Sunday, August 5, 2012

Day Three and Day Four: The Ugandan Lax Community

I am going to try and summarize the last few days although that is extremely hard as they have each been amazing and eventful. We are leaving tomorrow morning for Masaka, a much more rural area that does not have any running water and little electricity. I am excited to experience another environment here in Uganda as we have been in village and city up until this point. I will not be updating for the next week because of it.

Friday morning we went into Kampala to go to Sanyu Babies, an orphanage for babies and young children. These babies have been given up, abandoned, or left in unbelievable places to die. The organization has been around for a long time and houses up to fifty children at once. They also provide some education and as the kids get older, Sanyu does their best to stream them back into society and sometimes even reunites them with their original families. We were able to play with the children, help distribute and feed them lunch, and get them in to their beds for nap time (no easy task!!). It is really difficult to imagine being neglected in that way and then to be one in a family of fifty. They have a number of regular workers and they rely on help from volunteers like us but their are only so many hands and a lot of children asking to be held. The second I walked into the room, a little boy come up to me with his arms reached out. I picked him up and we hung out for the next hour. It was tough to leave because I always feel like the time we give, while it is something, is insufficient. I do know though, that without these kind of volunteers they would not be able to keep the place running. I wish I had pictures because these were some of the cutest kids I have ever seen, but it is completely understandable why we were not permitted to bring cameras in. 

We went back to the house after this and then went to the Ugandan men's nation team practice. The team has not been around all that long but they practice regularly now and plan on competing in the 2014 World Cup in Denver. Because the men's team didn't have enough players to have a full field scrimmage and because they love to play us mzungos, we all got together for a game. Amanda Macaluso (AMac), Caroline Gersuk (just Gersuk), and I all suited up in men's gear- helmet, gloves, stick, elbow pads. It was awesome. Let me tell you, the Ugandans do not take it easy on you just because you are a girl and they certainly like to hit! It is a little difficult passing with a guy's stick but the girls scored all of the goals for our team! 

Following that, we were able to work with the Women's National Team. While the program is in its infancy, they are working extremely hard to get girls to practices regularly and hopefully to compete in the 2017 World Cup. While they do not have strength in numbers, they are led by their amazing captain, Dora. To say she is amazing is an understatement because she works extremely hard as a player and leader to improve the team and the opportunities they have. She wants to learn so much. Dora is living at the FoG house right now so we get lots of quality time together. She always wants to watch the past NCAA championship games and is ready with questions. She has so much passion for the game and they are very lucky to have her. We spent the majority of our time working on shooting and using their left hands. After the practice was over, it was announced that we would be scrimmaging the girls the next day. They were so excited about this, and we even exchanged a little trash talking around the house over the next day! 

It was about 7:30pm when we finished up and Maurice asked if we wanted to go to a basketball game. I wasn't sure what to expect but it was awesome! They play all of their games on outdoor courts here and I felt like I was in Harlem at an And1 Mix Tape game (minus the fancy skills, and even some of the fundamental skills, haha). It was the number one and two teams in the Ugandan Pro League. There were some big dudes. We became instant fans of the Warriorz team and their tallest player, Gombya, in particular. This guy was 7'2  and looks like he had never run a day in his life. I asked Maurice about him and he told me that Gombya comes from Masaka, the area we are leaving for tomorrow. He was found randomly walking down the street there and was recruited to play in the league two years ago. He had never played and knew nothing about the sport.  It definitely shows still, but he is certainly a fan favorite. The Warriorz ended up upsetting the Power so of course I had to storm the court. I went right up to Gombya and told him he was awesome and then nailed the Ugandan handshake. I was so proud of myself, the handshake takes a bit to get down perfectly. I also found out that these guys only get paid $2 a day! They do it purely for love of the game. I am hoping Gombya comes out to the lax championship next weekend as I have  been told he does sometimes. Shouldn't have trouble spotting him! I should also note that I had one of the best hotdogs I have ever had at this game. Who would have thought? 

