Sunday, May 2, 2010
I hope everyone is doing well and that the weather is warming up in the States. Everything is going fabulously over in Cape Town, although I'm starting to grow a little homesick and am anxious to spend an amazing week in Shaker in June. Over the past few weeks I've been spending the majority of my time focusing on the Football for Hope Centre. The Centre has come so far since its opening in December 2009. The office is complete with desks, supplies, a whiteboard, a phone, internet, and several staff. I have been assisting in the day-to-day operational tasks at the Centre, as well as helping with programmes. I've recently been spending a lot of time working on Skillz Street, a soccer league for Grade 7 girls. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, 120 screaming girls come to the Centre after school to participate in a fun league that combines soccer and education. The girls are split into ten teams and each team plays soccer for one hour and then participates in some sort of educational activity for one hour. Two weeks ago the teams split up and visited one of three places - a soup kitchen, SANCA (a local drug and alcohol organization), or the Rape Crisis Centre.
This past week was especially crazy because we all started to realize the extent to which we are going to be busy during the World Cup. From 14 June to 9 July 2010, GRS is running 46 World Cup Skillz Holiday Programmes in seven of the nine South African provinces. Skillz Holiday Programmes provide a constructive, healthy environment for youth during the extended school holiday due to the World Cup. Castrol is funding the majority of the Holiday Programmes, but RED, Levi's, and Rio Tinto each have exciting plans for programmes as well. Each programme is expected to register 100 youth participants, so the Skillz Holiday Programmes will graduate approximately 4,600 South African youths in one month. Running from 8:30am to 3:00pm for five days, the programmes incorporate a fun, educational balance of soccer, HIV prevention and life skills activities. I'm not quite sure of my specific role in the Holiday Programmes, but I know that I will be swamped with work.
I'm currently spending my time recruiting and interviewing 20-25 new Skillz Coaches, helping to run programs at the FFH Centre, building partnerships with other organizations in Khayelitsha, interviewing candidates for a GRS Global position, preparing for an upcoming Training of Coaches, preparing for an upcoming World Cup Skillz Holiday Programme training, and working on an information page to supplement the current curriculum.
With the World Cup fast approaching we've been hosting several cool guests at the FFH Centre. Last week I had a chance to meet Edgar Davids, a famous Dutch soccer player. Here's a picture of a group of us at the Centre (Edgar in purple):
Monday, April 12, 2010
Hope everyone is doing well. I've been keeping busy the past couple of months with several projects. My biggest project has been organizing a Health Fair for Girlz got Skillz (see my prior post for details). The Health Fair took place this past Saturday and was a great success! Fifteen local organizations (Rape Crisis Centre, Sexual Abuse Clinic, HIV Testing, etc.) came to the Football for Hope Centre and passed out pamphlets on the services they offered.
Aside from Girlz got Skillz, I've been working with the Curriculum and Training Team to pretest several new activities and to create country profiles for each of the countries GRS works in. I've also been meeting with several organizations and individuals to set up different programs at the Football for Hope Centre. One of the current programs is called Skillz Street and was designed by Chris Barkley, GRS Program Manager, and is a league designed solely for girls. More than 100 screaming Grade Sevens show up at the FFH Centre each Wednesday for an hour of soccer and an hour of health education. Over the next few weeks, I'll be getting more and more involved in this program!
That's all for now. Pictures coming soon.
Friday, March 5, 2010
- Organizing programs and activities at the Football for Hope Centre. This entails lots of different things, including reaching out to local organizations, coordinating activities, overseeing the effectiveness of programs, etc. Lots and lots of work.
- Setting up operational systems at the Football for Hope Centre. Along with setting the Centre up with internet and a phone line, I am working to secure the Centre with necessary equipment. Unfortunately, the Centre is not in a particularly safe area, so it is crucial that we have proper security installed before we move the entire Programs office to the Centre. One of the biggest problems with security in Khayelitsha (and South Africa in general), is that police rarely come when called. Therefore, GRS needs to work to build a strong relationship with SAPS (South African Police Services) and with the local community to deter crime.
- Preparing for Girlz got Skillz, a week long cultural exchange taking place in April. On the final day of the exchange, there is a huge soccer tournament and carnival event at the Football for Hope Centre. I am in charge of organizing the carnival event, which entails bringing local organizations to the Centre to share information regarding their services. The event is targeting females in the community, so I'm mainly reaching out to rape crises centres, pregnancy clinics, domestic abuse organizations, and other female-focused groups.
