Friday, October 1, 2010


Now that I have been home for a week I have had a chance to reflect upon my trip.  Of course there are the simple things that I was thrilled to get back in my life upon arrival at Dulles Airport:

§         A toilet (instead of a hole in the dirt – their holes make jiffy johns look immaculate)
§         A toilet seat (instead of just the toilet when I was lucky enough to have a toilet)
§         Toilet paper! (instead of always carrying around a wad with me in my pockets and backpack)
§         A sink, soap and paper towels to wash my hands…that is the ultimate grand slam! You would have thought I had won the lottery when I had all these things and saw how clean the bathroom was in Dulles International Airport.
§         Cleanliness!  Ahhh, the joy of a hot shower anytime of the day versus an intermittent cold water drip.

I cannot say enough good things about what this trip has done for me and how it has changed me.  There are so many stories that it can be hard to know where to begin when someone asks me, “How was your trip?”  But beyond the stories and photos there have been deeper insights for me upon settling back into my life….

One of the things that struck me immediately upon arriving at Dulles (besides the bathrooms) was how busy and unhappy many people looked in the airport.   We complain about the minutia and create drama where none should exist.  We are so busy with life and letting life happen to us – we allow ourselves to get wrapped up in the “have to’s”, the “should’s”, and so called “needs”.  We have so much STUFF, yet we WANT more, though we NEED none of it.  We get sucked into having to “keep up with the Joneses”.  We feel compelled to be productive every second of our days, cramming every instant full, yet still never getting it all done.  The lists, the never ending lists – WHOA, what a minute, I was looking in the mirror -- that is ME I am describing!!!  I had hit the nail on the head with a giant sledgehammer.

Nothing in our lives is critical.  Relatively speaking our lives are EASY.  We NEVER in our entire lives wake up worrying about our daily survival.  We don’t spend our entire waking existence growing our food, walking miles to get wood for the fire, collecting potable water or building our own homes out of mud, thatch or the bricks we fire ourselves.  Don’t get me wrong I am not about to donate all my belongings to charity and become a gypsy, however, I certainly cherish my life more than ever before and now there is simply joy and happiness where there used to be frustrations and annoyances over nothing.  We are so absorbed in our lives here and caught up in our immediate ‘world’ that surrounds us that we cannot fully comprehend the lives of most of the rest of the world.  I have been grinning from ear to ear ever since I returned home.  I am SO thankful to have been given this opportunity to broaden my view of the world.  The freedom and prosperity that we enjoy here is like no other place on the planet. 

I wonder though do we even hear the birds chirping in the trees?  See the butterfly dancing across the air?  Smell the fresh cut grass?  Do we pause to enjoy the blazing sunset?  Do we eat dinner with our loved ones?  Do we make time to sit still?  Do we talk to each other eye to eye or just virtually?  Ultimately the final question though is, do we really appreciate all that we have?  I thought I did, but now I have gotten to a whole new level of gratitude.  I am incredibly grateful that I was born in America, to loving parents in a supportive family, with caring friends, and have been blessed with every opportunity available that I could ever possibly need. 

Despite the struggles we all endure at various stages of our lives, we are all extremely fortunate here and it is purely chance that we were born in this country versus some other place in the world.  I don’t think it is possible to truly ‘get it’ until you lose what you have or see what life is like for most of the rest of the world.  And in fairness to all of us it is hard to fully appreciate all that we have when we know no other way.  There is no need to feel guilty over our good fortune, but I do believe there is a responsibility that comes with prosperity.  We have the responsibility to make the most of our opportunities, to take full advantage of what we have, but also to “pay it forward” by sharing our knowledge, time, and love to enrich the lives of those around us to develop, grow and fully experience this wonderful ride of life.
Thank you Tanzania!  My view of the world has expanded and my place in it has forever changed.  That is the best gift of all that I received from this journey -- perspective. 

My only wish is that everyone could have a similar experience. 

This is my final blog and I will leave you all with one last thought…

FULLY CONNECT TO LIFE WITH YOUR HEART.  You will be amazed how enriched your life will become.

Post session Group Hug in Kigoma

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


After all the serious tomes I have posted I figured it is about time that I insert some humor into my blogs.  So here is a little insight into some of the other things I saw and did while in Tanzania.

