Friday, July 30, 2010

Last Post from Africa

Another set of apologies are probably in order. Between the World Cup ending and then trying to tie up loose ends in Mtuba and Cape Town, things have just been wildly crazy and I haven't put up a decent post in months. But I am now in Cape Town, getting a chance to reflect a little bit on the past year, meet with my superiors at GRS, and try to shave weight off my baggage, which is currently bursting at the seams.

Here is a quick bit of reflection, as I sit in Cape Town one day before heading to the airport and flying back to the United States.

South Africa is a ridiculously cool country: jaw-droppingly beautiful natural features (this is coming from a Pacific NW kid...just come to Cape Town to understand this fully within one second), a fascinating diversity of cultures and peoples trying to live together after decades of institutionalized racial oppression that only ended 16 years ago (16 years!), amazing warmth shown by the vast majority of people you'd ever meet. And plenty more.

South Africa's complex greatness is, for me, encapsulated by a real Wild West-y atmosphere of freewheeling adventure that you don't really feel in the United States. Don't want to drive on the road? You don't really have to. Need to get across the country for a new project? Just drive 13 hours through the middle of the desert. Did my bank branch's row of ATMs just blow up in the middle of the night? Yes, it did. Is that a rhino on the side of the highway? Yes, it is. Why does that taxi have 15 people in it? Can it fit one more? Yeah, it can. Sir, are you sure these plastic zipline straps are safe, and can I please have another helmet? Was that a 6-foot snake regularly voted Africa's deadliest that just slithered in front of our car?

Yes, it was.

The whole "This place is crazy" and "This would never happen in the United States" and "Whoa...we could have just died there" train of thought is all well and good and fun when you're sitting around back home regaling your friends and family with wild stories, but if I just ended the post there and called it good I'd be completely misrepresenting my time here and the country itself.

Because for all the times that I've almost been run over or bitten by a monster snake or plummeted from my harness because people aren't following safety regulations to the T - and laughed about it afterwards over a couple of beers - I can think of plenty of examples in which South Africa's freewheeling, wild atmosphere cuts the other way.

Are those three uniformed policemen drunk on the job? Yeah, looks like. Does that school have 1 teacher for every 100 kids? Does that town have water? Does that kid have food at home? Why don't the Zulu rugby players come into the bar with the rest of the team for a drink after practice? Why does that house have more electric fencing protecting it than Guantanamo? Why are black South Africans always going to funerals on the weekends?

And that's what makes South Africa so difficult. Usually we use the word "awesome" in a purely positive sense, but this country can be awesomely frustrating and saddening and confusing as often as it is awesomely good.

I have had a great experience in South Africa, from Richmond to Mtubatuba and all places in between. Through GRS, I've been given the chance to work on exciting and important projects, with amazing people, in places that really needed it. I've made some really, really great friends. I have truly loved my entire year here. With that said, it feels like the right time to get back home and open up the next chapter, trying my hand at teaching history out in Boston.

Best to leave the last word to my favorite author, Roald Dahl. A quote from his autobiography Going Solo (which details his time and adventures in the 1930s working for Shell in Tanzania and then fighting for the British in Tanzania, Libya and Greece during World War II) has permanently been at the top of this blog from the very beginning. I think it makes sense that another eerily fitting quote from the same great book finishes things off.

Roald Dahl, Going Solo:

"The [British] District Officers in Tanzania were a breed I admired. Admittedly they were sunburnt and sinewy, but they were not gophers. They were all university graduates with good degrees, and in their lonely outposts they had to be all things to all men. They were the judges whose decisions settled both tribal and personal disputes. They were the advisers to tribal chiefs. They were often the givers of medicines and the saviours of the sick. They administered their own vast districts by keeping law and order under the most difficult circumstances."

Thanks for reading this year!

July 30 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010

Home from Epic World Cup Road Trip

First, apologies are in order for the radio silence over the past two weeks. I'm somehow still alive after an arduous and exhilarating two-week road trip with my very good friend Dan Rosenberg. Dan flew into Durban on June 19th and he flew out last Saturday, July 3rd, from Cape Town. Everything in between will need chapters and photo albums to recount in full, but for now I just wanted to write that I'm back in Mtubatuba for my last few weeks on the job and looking forward to tying up all my loose ends and flying back to Seattle on August 4th.

Speaking of jobs, probably worth mentioning that I accepted a job for next year. I'll be a Teaching Fellow at a prep high school called Noble and Greenough School outside Boston, which basically means I'll be teaching one World History course, coaching girls soccer, and doing a bunch of other fun stuff from September to June. I'm super excited for the prospect of teaching, but I am trying to stay focused on the current experience with GRS, leaving things completed (or as close to it as possible) here, and just taking a bit of time to process everything that has happened this past year.

Will put up some pictures from the World Cup adventures as soon as possible; there's a chance I might have a ticket to see the Semi-Final match in Durban on Wednesday (Germany vs. Spain)...which would be ridiculous.


Monday, May 31, 2010

MFA Write-Up in Seattle news...

