home. On the way, we stopped by the Cape Point Ostrich Farm, where I bought Reggie and Doreen a much-deserved gift of appreciation, a decorative ostrich egg, and some ostrich jerky for myself.

img_1979

Reggie, Doreen, and Me out to dinner during my final week in Cape Town

– “Daniel” and Bob Marley –

Confession: I never met anyone named Daniel or Bob Marley during my six weeks in Cape Town. But, occasionally during my downtime, I enjoyed playing Reggie’s guitar on the second-story balcony outside the loft I stayed in.

One night, as I was playing, two black men walked by and tried to sell me newspapers. I politely refused.

They smiled. Instead of carrying on, the shorter one with a missing front tooth asked me, “Come on, can you play this song?” He took a deep breath, then began singing (shouting?) in a raspy voice: “Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane…”

I laughed to myself, “are you serious? I’m in the middle of a South African township and have this presumably impoverished salesman requesting for me to play Elton John – on an acoustic guitar of all things!”

With a smile, I called down, “oh that’s a great song! But unfortunately I don’t know how to play it!”

“oh!” he shouted, “Come on, it’s just a C… and a G!” Next thing you know, we began performing the first few lines of Elton John’s “Daniel” as if we were free Tuesday night entertainment at a local bar.

During another balcony jam session, four young local boys walked passed. They asked if I knew how to play reggae music. One of them then requested Bob Marley. So I looked up the chords to “One Love,” and we sang together. Music can be an incredible connector.

– Ubuntu House Boys –

During three weeks of my time in Cape Town, my friend Shawn visited his family in Atlanta. I would have liked to spend more time with him, but, in terms of my Watson project and the wellbeing of Ubuntu Football Academy, the timing of his trip could not have been better. I say this because, while he was gone, I was able to learn a lot by fulfilling some of his regular responsibilities with academy.

IMG_1619.JPG

One of my Shawn-sponsibilities, filming select Ubuntu matches and training sessions

One of my first Shawn-sponsibilities (Shawn-responsibilities) was to pick up the fifteen boys who live at the house from church youth on Friday night. I am not entirely sure of all went down that night during youth, but the boys we energized! Once I arrived, a couple of the youth leaders and I encouraged the boys to form a line, so that we could account for all the boys.

Before we could even say two words, we were met by a blur of hysterical boys sprinting out of the church towards Shawn’s white bucky in the dimly-lit parking lot. Well, we tried! I was astounded that all fifteen boys could cram into that bucky. Before we could pull out of the church parking lot, one of the boys connected his phone to the aux chord and began blasting Afrikaans hip-hop music throughout the car.

As my hands gripped the steering wheel, I remember feeling desperately out of control; I thought to myself, “what have I gotten myself into!?” Though as the days went on, I began to develop a healthy routine with the boys.

img_1672

Post-game nap in the car

I regularly picked them up from training, helped facilitate their time at the house, and even took ten or so of them down to Long Beach, Kommetjie one Sunday evening to watch the sunset over the water.

 

img_2268

Sunset at Long Beach

img_2267

Picture Time

With us on the beach were two boys from Zimbabwe. They were on trial, with hopes of playing for Ubuntu. Being raised in a less-developed landlocked country, they had never seen the ocean before coming to Cape Town. We ended up spending over an hour walking around Long Beach, visiting and taking pictures. A few of the boys even learned how to zoom on my point-and-shoot Canon.

img_1529

Soso and Luke, snapping a pic of Vusumzi and Khenyile

Towards the end of my stay, the Under 17’s goalkeeper, Taariq, and I went to KFC (pictured above-left) to celebrate his perseverance in the cup semi-final match. As a goal-keeper in the penalty shoot-out, he helped bring his team from behind and confidently struck his penalty (video below) to clinch the victory. A true display of passion, perseverance, and confidence.

– Football Forward Boys –

Coaching at Football Forward, Ubuntu’s after-school recruitment and outreach program, was one of my absolute favorite things to do in Cape Town. While taking part in these weekly sessions, I was able to connect with normal township boys through a sport that we all loved.