- Building relationships with partner organizations in Khayelitsha. This fits into all aspects of my Internship and I'm doing my best to connect GRS with other organizations via meetings, forums, and trainings.
- Research. In my spare time, I've been working with the Research & Development team on several projects.
The past two months have flown by with long hours of work, but I'm really enjoying my new role. Okay, gotta get back to work - will write more soon. Still accepting donations! Feel free to send them to my house:
2912 Brighton Road
Shaker Heights, OH
Or, if you'd prefer, click the "donate" button at the top right of this blog page and send them to my GRS account.
- The only language spoken in Mozambique is Portuguese, but it’s kind of similar to Spanish…
- Roads in Mozambique are atrocious due to potholes. We had to drive extremely slowly across the country, especially at night.
- In Tofo we took at guided snorkeling tour, jumping off the boat to swim with dolphins. It was fun until a 4m long Tiger Shark glided below the boat…
- Mozambican restaurant service is unbearably slow. The worst I have seen in my travels. To the extent where we would always cook for ourselves to avoid it
Part V: Eventually… The Beaches of Mozambique
4:57… AM. For the first time in a long, long time, I was freezing. I guess that’s what you get after complaining about the heat for two weeks straight. Anyway, it wouldn’t last. We packed up our campsite in the Vumba Mountains of Mozambique, to the songs of extremely large birds as they jumped around in the trees above us. After a quick adventure with a bunch of monkeys through the gardens of the park, we hopped back in our beloved POS pick-up truck and headed back to Mutare. We stopped into a super market, picked up some supplies, and hired a taxi driver to take us to the Mozambican border. The traffic was brutal as loads of white Zimbabweans were making their way East for New Years Eve (it was December 27th) and the beaches of Mozambique.
The border was a pain in the butt. I sat in “line” with our American passports, waiting for our visas, forever. Apparently American passports are quite the customs magnet- the customs officials were insistent on letting us go first. By the time I got out of there I was despised by everyone in the immigration room, with one guy uttering, “Just because he has BLUE passports” numerous times. As soon as we crossed into Mozambique we were bombarded with guys trying to sell us their currency (the met) and soon after we found ourselves at the center of a price war as we calmly decided which bus to take to Chimoyo, the nearest city.
A quick trip of 75 kilometers, we made it to the inland city at around noon. Let me just say that at this point we had no idea how we were getting anywhere or where we were staying that night. Our ambitious goal was to get to Vilanculos, Mozambique, a beautiful beach town, by nightfall (look at a map, its not close). After several minutes of talking to bus drivers and taxi drivers in broken, broken, Spanish (yes, they speak Portuguese, I know), we realized that we miiiight have bit off more than we could chew.
Then we realized we were in a dirty, hot, inland town (when we SHOULD be on a beach), and it would be much more fun to wake up on the ocean than here. We would do whatever it took to get out of this place, today. We hired a guy, Xavi, to drive us the 600kms to Vilanculus, and though it was pretty expensive, we realized we had been living quite frugally, and a reward of sorts was OK at this point. I could talk about this trip, all 12 hours of it, in its own essay entitled, “The Portuguese Car Hire: How to get your driver to turn down his f-ing music if you can’t speak Portuguese.” (Quickly: turn down horrific “music,” jam headphones in his ears, and provide ad hoc DJing every time he screams, “CHANGE!”) Thanks for that, Hooter.
“Highlights” from the trip: Our driver didn’t speak English, drove 60kph the whole time (subtract 40kph every time you see a pothole), worst music ever at highest volume possible, paying off police, flat tire, lots of pineapples, occasional thoughts of we could be back in Zimbabwe for all I know, and arriving at 3am after getting stuck on a beach of a road with a driver who doesn’t know how to use his own 4-wheel drive.