Early Sunday morning in Kigoma, therefore a rare empty Dalla Dalla
Africa Time - All I know about time is in America it accelerates as the day wears on.  The more you try to jam in your day the faster the day goes by which inevitably means of course you never seem to have enough time to get everything done in your day.  African time on the other hand couldn't be any further from that.  I don’t know how, the clocks there just tick slower and their days expand while ours contract.  Consequently, there is no urgency to get anything done as there is always more time in the day.  For example if we were to get picked up at 9:30a for a 10a session that meant we might be lucky to be met at 10a to learn that we don't have a car and instead need to leisurely walk as slowly as humanly possible to the bus stand to jam into the local dalla dalla (think beat up '50's VW van) with at least 25 of your soon to be closest friends.  That ‘bus’ would then make at least 10 stops over the next 2 miles making sure maximum capacity was always maintained…meaning every inch of the van was filled with, man, woman, child, chicken, or rice.  Of course the poor vehicle struggled to move under the weight of such a heavy burden that I probably could have run to my destination faster.  We would finally arrive to the field around 11a for our 10a session, but no need to stress because we would be lucky if 3 of the 15 coaches were there.  Nothing ever starts on time, but the funny thing was that every session HAD to end on time.  Of course for longer travel everything adjusts accordingly.  Time, numbers, and distances really aren’t concrete fixed figures like you have been led to believe our whole lives, not in Africa at least.  In Africa they are all very abstract terms.  Hence when we were scheduled to drive from Kigoma to Geita on Sunday at 2p, it actually meant Monday morning at 6a...close.  The 5 hour drive became nearly a 9 hour expedition. Why ask will only go insane, just like the Pyramids it is one of the beautiful mysteries of Africa

Food – All of you who know me, know that I am a food zealot.  Not only do I love to eat, but I love to eat well.  Meaning I love fresh, whole, real food.  So before leaving the U.S. in August as I thought about the challenges I would face in Tanzania one of the main issues I thought I might struggle with was food.  Well, certainly Tanzania lacks the plethora of choices that we have in the States, but food was not and issue for me.  Granted I took a fair supply of bars with me, but here is what I found to be true about their food.  It was plentiful, fresh, and NOT PROCESSED!  J (well except the bread?)
1.      Free-range, anti-biotic free & no growth hormones! – No, it isn’t going to be labeled or marketed that way, but rest assured your chicken is free range and has no drugs in it.  In fact you might have nearly tripped over your chicken as you came into the restaurant it is that fresh.  And that kuku (Swahili for chicken), that is an accent piece to your rice and beans, is far too skinny to have ever been pumped with growth hormones.
2.      Local & fresh – Farmer’s markets are EVERYWHERE!  I loved being able to get fresh fruit on literally every street we were on, every day.  The mandarin oranges were by far my favorite.  The peels came falling off and the flavor was like none other.  Also in season were watermelon, pineapple, papaya, and always LOTS of bananas.  Much to my dismay though the mangoes don’t come in until December.  L  In addition the mini-bananas were fabulous, just the right size when you needed a small snack and you just didn’t want a whole banana.  And eating actual passion fruit and not just the juice was delicious!

Brian at Geita Market
3.      Ugali – Africa’s paste-y, (NOT PASTRY), blander version of southern grits.  Worth trying.  A nice change from rice.  And you get to have fun using your hands to form the playdough consistency mush into a ball to sop up all the yummy sauce.
4.      Bread – It remains a mystery to me.  All bread in Tanzania was white.  Not once did I see any wheat bread.  And never did I see any fresh local bread besides the fried chapatti.  Weird.

Livestock – “A Valuable ASSet”

Outside our hotel. This is NOT a statue.
Pluses and minuses for these fellas…not much food to go around, so you have to be an opportunistic grazer if you are going to survive long enough to even consider getting slaughtered.  Good thing is they get to enjoy their life unfettered setting a new “free range” standard for livestock around the globe to aspire to, roaming wherever they want, whenever they want -- even if it is right down the center of main street or eating the only green grass in Tanzania from the front lawn of the local hotel (so beware of their strategically placed landmines as you walk through town).  The Geita goats are SO SMART they even use the raised cross walk to cross the road.  Seriously!  And they weren’t being led by a human.  Don’t ask me how everyone knows whose cow is whose and whose donkey is whose, but apparently it is a non-issue. 

Noise – Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined small villages in Africa could be so loud.  Dreams?  Don’t expect to dream because you will be lucky if you get to sleep!  Electricity is sporadic, people don’t own TV’s, radios, or PlayStations, they don’t have computers or regular land telephones…and the chickens can only cluck so loud and cows only moo in unison when it is a full moon, so really how loud could it get?  Pack your earplugs was what I was told.  Done.  NOT ENOUGH! 
1.      Disco - Every town has a local disco and that disco is rockin’ EVERY night from about 10p – 2a guaranteed because it is the ONLY thing in town to do. 
2.      Mosques – Just like the disco, every town has AT LEAST one.  Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against Muslims, but I simply do not understand why the call to prayer must come at 4:45a, 5a, and then again at 5:15a, etc, etc. Just when you are drifting back into sleep the wailing starts again to jolt you right out of bed as it broadcast at volumes for the entire village to hear whether you are Muslim or not.  I thought prayer was supposed to be a quiet, methodical, peaceful connection with God, Allah, Buddah or whomever you worship.  I was wrong. 
3.      Politicians – Gotta love ‘em!  It is an election year in Tanzania, but since no one owns a TV, radio, or computer how is a politician supposed to garner support and raise awareness?  Well by driving through every town with a massive intercom system strapped to the back of a truck to broadcast their message for everyone to hear within a 50 miles radius of course!
4.      Roosters - As for the roosters, they were a mere drop in the bucket and were hardly audible over the rest of the racket.  Their day break announcement was nary the sound of a cricket in comparison. 