During my six weeks, I helped run sessions in three of the six different Football Forward locations – Grassy Park, Ocean View, and Khayelitscha – all Capetonian townships. Oftentimes, many of the attendees (locals age 9-11) didn’t speak good English. Football became our common language.

IMG_1203 2.JPG

Coach Dave addressing the players at Football Forward (Grassy Park)

img_1737

Coach Jonny leading a Football Forward dribbling warm up (Khayelitscha)

img_1734

Coach Dave sharing a devotion with the players (Khayelitscha)

img_2279

I jumped into the coaching too (Khayelitscha)

I particularly enjoyed coaching in Khayelitscha, Cape Town’s largest and fasted growing township. Over 400,000 inhabitants live in the crammed shacks. To get to the fields at Site C in Khayelitscha, I would meet Johnny, one of the Ubuntu Coaches, at his house downtown. We would then drive to the township together. He always drove, so that I could soak in the environment (and so that I didn’t get lost.)

img_2280

My eyes were glued to the window as we drove past the seemingly endless landscape of shacks. Most of the ‘buildings’ were small, made of corrugated metal, and had low roofs. Below the shacks, I watched as toddlers play with tires on the side of the street. Above the shacks, Jonny pointed out how nearly all of the houses illegally received power, by a wire connecting the interior to one of the public generators on light poles.

By getting a small taste of the Khayleitsca way of life, I gained much perspective on my own privilege and the impact of Ubuntu Football’s mission.

img_1999

The Khayelitscha Football Forward Boys

img_2281

Khayelitscha

– People’s Church Crew –

Now I couldn’t mention the people of Cape Town without this group. Aside from my involvement with Ubuntu, these were my people.

fullsizerender-2

Me and Shawn at The Old Biscuit Mill Market

Watch a Hybrid Video of me, Daisy (the adventurous runaway dog), Shawn, Micaela, and Hannah’s hike up the Sentinel:

img_0772

Daisy (the dog), Micaela, Hannah, Shawn on top of the Sentinel, overlooking Chapmans Peak

IMG_0864

Mountain-top Muse (pose) from top of the Sentinel. Haut Bay and Table Mountain in the background

img_0794

Sunset hiking down the Sentinel

Watch a Hybrid Video of me, mon frere Yannick, and Micaela’s trip to the Cape of Good Hope here:

IMG_1059

Mon frere Yannick, me, and Micaela at the Cape of Good Hope

IMG_1035

Me and mon frere Yannick at Cape Point

img_2269

Birthday Dinner with (left-to-right) Stacy, Micaela, Hannah, me, mon frere Yannick, maybru Yale, before living it up at to !Cape to Cuba!

img_1814

Wine-tasting at Constantia Glen Winery

img_2291

Wine-tasting vibes

 

img_2292

Wine-Tasting at Steenburg Winery

img_1833

Mon frere Yannick and me in the bed of Shawn’s bucky, on the way to hike Lion’s Head

img_1887

Hiking Up Lion’s Head pose

 

img_1901

Epic views hiking Lion’s Head

img_1891

Rainbow-colored bird on the hike up Lion’s Head

img_1888

Maybru Yale

img_1858

The Crew on top of Lion’s Head, overlooking Signal Hill and Robben Island

img_0164

Top of Lion’s Head, overlooking Cape Town

 

img_1876

Made it to the top of Lion’s Head

img_1879

Mon frere Yannick and me on top of Lion’s Head, Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak in background

img_1853

Light changing during our descent down Lion’s Head

img_1852

Street Lights Glow

img_2029

Sendoff dinner selfie: (from left to right) Hannah, maybru Yale, me, mon frere Yannick, Stacy, Shawn, Micaela

– ‘Cats in the Cape –

While eating Ethiopian food with our hands, Claire, Zari, and I discussed the possibility of going for a hike. Zari confidently said, “you two have fun. If you’re hungry when you’re done, I’ll cook for you.”

The next Friday night, I hung out with Zari and one of her friends from study abroad in Camps Bay, one of the richest areas in South Africa. We had a great time, exploring a few of the restaurants and bars along the waterfront.