A nice write-up and a few photos talking about how one of our local Seattle soccer teams donated some jerseys to my U/10 boys out here in Mtubtuba.

For those of you keeping track, the MFA U/10s have lost 1 game in 7 matches, including this past Saturday, when they won 7-0 and lost 2-3.

Their record is slightly better than the Mtuba Rugby Club, which is now 0-6. By some divine mercy, we've been dropped down a league mid-season and are now playing with other small towns like us, and not the likes of Richards Bay, or "Injure At Least 5 Of Our Players Per Game" Bay. First up in the season reboot is an away game at Mandini on Friday. Hopefully we'll finally have some good news.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Coaching with the Mtuba Football Academy

By far one of the most enjoyable aspects of my year in South Africa has been coaching with the Mtuba Football Academy (MFA). Every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday myself and 4 other volunteer coaches run training sessions for 120 kids, spread across 6 age groups (Under 10, U/12, U/13, U/14, U/15, and U/17). 90% of the players are Zulu kids from Mtuba's township or some of the nearby villages and, I'm telling you, the talent here is huge; I get tested just playing in the practice scrimmages with the 13- and 14-year olds on the U-15 squad. That might not be the best example because its probably more of a testament to how badly I've fallen out of being "soccer match fit" than it is to their serious skill. Regardless, they are awesome and I really look forward to every practice.

Here are just a few pictures of the academy and the kids in case anybody is interested in something I've spending almost all my free time working on and thinking about. This time with MFA has definitely put

I'm currently working to try to raise some funds to help with the running of the academy: purchasing badly-needed equipment, covering gas to drive the kids back to their township and village homes at night, and renting a bus to take 100 of the Academy players to the Japan vs. Netherlands World Cup match in Durban (right around the corner!). Because many of the MFA players come from disadvantaged backgrounds, things like team trips and even soccer boots are prohibitively expensive. Thus, I'd also like some of the raised funding to go towards sponsoring necessary expenses for individual players whose family's just can't afford certain items.

If anybody is interested in donating to help support and grow the Mtuba Football Academy, I've got a "Donate Now" button linked to this blog (on the right hand side of the screen), processed securely through Google Checkout. Normally, funds donated through that button go towards general fundraising for my volunteer expenses. However, from now on I'll assume that any donations are for the Mtuba Football Academy and I will use the funds for Academy-related projects.

Here's a picture to break the monotony of text. Me and four of the Under-10 players I coach:

Monday, April 19, 2010


Sorry for not writing in a little while. Just wanted to write a quick message about playing rugby over here. Some of you might not know that I actually played rugby for about 1 month at the very end of my senior year at Yale, and really loved it. Once I got to Mtubatuba and heard there was a local team, I quickly joined up with the Mtuba Rugby Club.

We've been in pre-season since January and our season kicked off two weeks ago against Empangeni, another town in Zululand. We lost 23-3 but it was a great game, and I ended up getting the "Man of the Match" award for the Forwards (rugby has two general positions - "forward" or "back" - spread out over 15 more specific positions). Last week we played our hated rivals, Richards Bay, and lost 53-7 in what was, by all accounts, a hatred-infested fistfight that happened to take place on a rugby field. These guys take their sport seriously and when you spice things up with a long-festering rivalry, gets ugly. I survived that game, though (mostly by growing eyes in the back of my head and screaming "Get the hell off me, dude!" whenever I started getting punched at the bottom of a ruck). Now this Friday we're playing Richards Bay, again, in Richards Bay, again, but at least its against their Second Team.

There are games every Friday, home or away. We practice Tuesdays and Thursdays at our own pitch and clubhouse here in Mtuba. Rugby is a great social group and a real highlight of my time so far in KZN. I'll plan to write more about rugby soon...lots of interesting stuff like how black and white players interact on the team.

Until then, here's a picture of the team:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Big News in South Africa

Julius Malema (ANC Youth League leader) recently and publicly sang a song called "Shoot the Boer." Boer = Afrikaans for "farmer;" the idea of the "Boer" is still alive and well in both black and white South African mythologies - the resilient Dutch farmer who subdued both the land and its inhabitants in the 1800s (from the white perspective, mostly justifiably; from the black perspective, less so).

Two days ago, Eugene TerreBlanche, the leader of the Afrikaans Resistance Movement (a conservative right-wing white supremacist political party) - and a full-blooded Boer - was, depending on who you ask, assassinated as a direct result of Malema's song/coincidentally murdered/rightfully killed by farmworkers whose wages he had not paid.

South Africa is in a tizzy after all this. If you're interested, check out a good article at NYT:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Just a quick one to say I'm in Johannesburg for a one-week GRS training, crashing with my main man Karti, having normal social interactions with people who aren't Afrikaner, and really enjoying this break from the normal routine (which, while normal, is still awesome).

Karti and I are having a great time in Joburg; K is living in a great neighborhood called Melville. Being here in a big urban place has been really fun. If you're interested, Karti keeps a pretty cool blog about working in Joburg/Soweto for GRS and you can find it at:

Just wanted you to know I'm alive and well. Mtuba rugby season starts next week Friday so should have some great war stories to report.