Smells – I will have to refer to one of my well used mantras for goalkeeping, when it came to the smells in Africa… “Breathe In.  Breathe Out.  MOVE ON.”  Lesson in goalkeeping, lesson in life! 

Unfortunately clean air is hard to come by in Africa.  Due to the lack of infrastructure there is no waste management.  The local dump truck doesn’t weave its way through the village picking up trash every week and there is no local dump to haul your trash to.  They recycle and reuse as much as they can (from what I could tell a lot more than we do) and trash is burned.  So that wonderful stench you are breathing while sucking for air on the soccer field is the smoke of burning trash inches away from the side of the field.  Not exactly healthy, but at least they are dealing with their trash as best they can.  In Kigoma there was also the pervasive smell of fish as you walked through downtown.  Sardines, fresh fish, and odd looking curled up (tail to head) charred fish that I believe they dug out of the sand bars and burnt.  While in Geita there was the additional charming smell of donkey, cow, and goat droppings to enjoy over our dinners on the patio since the entire town apparently was their barnyard.

Transportation – “Are we there yet?”

1.      Dalla Dalla (see above)

2.      Bikes, bikes, LOTS of bikes, and BIKE TAXIS! – 
This is a LIGHT load, SERIOUSLY!
First of all let me just say I cannot believe how much an African can balance on their broken down, beat up bike and still use it!  50 pound sacks of maize, flour, sugar…wood piled higher than your head and wider that 3  bodies, 6 foot long corrugated metal roofing sheets rolled up and strapped across longways, you name it, they’ll carry it and then some….it defies gravity!    Of course since I am a cyclist when I am at home I couldn’t go 3 weeks without getting on a bike.  I wasn’t brave enough to hop on a bike taxi, although from what I could tell they looked pretty safe.  For a few cents you sit on the back seat above the tire and hold onto a mini handlebar that is located just behind the driver’s seat while the driver pedals you wherever you need to go in town.  Not bad!  I was craving the wind in my face, but unable to relinquish my control of the handlebars and since I didn’t want to get a first hand look at the local hospital I passed on the bike taxi opting to give African bikes a spin using my own 2 legs.  Perhaps they could teach me the secrets to becoming a jedi master of bike balancing?  The first bike I tried brought me back to the days of Fred Flinstone using my feet for brakes.  Look out!  The second bike I nicknamed “Christine” after the legendary car in the ‘80’s horror flick since it had a mind of its own.  “Christine” changed gears at the most inopportune moments when I needed to pedal the most going up hills.  It all relates back to Africa Time though…you are not meant to go fast or get anywhere anytime soon– there is no rush.

Bike #1

Look Mom, no hands!  YIKES, I mean NO BRAKES!

3.      Taxis – Be prepared to haggle.  You are a mzungu and hence you will be charged a minimum of 2 times too much while they are telling “I give you good rate ‘cuz you my friend”.  Right!  Great part is everything is negotiable, it is a set rate which you agree upon with the driver, there is a ton of competition for your fare, (so feel free to ask someone else), and every driver I had was friendly and trustworthy.

4.      Automobiles, Jeeps, Range Rovers, etc - Since accidents somehow miraculously never occur in their world there really is no need for seatbelts.  They are certainly optional, but should you choose to wear one you will inevitably be in the seat with the broken one.  These vehicles have nearly the powers of Superman in that they can “clear a tall building in a single bound”, or better yet straddle goats and chickens, cross massive ravines, bounce off trees, hurdle boulders, and almost run on water and dirt…ALMOST.  Pre-requisite to drive any such treasured vehicle is that you must be a master mechanic as your fuel will inevitably be mixed with water wreaking massive havoc on your fuel pump at the absolute most inconvenient time, so YOU better know how to fix it because the Masaai warrior who finds you after being stranded for 3 days won’t.  

The drive to Geita

This is their version of a local mechanic/garage.