The following week, before her family arrived on vacation, Claire and I hiked to the top of Table Mountain. It came at a very good time for me, because I was craving some one-on-one time with a friend. We took the Platteklip Gorge trail, a steep route that follows a fresh stream, to get to the top. When we reached the top, the views were nothing short of extraordinary.

Watch a Hybrid Video of me and Claire’s Table Mountain hike:

img_2274

Me and Claire on top of Table Mountain

img_1330

On top of Table Mountain, overlooking Lions Head, Robben Island, Signal Hill, Cape Town

img_0147

Me and Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain

– Paul, Dumi, and Robben Island –

If you ever visit Cape Town and have the time and means, the Robben Island tour is a must. You get your money’s worth from the boat ride alone; the tour itself is bonus. Robben Island, a few kilometers off the coast of downtown Cape Town, is home to a historic prison, where political prisoners were held during the years of Apartheid.

Apartheid was a series of laws, regulations, and norms that racially segregated Cape Town from 1948 until 1994. Apartheid ended thanks, in part, to Nelson Mandela, a legendary political prisoner-turned-president. Mandela’s face is now on all of the paper currency (Rand) and is internationally recognized.

Using some of that currency, I bought a solo-ticket to the island during my final week in South Africa. Waiting in line to get on the boat, I met Paul, a tourist from Austria. We chatted for a bit on the boat ride over, and ended up becoming tourist buddies, sharing the experience together and taking pictures for one another. 

All of the tour guides were once imprisoned on the island, including our guide Dumi, who spent five of his 30-year sentence before the prison closed in the mid 1990’s.

Watch a Hybrid Video of my Robben Island experience:

img_1972

Paul and me leaving the dock

img_1983

Looking towards Cape Town

img_1982

Looking towards Cape Town

 

IMG_1974 2.JPG

The legend Nelson Mandela’s prison cell

img_2300

A Robben Island “mattress.” Our tour guide, Dumi, served 5 years of his 30-year sentence, before all of the prisoners were released in the early 1990’s

img_2302

The football pitch on Robben Island. The inmates organized sporting competitions to keep busy and fit in their spare time

img_2301

Football pitch on Robben Island

img_2303

Football pitch on Robben Island

img_2304

Football pitch on Robben Island

 

IMG_2484.JPG

Me and Dumi

img_1981

Boat-ride back to Cape Town

img_1980

Me and Cape Town

img_2305

My mediocre “Titanic” impersonation

FullSizeRender 3.jpg

Signal Hill (left) and Lion’s Head (right)

img_2309

Table Mountain

img_2308

Devil’s Peak

img_2306

Cape Town Stadium

– Ubuntu Staff –

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to work alongside and learn from the driven staff at Ubuntu Football Academy. Thank you for the opportunity to grow, learn, and contribute.

img_1358-2

Ubungwe, Under-13’s coach Jonny, and me at the Cape Town City match. Hear the vuvuzelas below

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epfiZGS_ULE

img_2277

Co-Founder Michael and Under-17’s coach J.P. during a first-team match in Fish Hoek

IMG_0932

Under-17’s coach J.P. during homework class

img_1412

House-parents Tresewill and Cindy braiing

IMG_1274

Under-12’s coaches Dave and Yannick during halftime of an Under-12 match

img_2047

Co-Founder and Director – and the man – Casey and me at the Ubuntu House

What a wonderful first step to my Watson journey.

Now, on to Ghana with Right to Dream Academy until midd-December!

#kickingallovertheworld

 

YouTube Launch

Peers Cave

While I finish up my next blog post about the second half of my time in Cape Town, you’re welcome to follow the links below to see an overview of the area in which I spent most of my time on the first leg of my Watson Fellowship (July 29 through September 8, 2016), and a fun game of Xhosa Head-Catch played during the end of a Football Forward session in Khayelitsha (Cape Town’s most populated township of 400,000 people.)

Ubuntu Football: 360 Overview from Peers Cave

Ubuntu Football: Football Forward Xhosa Head-Catch

The Khayelitsha Football Forward Boys having a little fun

More videos to come throughout the year! #kickingallovertheworld

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

FullSizeRender (2)

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.

IMG_1203 (1).JPG

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.

IMG_1272

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.