We woke up in our tent-sauna, in Vilanculus, with the Indian Ocean never looking so good. We stayed in the town for two days, relaxing, swimming, recovering from our surreal drive, and reading horrible books like SANDSTORM by James Rollins (available on www.amazon.com for definitely $7.99 too much). The town was devoid of tourists, giving it a nice, laid back feeling, with backpackers’ hostels serving as the only accommodations. On December 30th, we got a ride into town, where we took a hysterical mini-taxi four hours south to Tofo Beach, to spend New Years Eve with four of our other interns. This mini-taxi was literally falling apart as we drove, there were several chickens on board, and my legs were about 10 inches too long for the “leg room” that I was allotted.
Tofo Beach is located on the Tofo Peninsula, and in order to get to our destination we would have to take a ferry from Maxixe (Ma-Sheesh). I voted for taking the tiny sailboat straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean, but I was overruled. We crossed the bay, got some food, and were retrieved by a shuttle from our hostel, Fatima’s Nest. After 45 minutes we were at our home. Interns, Mike Zales (Port Elizabeth), Karti Subramanian (Johannesburg), Jess Pettit (Cape Town), and Chris Kaimmer (Richmond) found us quickly- civilization!Arriving at Tofo kind of brought us back to reality – we were out of the wilderness and back into the real world. It had been a great run – Sarah, Amy, Hooter and I were still alive – no elephant tramples, no whitewater rafting mishaps, no killer hippos, and only a few food “situations” ;) ;). AND we still liked each other.. I think. It was an absolutely incredible experience, and each one of us played such an important roll and had such a great time. I could not have asked for anything more. Well, maybe some room service.
- At this point we rarely were sleeping past 7am, as the tent was no match for the heat of the Zimbabwean sun
- We had been on the road for 9 days at this point, which meant that I had been constantly sweating for 216 hours – hadn’t showered since Botswana but who’s counting
- It was unsafe to walk outside of our campground a few years ago due to elephants, but their numbers have been vastly reduced in recent years due to poaching and commercial and residential development
Part III: The Big Two-Six
December 22nd, 2009- one day before the most important birthday in a person’s life, the big two-six. We woke up in Mlibizi, really, really early, to catch the (at this point) practically mythical Lake Kariba ferry that would be our home away from home for the next 24 hours. Knowledgeable, dependable, tourist guides, agents, or anything for that matter, were few and far between in Zimbabwe. So it was no surprise that any inquiry concerning the near-fabled Lake Kariba ferry that we had made over the past week was met with confusion and skepticism. But Alas! When we woke up that morning it was in sight. It DOES exist!
We strolled onto the ferry, easily the only passengers sans car, and made claim to the smaller upstairs area with a group of other travelers we had become friendly with. The ferry was probably at 50% capacity, giving us a greater sense of comfort (yes, than even our tent granted us). Having lived on so little money over the past (almost) week, the $100 fee seemed paltry, especially once we realized all meals were included, and, wait for it, they let us into the captain’s area and let us use his binoculars!!
After navigating through a plethora of weeds that attempted to keep us at bay, the ferry chugged peacefully up the lake. We read, played games, watched the various animals grazing on the shores, and devoured buffet after buffet that were put in front of us. The sunset was amazing, the nighttime thunder spectacular, and the morning sunrise breathtaking. Our “what time is it, where am I, and where on earth are we supposed to stay tonight” only kicked in as the boat pulled into the Lake Kariba “harbor,” which consisted of, nothing. Luckily (is it really luck at this point?) the boat’s owner’s daughter gave us a ride in her pick up truck to the local supermarket, where we got pot-food and water. She proceeded to drop us off on the side of the road a couple of kilometers farther, pointing in the direction of a camp ground. Hitchhike numero uno lasted 5 minutes when a South African picked us up. I think the negligible waiting period was due to our intimidation factor being at a cool, Level Green, courtesy of the Happy Birthday balloons that littered the straps of my backpack
Our new campsite was located in an enclosed park on the edge of Lake Kariba. The $16 a night got us a great, grassy campsite, a braii, an outdoor bar with satellite tv (for our soccer pleasures), and a nice, warm pool. The bar sat on a secluded bay, home to a couple dozen of our friends, the hippopotami. We celebrated my 26th birthday in style, with a delicious meal of bread, potatoes, and pasta, and the remainder of our Johnny Walker Black that had made the trip with us all the way from the duty-free airport in JBurg. A Hooter-infused remix of “Happy Birthday” was followed by the presentation of a “lifestraw.” A “straw” with an innovative filter ensured that we would never run out of water again – we took it straight to the lake and took pulls as the other three eyed the lurking hippos. The festivities continued well into the night; we may or may not have convinced Amy that it included elephant sightings along the way.