      Also, African rules state that car engines MUST stay running WHILE pumping fuel.  Not sure why, but I think it relates to, you guessed it, Africa Time…since time is of no consequence in every other part of their lives I think this is where they make up for all the other lost time in their day.  Or perhaps since their fuel is mixed with so much water the risk of an explosion is non-existent. That explains why the sides of their fuel tankers say, “UNFLAMMABLE” instead of “INFLAMMABLE”.  Ahhhh, now it is all making sense!  (some things just don’t seem to translate from Swahili to English properly)
5.      Ferries – Time, yes again Africa Time.  Schedules were meant to be broken.  A 9:30a ferry really means 10a departure, but you better be there at 9a to get your spot in the log jam as no one understands the meaning of a line in this country.  And the 2 hour “Fast Ferry” really means 3 because you will come to a tidal wave generating lurching stop to let the massive tankers creep out of port before you can enter.  Let me stress, don’t ever try to maintain a tight schedule to get from Point A to Point B.  Humanly impossible. 
6.      Your own 2 feet. - We walked a ton in Kigoma and Geita and it was great.  Great exercise and a great way to interact with the locals.  Just be warned though that traffic in Tanzania does drive on the wrong side of the road (thanks to the former British rule) and pedestrians NEVER have the right of way.  You will most definitely hear a honk and if you don’t move you will get hit.  Somehow no one ever gets hit though which is certainly a miracle considering the non-stop stream of bikes and pedestrians on every road, (sidewalks?  what are those?), how poor the ‘roads’ (I use this term VERY loosely) are, and the psycho RedBull fueled drivers of the Dalla Dallas.  And beware of lurking blackholes along the ‘sidewalk’ that are easily large enough to suck up a whole leg and most certainly break an ankle as well as ravines big enough to kill a small cow, that, should you dare, can be crossed to get to the local ‘convenience’ store on a rickety, splintering 1x4 excuse for a plank of wood.  In addition there are random placed death traps (trash holes) to watch out for in the most obvious and safest of locations…for instance a primary school playground!  But of course, why didn’t I think of that?  These holes are humongous (at least 6-8 feet deep and 4-6 feet across) and easily capable of swallowing several children at a time without anyone knowing about it for days.  Certainly they serve a good purpose to burn and bury the trash in, but they appear with no warning and have nothing to prevent you from falling into them (read MASSIVE lawsuit in America).  Good luck surviving if you are walking at night!  This, of course, explains why all Africans walk slowly because your life and limbs depend upon it, which gets us back to Africa Time…

There is just no need to rush through life, so my advice is to just sit back and set your watch to Africa Time.  While it most certainly will get you fired here in the States, we all might be a lot less stressed.  ;-) 

Somewhere out there, perhaps in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, likely where the Bermuda Triangle sits, exists the perfect balance between Africa Time and US Rat Race Time…the idyllic time zone where you have all the time you need, everything gets done, and there is still time left for enjoying life.   



Back to Geita – Geita had a much different vibe.  Starting at the top with the Executive Director of the Region, Mr. Tatala (as best I can tell his role would be akin to a state governor in the US, I think?), there was strong leadership and support for sport, and girls in sport, throughout the Geita region.  They are already in the midst of establishing a central sports center at the Kalangalala Secondary School in Geita.  Of course what you and I envision of as a sports complex here in the States is NOTHING like what they mean.  However, by their standards this is most certainly a sport center and a great step.  Their complex has a soccer field (this was the first ‘field’ we saw with lines dug into the soil, it had permanent metal goal posts and it was relatively level compared to the others we had seen), a netball court, a ‘track’ (an imprecise set of lanes dug into the soil and marked with lime dust in an oval encircling the field), and a second netball court is in progress.  They also hope to build a fence around the school to enclose all the facilities to prevent locals from walking and biking across their complex as well as livestock from grazing on it.   In addition 2 future sport centers are already in the plans for the region. 

Underneath Mr.Tatala there were 3 other key figures that we met with; Mr. Mfungu (Cultural & Sport Officer of Geita), Ms. Mary Mpemba (Director of Sport), and Mr. Deus (Headmaster of Kalangalala Secondary School).  All three are already on board with the importance of sport and were eager to discuss strategies to enhance and develop what they have already started in Geita.  Their main issue (similar to Kigoma) and top priority is to secure more equipment – primarily soccer balls!  They also expressed a need for shorts for the girls to play in versus their school skirts which restrict them from moving freely and make them self conscious.  Additionally, the coaches need more direction, structure and follow up from a point person (which should be the Director of Sport) to keep them organized and all moving forward on the same page. 

Coaches of Geita

We worked with 50 coaches every afternoon that were VERY eager to learn, but they will need structure and leadership to keep this momentum going for the rest of the year and ultimately to make the program sustainable.  These coaches were so motivated to learn that about 30 of these coaches came out in the mornings to participate and observe when we were running sessions for the children too!  The goal is to grow their sports program to include more young players (under age 10) and add more girls, as 95% of the coaches we asked did NOT work with girls – which is simply not acceptable for a program that is trying to develop and teach life skills through soccer.  Girls must be encouraged to participate and given equal opportunity.  Through sport they gain self esteem and will learn that they are capable of achieving more than they realized was possible.

Donating pencils to the Kalangalala School from Dynasty Goalkeeping

At the Kalangalala Secondary School they did have one requirement of their students that was vastly different from the expectations that most schools put on our students here in the States.  Their students are responsible for taking care of the school grounds.  This means raking leaves, sweeping, planting flowers and shrubs, watering plants, pruning trees, and cutting the ‘grass’ from their soccer field.  This not only teaches them responsibility, but they learn the necessary skills to manage their own future household while developing a sense of appreciation and pride in what they are developing and maintaining.  And no they don’t have riding mowers or state of the art equipment!  The tools that I witnessed the students using to cut the grass might as well have been from the Stone Age.  They were using what looked like a long machete that curved at the end.  It was a long flat blade that was so dull it would have been just as effective to try to cut what little clumps of ‘grass’ they had by swinging a golf club.  While I may be a bit of a psycho gardener and will weed my entire lawn by hand, I felt awful for these young students as it seemed that it would be a never ending chore.  Coincidentally I saw this same rudimentary tool being used at a small regional airport to whack down their tall grass…again it seemed like such an activity in futility to me and I was wishing that these poor souls could at least have one of our old school, no engine, rotary push mowers.