IMG_0838

Chapmans Peak Drive

IMG_0844
The view from Chapmans Peak Drive looking towards Hout Bay
IMG_0847 (1)

The Sentinel (peak on left) overlooking the town of Hout Bay

IMG_0867 (1)

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.)

IMG_0864

Looking north towards town

IMG_0783

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.

IMG_1035

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.

IMG_1039.JPG

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.

IMG_1060

Yannick, me and Micaela at the Cape of Good Hope

IMG_1104

#catsinthecape

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!
#kickingallovertheworld
Please share or leave a comment!

IMG_1214 (1)

Sunset from Chapmans Peak

Unexpected Beginnings

I never quite knew what I would find between Greensboro and Cape Town. As of last Thursday morning (the morning of my departure), my itinerary was made up of an afternoon drive to the Charlotte airport, followed by three flights with layovers in Boston, and Dubai. The length of travel seemed reasonable to me – a short flight and layover in Boston, followed by two long flights with a long layover in Dubai in between. It was going to be a long trip, but I was excited to begin my adventure.

IMG_0654Early Thursday afternoon, my family who was in town – parents and middle sister Maria – took me to the airport. Along the way we stopped for my last “Southern” meal at a Cookout in Lexington, where I devoured a Big Double Tray with fries, a chicken quesadilla, and a Huge Tea (for any athletes out there, this is not a good meal before a training session or competition!)

When we reached the airport, I checked my Osprey luggage-backpack and received my first boarding pass of the adventure. I held back a few tears while saying “bye for now” to my family, then found myself standing at the onset of my journey, alone. It was surreal and, much to my surprise, short-lived.

I made it through security and found gate A4. After exchanging a few GroupMe messages with the boys and talking to Kenny on the phone, I received a most unexpected text from my good friend Ashley: “ARE YOU IN THE CLT AIRPORT?!?! Because I am!” What a wonderful surprise! Her flight to Pittsburgh was preparing to board just several gates away. So I ran over and we chatted briefly before wishing each other safe travels.

IMG_0659Safe to say, that was not what I anticipated my first interaction through airport securities looking like. And it turned out to be the first of many surprises. Upon returning to the gate, I noticed a disabled veteran who was quite frustrated: “Y’all did this to me last time!” he was shouting at the airport staff. Apparently there was a storm along the east coast that was delaying out flight causing him to miss a flight to Dubai. The same Dubai flight that was on my itinerary…

My journey had presented its first challenge. I needed to figure out how to get to Cape Town through this storm. Per the staff’s advice, I called the airline telephone number in hopes of changing my itinerary before we had to board. My first call was dropped after about 25 minutes. So I called again and an hour later was settled with a new itinerary. This one included a “sleepover” in the Boston airport followed by a short flight to New York City, a 14 and a half hour flight to Johannesburg, then finally a plane to Cape Town.

The planes were sweet. On the way to Boston with lightning in the distance, I was able to watch the finale of the Democratic National Convention. It was neat to see history made as Hillary Clinton became the first woman ever received a US Presidential Nomination from a major political party. I kid you not, the plane wheels hit the ground just as Hillary wrapped up her acceptance speech with “May God bless you and the United States of America.” Amen.

FullSizeRender (1)Meanwhile, it was about midnight. I stayed in the terminal working on my first blog post. As I was getting ready to settle in for the next few hours like this guy —>
the airport staff forced us out of the terminal areas to the main entrance. We weren’t aloud to enter until 3:30. I stayed up until it was time to check in because there was no way I was missing my flight to New York. After a Dunkin Donuts breakfast, I boarded the plane, closed my eyes, then we were landing. It felt like the shortest flight of my life.

That was good, because I was about to begin the longest flight of my life. For the next 14 hr and 24 min, I ate airplane food, watched videos, (David Beckham: For the Love of the Game and Silver Linings Playbook), and (to a large extent unsuccessfully) tried to sleep. Sooner or later we made it.

The line for customs in Johannesburg was filled with hundreds of travelers. I made a friend and received wise advice to follow what you love, try new things, and build a relationship with your heart. My muse over her advice came to an abrupt halt when I realized I had less than an hour to retrieve my bag, wait in another long line to recheck it and receive my new boarding pass, go through securities, and run to my gate before boarding.