The three nights we were on Kariba provided some serious R&R. The second day we ventured into the township next door for some Christmas Eve groceries, and were greeted by a hippo on our walk home. Luckily he was more intrigued by the grass he was munching on than Sarah’s look of shear terror. Physical funds were running low at this point, due to every ATM in the area being “out of order,” so our Christmas Eve feast was more of a modes meal (though delicious of course!). We went to bed early like usual- our ride was coming at 4:45am to take us to the township where our bus to the capital city of Harare was to pick us up. Christmas in Zimbabwe would have a rough start, though a memorable ending.
- Mbare residents emphasized the safety of the township, saying that there are very few guns, knives, and gangs. At least in my (albeit short) experience we did in fact feel far safer than in a township of South Africa.
- Every black Zimbabwean we met in Harare, whether in the suburbs or the township, spoke perfect English.
- When we hitchhiked to Vumba, the black driver tried to force all the black passengers in his flatbed out to make room for us, his “bosses.” We insisted on sharing the space.
Part IV: Merry Christmas from Mbare, Harare, Zimbabwe
We woke up at 4:30AM in Kariba, Zimbabwe, packed up our possessions, and disassembled our tent with military efficiency. One of the owners of the campground arrived promptly at 4:45AM to take us to the township, where we were to catch our bus the capital city of Zimbabwe, Harare. Dazed and confused we boarded the bus as dozens of inebriated (to say the least) men poured out of the bars. I guess Christmas Eve is a big party night in Zimbabwe. They drunkenly harassed us for food and “Christmas Boxes” (the name for ratios that had been donated to the politically unstable country in years past by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)). After 45 more stops the bus finally got going on the main stretch of road that led to Harare.
All things considered, that ride wasn’t horrible. The bus did break down 15 kms from Harare, but thankfully Hooter’s friend Garika (Gaza) Govati, whom we were meeting up with in the city, drove out and saved us. Gaza’s story is incredible. Having grown up in the township of Mbare, Harare, Gaza received a full scholarship to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Majoring in economics, he studied for a year at the prestigious London School of Economics, (LSE) before returning to Wesleyan to receive his degree in 2007. He now works in Johannesburg for the private equity firm, Emerging Capital Partners, and frequently returns to Mbare to see his family and friends, giving back to his mother and family for everything she did for him.
We wasted no time. Gaza drove us directly to his house, where we enjoyed a delicious, home cooked, Christmas dinner. His siblings, and mother in particular, treated us as family. It was an incredible feeling, and definitely one that we needed, as we each were slowly realizing that it was the first time we were spending Christmas away from our families. We spent the remainder of the day meeting friend after friend, attending party after party, well into the night. Every person we met was so excited to share the day with us, so excited to show us their home, and probably the most excited to give us beer after beer after beer. The night was complete when we each used Gaza’s phone to call our families; I think that sent everyone into tears (definitely my Mom). Drunk, exhausted, full, and happy, we checked into our hotel with a street football matched etched into our calendar for the next morning at 10AM, sharp sharp.
Surprisingly only a little hung-over, Amy, Hooter, and I, arrived back in Mbare right on time for kick-off. Gaza’s friends were setting up a makeshift sound system as the players and fans arrived to watch the match. Rocks formed the goals on far left side of each end of the road we were playing on, and bags tied tightly together served as our ball. The Zimbabwean’s passion for soccer became evident to me for the first time, as we danced, sang, and played throughout the afternoon.
After more beers in the township, we were invited to one of Gaza’s friend’s (who he met while studying at LSE) brother’s engagement party, a precursor to a 1000 person wedding to be held a few weeks later. Dozens of family members and friends attended the party, and we were all treated to an incredible dinner. One of the senior members in the family even sang an on-the-spot improvised tune celebrating the occasion. We were able to talk with much of the family, and it was quickly apparent that they were extremely well educated, having studied in London, traveled extensively to the United States meeting many dignitaries, and holding (or having held) high positions in Zimbabwe. It was an interesting contrast to the remarkable individuals that we were fortunate to have met in Mbare.