I am thankful for these few days I have had in Geita for the gold in Geita is not just confined to the mines, it is in the hearts of the people in this community.  I left Kigoma unsure of my purpose and disheartened, but in a matter of a few days I have come full circle.  Between my time on the field with children who never wanted the sessions to end, (watch video of them here, to the girls who taught me to play netball while waiting for our ride, to the coaches, teachers, and parents who volunteer their time and stayed after sessions to ask questions and met with us between sessions to enrich themselves so they can give back to their community, to the former Tanzanian National Team striker, Mnenge Suluja, who works in the mine, but is also coaching and giving back to the sport he loves – because of all of this I left re-invigorated. 

Tracy & Mnenge Suluja

I am hopeful again that progress is being made for the girls in Tanzania.  The parents and leaders of Geita do value both their sons AND daughters attending not only secondary school, but university as well.  So while Kigoma is not only further down the road and off the beaten track (literally and figuratively), it doesn’t mean that there is no hope.  If it can be done in Geita, it can be done in Kigoma.  Change takes time and it will take a little longer to reach Kigoma.  Just look at how far we have come in our support of girls in sport in American since Title IX went into effect in 1972.  We have made massive strides in just 38 years and so too can Tanzania.

So as my volunteer work concludes I leave Tanzania inspired that there are good people here willing do to whatever it takes to create positive environments to develop and educate future generations.  They are keenly aware that education is a critical piece of the equation for Tanzania to progress slowly out of poverty and develop as a nation and are working hard towards that end.  The challenges are real and many, but if they can stay positive and do as much as I have already seen with so little, they will get there. 



Brian and I just completed our volunteer work in Geita.

Geita is located about 300 miles north of Kigoma, which is roughly the same distance as Chapel Hill, NC to Washington D.C.  A drive that would take roughly 4.5 hours here equated to a bone jarring, teeth chattering, head bumping 8.5 hour joy ride.  And if you haven’t already read Brian’s blog entry about that adventure you REALLY need to:  

Geita is located in the highlands just south of Lake Victoria so it enjoys slightly milder temperatures than Kigoma, but more importantly it has developed around one of Africa’s largest gold mines.  It is similar in size and population to Kigoma, (Geita is roughly 120,000 compared with Kigoma’s 135,000 based on the 2007 census), but due to the influence of the mine Geita’s economy is richer and more diverse.  While Kigoma relies heavily upon fishing from Lake Tanganyika and agriculture with most inhabitants struggling to exist primarily upon sustenance farming, Geita has grown primarily around the local gold mine.  And while the mine only employs a few thousand, which is a small percentage of the local population, a lot of other businesses have sprouted up to support the mining industry such as welding, carpentry, hotels, and the local hospital (which is the biggest in the region), thus bringing more money and opportunity to the region in comparison to the isolated Kigoma.

And while we are on the topic of the basic economic structure of Geita and Kigoma I thought these facts, which I found online while researching their populations, would be of interest:

§         90% of the work force in Tanzania is devoted to farming.
§         Tanzanian women walk for up to 6 hours to get the wood to cook for 5 days. (I can certainly attest to that with the amount of women I saw walking in the middle of nowhere, far from any village, while driving from Kigoma to Geita)
§         In Tanzania almost 50% of the population is under 15 years old.
§         In the Kigoma region, families’ annual per-capita income is lower than $100 and it costs roughly $70 dollars a year to attend secondary school.
§         An American citizen consumes as much as 179 Tanzanian citizens.
§         On average, life expectancy in Tanzania is 46 years, 32 years less than an American!
§         67.8% of the population in Tanzania can read, but only 56.8% of women can read and write.
§         The majority of children in Tanzania speak two languages, the tribal dialect and the national language (Swahili), in addition to English which is learnt at school.

So due to the slight insertion of more money from the mining industry into the local economy, families in Geita have a slightly better financial picture.  Consequently more families have the ability to support their children not only through secondary school, but sometimes even university and their view of the importance of education was markedly different from that in Kigoma.

As listed above, in Kigoma (one of the poorest regions in Tanzania), many families don’t have the money to send their children to secondary school which is the equivalent of our high school.  Primary school (grades 1-7) is free in Tanzania.  However, there aren’t enough teachers or classrooms to provide for all the children and they suffer from a lack of funding for the basic books, paper, pens, and pencils so often times even though primary school is ‘free’, it isn’t truly available for all and the quality can be poor. 

Secondary school is roughly $70/year and in addition uniforms, books, and school supplies must be bought.  A family whose annual income is less than $100 simply cannot afford this.  In addition culturally these small villages are still living as if it was 100 years ago in mud huts with dirt floors, thatched roofs, and no water or electricity where the woman’s role was to be the housewife.  So in addition to not having enough income to afford school, many do not see the purpose of spending money to educate a girl whose future role is just to be a housewife.  So if there is money available and a choice must be made between a son and a daughter attending school, the son will get the opportunity.  The girl is given no chance and no choice.