Okay, on to Saturday-

I woke up Saturday morning to the smell of fresh made Chapati and I knew that Oscar must have been hard at work in the kitchen! When I walked in I noticed he was wearing a Buffalo Bills Eric Moulds jersey! Obviously he had no ideas who they were but I was so excited. So then he referred to it as Buffalo swag, haha. After our delicious breakfast we went to Makerere University for the Kings Cup. The top four teams from the Men's Ugandan league would play in the semi-finals and then the Championship would be the following Saturday. On the way, Drew, one of the FoG coordinators organizing our visit, pointed out the Baha'i Temple to me. It was incredible to me because the only one in the United States is in Evanston and there are only eight in the world. 

Once we arrived at Makerere, we began to set up the field including stringing goals and lining the field. Over the course of the day there were two games played - the first was between The Strykers and The Kings with The Strykers coming out victorious the second game was The Warriarz upsetting the defending league champs, Oneonta. The outcome of the games was far from the best part about the day. First off all, to see lacrosse being played in Uganda in general, is very surreal. It is so exciting to see the game continuing to grow at a global level and especially in an area such as Uganda. You have to remind yourself for a minute that you are not back home in the states at a tournament. So many people come out to watch the games, the teams all support each other, and the fans go crazy after big hits and nice plays. It was such a strong community built already, which doesn't surprise me because that is just a natural part of the Ugandan culture. I had the awesome job of being tournament photographer! Not only did I take pictures of the games but I also helped take profile pictures of all of the team members so they can post them online. 

While I was busy taking pictures,  I had some awesome interactions with a number of the local kids. There were two brothers wandering around, watching the tournament, and playing with the lacrosse sticks. It is amazing the way that the older brother was caring for the younger one. I have seen this a lot here, where kids are out on their own for long amounts of time. A lesson in self sufficiency. The one little boy could not manage to hold up his own lacrosse stick but was so excited just to chase down the balls. I met another boy named George, who is eleven and plays with the youth team. I let him use my camera and he became quite the photographer- snapping shots left and right, different angles, different focuses. I was pretty impressed for a kid who has never really used a camera. 

The Ugandans in general are extremely friendly and as a result, I met just about every player on each team, including Bob Narry. I thought that was his real name (because Bob is a first name, is it not?) but apparently Bob Narry means "money is fire", which is his hip-hop name. I can relate, seeing as I have a rapper name as well- Capital Hil. I then proceeded to tape him freestyling for me. Not enough space on here for that, but it is pretty entertaining (at least the parts I can comprehend). "Sitting here hangin' with Capital Hil..." I believe that is how it starts. 

In between the two games, we scrimmaged with the women's team. While my team did not win, it was fun to get to there and play with the girls. We definitely have things to work on, but you have to start somewhere and they are off to a great start. After the game, we overheard Dora giving a rousing speech to team. She told the girls that they need to be committed day in and day out if they want to be successful. That they cannot just show up and play and that it takes a whole lot of handwork to get to that next level. I don't see how they can fail with her leading the charge. I look forward to working with them more when we return from Masaka. 

This was definitely the most rewarding day and after we all went back to the house, we ended the night having a campfire. The best part was that we had a surprise visit from one of the players, Tabu. Tabu is amazing. I actually had the opportunity to guard him in the game we played and he is not a small dude. This guy is full of energy and has the biggest heart. We all went around and mentioned a word for the day. My word was "appreciation".  Not only am I appreciative of this opportunity and of the way that everyone has welcomed me during my time here, but I also love seeing how appreciative everyone is here for the opportunity to play. You saw it on their faces when they won and you saw it on their faces when they lost. You saw it in the young kids faces who were cheering on their heroes who they aspire to be like some day. Tabu spoke up and said how thankful he is to have all of us here. He told us how happy he was to be able to share the day with us and even into the night. He has the biggest heart and the biggest smile. The only one who competes is probably his son Trevor, his biggest fan. 

Alright, my three: Dora for pushing herself and her team to be better every day, all of the awesome FoG people who help run this organization, and the USC coaching staff- miss you guys and can't wait for this year!! 

That's it for the week! Until next time.


We've got major flow
Look out!
Me talking to Dora about using left handed shooting
Buffalo Swaggg
Kings vs. Strykers
The brothers
Tabu's son, Trevor
Us with the Ugandan Women's Team

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