Again, we went to bed nice and early in our plush hotel beds (don’t take anything for granted, don’t take anything for granted!). We woke up nice and early, I stole our free breakfast, and Gaza drove us to Mbare, where we caught a 8 hour bus to the city of Mutare, just to the west of the Mozambique border. We hitch hiked 25kms south to the Vumpa Mountains in a dilapidated excuse for a pick up truck, holding on to each other for dear life. Famous for its incredible botanical gardens, and some of the best views in Africa, Vumpa did not disappoint. Birds, monkeys, lizards, and insects provided a symphony of music as our iPod speakers lay dead in my backpack. We listened silently, watching the sun set behind the mountains of Mozambique to the east. The next morning, the nickname for the area, the “Mountains of the Mist,” took its true meaning as low clouds obscured our view in every direction. The longest day of the trip had begun; it was 4:57AM.
Monday, February 8, 2010
- Zimbabwe police whether corrupt or actually interested in searching for weapons, stopped our car at least 7 times en route to Mlibizi.
- Our campsite in Mlibizi, perched on the Zambezi River, had a massive “Beware of Crocodiles” sign hanging on a nearby tree. A Dalmatian had been eaten by a 4m long croc the week before.
- The 24 hour long Lake Kariba ferry that we took was to run for the first time in 7 years. Talk about good luck!
- Our sole pot pulled a “reverse Michael Jackson.” Once bright and shiny, the thing now looks like a witch’s cauldron that has been subjected to a10 year inferno.
Part II: All you need in life is a pot, a little fork, and a massive tent
It’s true. Well, kind of. Like I said before, we really didn’t do the whole “prepare” thing. I insisted on bringing a pot more out of novelty than anything else. And the tent, the massive tent, was a money saver and a bicep exercise. We found the plastic fork at some fast food store – it lives today, but in a more deformed state. It became apparent soon after we left Victoria Falls that our pot and our tent would become our 5th and 6th companions on our trip.
We hitched a ride across the border into Botswana, and were immediately greeted by wilderness. No fences, very few people, and lots and lots of animals. We flagged down the first mini-taxi we saw, and courtesy of a little Hooter linguistical magic, arrived at our next home 20 minutes and $4 later. We set up our tent for the first time – a 6 person behemoth, and got to work making our very first one-pot meal (little did we know that 20 days later we would be reminiscing about the multitude of one-pot meals a family of four could cook). After a game of “Most likely to…” the four of us fell asleep under the Setswana stars- our first safari was kicking off at 5am.
Through a Jurassic Park style entrance (yes, this is how my brain works), our elevated four-wheel drive vehicle entered the world famous Chobe National Park, home to over 60,000 elephants, and some other crazy statistics of African wildlife that I can’t remember for the life of me. On the edge of my seat, camera in hand, and my mouth ready to make my now infamous “ooooooohhhhhhhh ______! (fill in the blank with an equally as girly animal)” squeal? I was ready.
The next three hours were impressive to say the least. We saw numerous antelope, many species of birds, cape buffalo, jackals, mongoose, monkeys, baboons, deer, hippos, crocodiles, elephants, and LIONS. All at extremely close range as well. The three lions we were lucky enough to see (apparently they are rarely spotted at Chobe) were hidden beneath a tree – our driver drove off the road around the tree, and we got a great glimpse at the two juveniles with their mother.
We headed back to our site, took a little dip at the nearby pool, and then jumped into a cruise boat for a sunset tour of the same park. Cocktails in hand the four of us basked in the sun on the Chobe River, with Botswana on our left and Namibia on our right. It was one of those “I bet you didn’t think you would be doing this a year ago” moments followed by a “please don’t let the boat break like it did on the Zambezi- there are hundreds of crocodiles and hippos in every direction.” Anyway, the memory ingrained in my brain from the cruise was dozens of elephants playing in the water with the sunset setting in the background. Incredible.
We came home that night and hit the sack after resorting to a lodge-cooked meal – the one-pot meal could wait until the next day, and the next, and the next. In the morning we hitched back to the border, and were retrieved by the same gentleman who drove us to Bots two days early. After stopping back in Victoria Falls briefly for supplies, he took us the 5 hours to Mlibizsi, Zimbabwe, where we were catching a 24 hour ferry the next morning that would take us up Lake Kariba to the town of Kariba in northern Zimbabwe.
Until next time!