The other shocking information I learned in Kigoma is that parents will ‘sell’ their daughters virginity for money.  In some small village there is still the belief that having sex with a virgin will cure you of AIDs, but primarily it is done solely for the monetary gain.  A man will negotiate and pay the parents a one time fee to have sex with their young daughter (often times just 13 or 14 years old!) claiming they will continue to financially support the soon to be pregnant young girl and her future child.  Of course the man disappears after having sex paying the parents an agreeable amount to stay quiet.  Shocking, disgusting, and sad – at the age of 13 a young girl’s life is irrevocably changed because of a short sighted dire financial decision by her parents.

So while my experiences with the kids and coaches of Kigoma were overwhelmingly positive, I must admit in retrospect that I left Kigoma a bit disheartened and frustrated with the lack of support for girls’ participation in sport.  Getting girls involved in sport at a young age is critical because the girls learn that they have a voice and a choice.  They become empowered and confident, as well as more motivated to stay in school so they can change their lives.  Through sport they see that anything is possible.  Patience is the key – these cultural issues are deeply ingrained in their society and financially many are handcuffed – change takes time.  Thankfully they at least have Nico and a small core of dedicated CaC coaches!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Kickin' It In Kigoma

September 5, 2010
Our week in Kigoma has just finished.  Kigoma is a small town located on the western part of Tanzania on Lake Tanganyika (the longest and second deepest lake in the word).  It is primarily a fishing and agricultural based economy.

We had 5 training sessions with the coaches and ran 6 training sessions for girls and boys ages 5-16+ in the area.  We worked with the same group of coaches every morning and traveled to different local schools in the afternoon.

It has been a very fulfilling week for Brian (my fellow CaC volunteer here) and I.  While this is my first experience coaching in Africa, Brian has already run programs in S.Africa and Malawi .  He has been extremely helpful getting me settled and up to speed with the way things work in Africa .  I have learned a lot about the culture and challenges they face to successfully run sport programs here in Kigoma. 

All of the coaches we worked with in Kigoma are volunteers.  Many are teachers, a few are former players, and most were mothers or fathers.  They coach for the same reasons as we do – they love the game of soccer, they enjoy playing with the children and they want to provide opportunities for the children in the community to learn and be healthy.  We had 7 female coaches in our group of 20 coaches which made me very pleased. 
All were eager to learn and participate.  By the end of the week when we had them run practice coaching sessions everyone had improved.  A few of the coaches were repeat coaches who had attended CAC sessions here in Kigoma in 2008 and 2009.  Their experience and confidence was obvious in comparison to the newer coaches.  It was great to have them back not only to continue their development but to connect them with the other coaches in the community.  So now they have a foundation of 20 coaches with the same coaching curriculum, philosophy, and similar methodology to build upon.  And Nico, the local director of sport in Kigoma will oversee these coaches.  Checking in on them routinely to watch training sessions, and to make sure that each coach is establishing both a girls and boys team in their respective areas/school.

I love working with the children here.  To sum it up in one word -- AMAZING!  When Brian and I arrive at a field we feel a lot like the pied piper. 

As soon as we arrive one boy inevitably acts like the town crier announcing our arrival by shouting "Mzungu!" (Swahili for white person) 

And then hundreds of children flock from every direction, escorting us on the 200 yard walk to the field to make sure we don't get lost.  When we arrive, they encircle us, staring at us making us feel like the latest addition to a zoo.  It can be disconcerting at times.  I am sure if we stood there all day doing nothing, they would not move either and continue their watchful vigil over us.

A typical session would begin with~20-30 kids, but end with anywhere from 60-90 kids participated and usually 30+ more watching from mere inches away.  We never know exactly how many players we will have at a session and it changes by the minute during a session anyway -- equal groups one minute and the next moment you look 2 kids have left and 5+ new ones have jumped in at the end of a line!  Time and numbers are very loose concepts here in Tanzania (affectionately known as "Africa time") so as a coach you have to be very creative, adaptable, and flexible.

The conditions here?  Tanzania is just about 3 degrees south of the equator so it is hot , sunny, and about 90 degrees every day.  It is the middle of the dry season, so the fields are extremely dry -- think concrete!  They are a combinations or red clay, sand, and mainly there is just dust everywhere.  In addition there are rocks, trash, and glass.  Nets?  What nets.  Goals?  We are lucky if we show up to a field and there are 2 tree limbs for uprights (often times they are taken for firewood). 

There are also goats and chickens grazing on the fields, depositing 'land mines' strategically, as well as foot paths and even roads right through the middle of fields. 