This is where the South Africans hooked me up. A member of the airport staff helped me retrieve my bag and cut the long line to recheck it and collect my boarding pass. Before I started moving the other direction, he asked for a tip. I gave it to him because I probably wouldn’t have made my plane if I had to wait in the recheck line. Apparently someone else saw the tip exchange. I picked my head up to find a man running towards securities. “Come on!” he called out while motioning with his arm to follow him. I would’ve easily found it myself. When he asked for a tip, I was less generous this time around.

I soon found myself at the proper gate with minutes to spare before boarding started. So I wouldn’t forget, I started writing down what in the world had just happened. Just as I was finishing up my first sentence, a noticed a tourist out of the corner of my eye. He was taking a picture of the wall behind my head. I turned and saw this:

IMG_0725The Wright brothers. I couldn’t help but chuckle, as despite being the farthest I had ever been from home, for a moment I oddly felt I was back in the Charlotte airport (there are plenty of images of the Wright brothers in Charlotte.) During the 3 hour flight to Cape Town, I changed clothes, napped, and read through a treasured book filled with letters and pictures from family, friends, and loved ones (thanks everyone who contributed.)

My plane hit the ground, I gathered my bags, and there was Casey to pick me up. On we went to watch soccer for the rest of the day, and the adventure began…

img_0737

Ubuntu Football

Pre-Season

This year’s “pre-season” began, very fittingly, with commencement. Surrounded by family and friends in the surprisingly crisp mid-May weather, I graduated as a member of the Davidson College Class of 2016. My fellow classmates and I had somehow found a way. It was a very happy time in my life, celebrating our hard work and sacrifice with loved ones who had been with us along the way.

Graduation Dinner
Thereafter, while many of my friends were preparing for the next steps in their lives – applying for jobs, apartment hunting, traveling with friends, and the like – I continued to make efforts to set up the Wanderjahr ahead. Beginning with a trip to Seattle.

Seattle SoundersNot a week had passed since graduation when I flew out west to visit a former coach of mine and his fellow staff at Seattle Sounders FC’s development academy. During my five days in Seattle, I learned a great deal about what it means to contribute to a top-level academy, while having the opportunity to see a professional soccer match in one of the best environments in the United States. Another highlight was dancing and singing (screaming?) along to Billy Joel and his band during their concert in the Mariners’ stadium (highly recommend it, if you get the chance!)

Upon returning home, I spent the better part of two weeks working at Davidson. There, I worked with the terrific Alumni Relations staff and forty current Davidson students to help produce Reunion Weekend 2016. It was nice to be back on campus, as the short-term job proved to be a good transition into post-grad life. Additionally, I was able to visit with many Davidson people – friends, coaches, mentors – and watch from Brickhouse, the local tavern, our school’s favorite son Steph Curry regularly compete in the NBA Playoffs.

As Reunion Weekend wrapped up, it was time to get down to business back in Greensboro. I bought flights to South Africa, Ghana, and England for the coming year, applied for Visas, and began to make ever-fluctuating “to-do” lists with my mom. But luckily for me, it was not exclusively business from there on out.

Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to make fond memories on the road – a prequel for the year to come. My traveling partner Will T.J. and I explored part of the northeast, making stops to visit buddies in Washington DC, Easton, MD, New York City, and Hershey, PA (Hershey Park, another solid recommendation [see swing video at bottom of the page].)

FullSizeRenderI also had the pleasure of visiting with family on several different occasions. This included the PA part of the road trip, Father’s Day with my pops, grandfather and uncles, Forth of July at the lake, family birthdays in Richmond, and finally a Family Reunion at the soothing Cheat Mountain Club in the middle of nowhere, West Virginia, just days before my departure. It was the perfect send off.

With the preparations of “pre-season” behind me, I’m excited to proceed by putting my best foot forward. Thanks to the guidance of family and friends, I think I’ve done all that I possibly can to prepare (including packing and unpacking about ten times.) It’s bound to be a “season” unlike any other, and I can’t wait for the opening whistle.

Next stop: Cape Town, South Africa #Kickingallovertheworld

South Africa FlagUbuntu Football