And don't expect the cars or mopeds to to arrange your training in an area that avoids the road as they will just honk and expect you to get out of their way.  And the fields are anything BUT flat...there are massive potholes, ravines, craters, hills, bumps and drop offs.  Ankles and ACL's beware!  Equipment?  We actually have been quite fortunate in that we had 7 'balls' (2 were volleyballs) for the 70+ players we trainined in the afternoons plus the 13 cones I shoved in my bag at the last second before leaving the US.  There are no lines, no shin guards, no pinnies, no fancy warm-ups, and usually no balls.  This is actually the biggest issue they face here--not enough balls.  they are lucky if they have one and often times they play with a "street ball"  made from plastic grovery bags bound up over and over again by bits of twine they find in the street.

The children show up for training either barefoot, with one shoe, or typically in flip flops (which are quickly converted to forearm guards so they don't lose them).  They wear second hand clothes (most from the US) torn and tattered.  The girls typically play in their school uniforms (shirts and a white blouse) or in their sarongs (a large piece of cloth tightly wrapped around as a skirt also known as kangas here), so they are very restricted and not free to move as an athlete.

Yet despite all these conditions I have described the children smile, laugh, and are happy!  They are so excited and eager to play and learn.  They listen and watch intently.  They patiently wait their turn, laugh, cheer, and encourage their friends and teammates.  They step on rocks, stubs toes, get stepped on, and fall down, but they NEVER complain, cry, or whine!  It is brilliant!  Watching one of our practices from the perimeter is much like seeing "Pig Pen" in a Charlie Brown cartoon. 

There is a massive cloud of dust and dirt that builds, encircling the group until it engulfs us all.  Consequently we leave every session with what I have affectionately named the "ICK".  It is a wonderful bl;end of sweat, sunscreen, and countless layers of dust/dirt.  the most endearing feature of the ICK is it gets better every day.  Not even a 'shower' (cold water drip) and soap will cut through all the layers of ICK, so it grows thicker and thicker every day.  In addition Brian has coined the term "Brown Lung" because of all the dust we inhale.  It not only coats our lungs, but alsolines the insides of our nose, clogs our ears, and gunks up our eyes.

It has been a great 1st week in here in Tanzania.  The coaches are committed to improving themselves and creating opportunity for the children in Kigoma.  Progress has been made over the 3 years CaC has been here and will continue after we leave thanks to the foundation that has been laid and commitment of the local coaches. 

Next stop Geita!


P.S.  The Director of Sport in Kigoma, Nico Pota, and the coaches here send a BIG THANK YOU to all the Dynasty students who donated gloves, shorts, socks, cleats, gk jerseys, balls, and pens/pencils.  They were thrilled.  All will be put to good use.

P.P.S.  Please check out Brian's blog for the next part of our journey at either... or 
He has put up 2 posts.  One was our journey from Kigoma to Geita (a MUST read) and the 2nd was about our time in Geita....I am a bit behind in posting due to the internet issues here!

Thursday, August 26, 2010


"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - LAO TZU

I have a large backpack of my own gear and a massive duffel stuffed to the brim with pens, pencils, goalkeeper gloves and jerseys, plus shorts and socks all courtesy of the 2009 Dynasty Goalkeeping students! I only wish I could lug more over to donate. Let the adventure begin! Out of my comfort zone, far from the land of plenty, and into Africa I go!

Actually the next stop is Washington DC, then Rome, then Addis Ababa, and finally Dar Es Salaam, TANZANIA! A few good books, my snacks (I never leave home without my snacks!) and an iPod will hopefully get me through the next 24+ hours of flying. Going there actually probably won’t be that bad however as there is always anticipation that gets you through. And after months of pre-trip planning I have plenty of anticipation and excitement stored up.

Once I arrive in Dar my first ‘challenge’ will be linking up with fellow volunteer Brian Suskiewicz, whom I have never met. Doubt he will have any problem finding the white girl with blonde hair. I will stick out like a sore thumb. We will spend a night in Dar recovering and the following day we plan to fly to Kigoma where will start volunteering on the 30th. We will be running sessions with teachers in the morning and then in the afternoons we will go to various schools around Kigoma to work with children. I have been told that all of the teachers will speak English, so communication with them won’t be an issue. The children on the other hand most likely won’t speak English, with the exception of a few words and phrases, so I have been studying some Swahili to learn a few words and numbers to help make communicating with them a bit easier. I’m sure I will slaughter their language, but at a minimum it will make them laugh! The bottom line is that if I just coach the way I do here; showing the activities with passion, energy, smiles, and laughter then the message will get across.

In addition to our work in Kigoma we just found out that we will be traveling north to an area called Geita to work with teachers and children in that area as well. Geita is close to Lake Victoria and is known for their gold mines. While it will be Coaches Across Continents third year working in Kigoma, it will be our first in Geita, so we have no idea what to expect. It is great that the local coordinator in Kigoma, Nico Pota, will be extending our reach in the short time we will be there.
It is impossible to fathom what I will encounter, but everyone I have spoken with that has been to Africa has said the EXACT same thing, “It will change you and you will love it.” So I am heading over ready to take in everything that this experience has to offer and eager to do what I can for the teachers and students of Kigoma.

Recently I did an interview about my upcoming trip (keep an eye out for it on the UNC women’s soccer website next week ). The reporter asked me, "What do you hope to accomplish?”. Hmmm…I thought, good question. It made me stop and reflect on the purpose of my trip, which I found to be a very valuable exercise so that I head out in a good frame of mind and a clear purpose.

I am not so daft as to expect that I am going to change the lives of these children in 2 shorts weeks. So why go at all then? Well, first I think it is important to focus on the little things that can be accomplished in 2 weeks. If I can help make a child smile, laugh, and bring joy and hope into their extremely difficult daily existence, then I will have succeeded. If I can help show a teacher a new method of coaching from a positive, encouraging point of view versus a harsh, fear based, militaristic style, then I will have succeeded. Those are things I am fully capable of achieving.

On a grander scale though, I hope to raise awareness and connect people here in the United States more intimately with the problems in Africa. I will be the first to admit that I allow myself to become disconnected with the global community. It is so easy to get caught up in our daily lives and sucked into our routine and the daily grind, the rat race of life, here in the U.S. that our circle of influence becomes very small. We know that there are lots of problems in Africa....AIDS, malnutrition, poverty, political instability, genocide....but it is a continent away. We feel we can't do anything to help, and we are quite honestly happily disconnected from it and too busy with our own lives to do anything. That has been me. That is until I read an article in the UNC Alumni Review probably 5+ years ago. The article was about Carolina For Kibera, an organization founded by UNC alumni, Rye Barcott. It was such an impressive undertaking to me on many levels. The article described the despicable, unsanitary, harsh conditions in the worst slum of Kenya and the soccer program CFK developed to help teach the youth in the community, bring hope and change, as well as the establishing a medical clinic and an educational center. One of UNC’s former soccer players, Laura Winslow, was mentioned in the article for her involvement and volunteering in Kibera. So that is how I first became 'connected' to some of the issues in Africa. Over the years I have donated gear (balls, sports bras, cleats) and money to CFK to feel like (as most of us I think do) we are helping and 'doing our part'. Of course this is very valuable and critical to the sustainability of not-for-profit organizations, as certainly not everyone can volunteer their time. In the back of my mind though, after reading about Laura's experience, I thought it would be an amazing experience to travel over there to do the same thing. A very tiny seed had been planted. However, there was always something going on in my life (we ALL have things going on in our lives and always will) that made it unfeasible for me to even consider finding out what volunteering would even entail, let alone actually take steps towards committing towards it. It simply was not a priority.

Fast forward a few years to 2007... I reconnected with CaC founder Nick Gates after his first trip through Africa. He had just come back from a year long trip and was brainstorming the creation of Coaches Across Continents. In speaking with him in person, seeing his photos, videos, and feeling the passion in his voice everything became tangible to me. In the subsequent years I watched as fellow teammates of mine (Lorrie Fair, Cindy Parlow, and Anna Rodenbough) became involved with various organizations to volunteer in various countries around Africa. Goalkeeper students of mine were volunteering in India and Africa. Momentum was building inside of me to act. The tiny seed that had been planted in me was starting grow. Then once Nick got CaC off the ground it all became possible. I was connected to a program and it was palpable. Once that link was made I was compelled to help. Instead of Africa being a world away and not my problem, an internal switch had been hit. All of the reasons and excuses I previously had for not getting involved dissipated and were replaced with one thought, "how can I not act". It is such a small sliver of time, a blink of an eye; it is the LEAST I can do.

I think most Americans, (actually most humans) want to help -- whatever the cause may be, here locally or a continent away in Africa. It is our nature as human beings to help, yet somehow we still flounder. I believe that laying the groundwork and being given the platform to become involved is the critical link to action. Once shown how we can help and given a path, everyone is eager to participate. All we need is direction.

So what do I hope to accomplish? I want to raise awareness to get more people like myself involved. Had it not been for Nick and CaC I would not have had the platform on which to act. He provided the impetus to get me rolling and for that I am grateful. Getting people SPECIFICALLY connected to an issue and a program is a big part. So while I certainly hope to make an impact on the teachers, coaches, and children I interact with during the short time I am in Tanzania, I am realistic. My time there is limited and there is only so much that can be accomplished in a short time. The challenges are great and the issues many. The more lasting effect I hope to have is drawing more people into the circle and encouraging more people to act. Getting more people to flip the switch like I have is my hope. That is what Nick and many others provided for me, so if I can pay that forward then I will feel as if I have made a difference.

Lastly, it is not too late to donate to this great cause. I am just short of hitting my pre-trip fundraising goal of $6600. If you haven’t already donated perhaps you will consider jumping on board at this time to help me reach my target? Every bit helps, so THANKS! You can pay with a check or even easier through the secure First Giving website with a credit card. Also, as mentioned in my previous blog entry, a private foundation has committed to matching all donations that end in the amount of ‘27’ up to the amount of $27,000! So by donating with an amount that ends in $27 ($27, $127, $1027, etc) your money will count twice! How cool is that!?!? To find out more about the CaC Matching Donation Program go to:

Remember your investment CHANGES LIVES!