Monday, August 31, 2009

Screwdrivers (the non-alcoholic kind) and a trip to Kimberley

Sorry that the blog has become so soccer-centric in posts as of late, but hey, it is Grassroot Soccer. Games #2 and 3 for the Richmond All Stars F.C. were not even played for the All Stars. The games were part of an all-Richmond tournament with 4 teams entered. They were: Ubuntu Municipality (all the guys who work for the local government), the Richmond Police Department, Richmond Bafana F.C. (Ova's team, which Anna played for), and Team Caltex (all the guys who work at the Richmond Caltext gas station). As it turned out, the Caltex squad was composed almost entirely of the All Stars, a few of whom work pumping gas but most of whom were just recruited as hired guns for the day's tournament. Joining those All Stars, I got dragged out of the GRS office at 12 noon to play with Caltex after being spotted by Sticka, one of the All Stars/Caltext strikers. The first match of the tournament was Caltex vs. Richmond Police.

Now, it's probably not wise to defeat the people from your small town specifically charged with carrying around guns and enforcing laws by too wide a margin, so we made it interesting. After going up 2-0 the coppers somehow managed to fight their way back with a couple of goals of their own and the match went to overtime. A police striker got on a wide open breakaway with a minute left in the overtime period and Crazy, our goalkeeper (and an All Stars defender), made a ridiculous save to push the ball wide of the net. After the corner kick and a Caltex counterattack, Sticka found himself on a run through the middle and scored the game winner with seconds left. Key first All Stars "everybody-hug-and-jump-around" moment of my time here in Richmond. But we didn't want to celebrate too much; there was still a final to be played. And the losing policemen were already glaring at our celebrations.

The final was one of the most interesting games of soccer I've ever played in my life. Caltex/All Stars was playing Ubuntu Municipality and we were up 3-1 when a disgruntled Ubuntu forward--literally--attacked the referee and began punching him in the face after an unfavorable offsides call was leveled against him. His friends and the remaining police pulled him off but (he was a big guy) he got loose and again tackled the referee and pinned him to the dusty ground with a flurry of blows. He was finally prised free and he immediately tore off his red jersey and began walking towards his car muttering unpublishable Afrikaans phrases. This is the best part (and, remember, this guy has still not received a red card or punishment of any kind). This guy then goes to the trunk of his car, pulls out a sharpened SCREWDRIVER, and begins walking BACK TOWARDS the field, we can only assume to take up a reasoned and polite debate with the battered ref. Thankfully, an assortment of friends and policemen calmed the man down and he put the weapon away. At which point he was ALLOWED TO RETURN TO THE GAME. And score one of the two goals that put Ubuntu back on level footing with Caltex by halftime, with the scores even at 3-3.

I came in a center attacking midfielder (by now, my specialty in Richmond) at halftime and Shoes (an All Star/Caltex forward, and one of the fastest and most talented soccer players I've ever seen play) immediately scored a goal. 4-3 Caltex. Terrible defense gave Ubuntu an easy goal with 10 minutes to play in the game and the scores were again level at 4-4. Soon thereafter, a reckless Ubuntu tackle gave us a free kick from the 50 yard line. The midfield extraordinaire I've now become, I was elected to take the kick. A bit of a good strike and a lot of lucky wind gusts somehow carried the ball to a streaking Shoes, who calmly put the ball in the back in the back of the net with a few minutes left in the game. It's worth noting that this was possibly one of the few quality impacts I had on the entire game, but it was very cool to feel like an asset to a team as talented as this Caltex (de facto All Stars) one was. We held out with some staunch defesne and won the tournament to much celebration and fanfare by the 30 or 40 people assembled to watch. Pretty awesome experience though.

This past weekend Anna and I took a series of buses and hired cars the 6 or so hours to visit the GRS interns up in Kimberley. It was great to go to a "big city" (big, at least, compared ot Richmond) and to see some of our close friends. We saw Kimberley's "Big Hole" (the old De Beers diamond mine site which dominates Kimberley's downtown area), went to a Kimberley Griquas rugby game and watched the poor home team get obliterated by the Cheetahs from Bleomfontein (and, when your team gets obliterated in Rugby by score, you know somebody is hurting physically right now), and otherwise did a little shopping for needed items like a yoga mat and a local soccer jersey. All in all, a great trip; we learned a bit about South African transportation systems, traveled a bit in the region, and got to see some of our great friends up in diamond country.

Work continues to go well. We're still in "observation mode" and just getting our bearings about how things get done here. That should end next week when one of the GRS full-timers from Cape Town comes out to help us evaluate ways to improve programming. Some recent changes at Hope in Richmond and at the community center has left Anna and I--for the short term, we believe--basically in charge of the entire community center operation and all the Hope in Richmond staff here on the ground. Crazy, right. So, during our weekend in Kimberley, Anna and I have gone from GRS Interns to Rural African Community Center Directors. We don't think it will last too long, but its an exciting challenge, and one that requires us to not only figure out how to get the GRS curriculum out to the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th graders of Richmond, but also--on Community Center grounds--to feed 200-300 little kids every day at the soup kitchen, oversee a small library, run the movie theatre, vegetable garden, game room, and outdoor activities, AND not go insane while trying. We're both excited about it and confident we'll be fine. The next update should be a good one.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cribo Plays Soccer: Richmond All Stars FC - 0, Wonderboom Farm - 1

Played my first game for All Stars FC, the awesome local team that Saddam (one of the GRS directors in Richmond) plays for. We had to drive 45 minutes out into the middle of the desert, way off the beaten track, to get to Wonderboom (pronounced Von-Dar-Buem by the Afrikanners) Farm. The farm is a huge complex where the workers and their families actually live there, and they're actually one of the best teams in the area. The coach of the All Stars, Mandla, is now a construction boss in Richmond but is a former professional player himself, for a few years as a goalkeeper with one of the best pro teams in South Africa, the Orlando Pirates. So we're having our team talk before the game on the side of the field (another dirt pitch, but this one at least had some patches of grass) and Mandla is going over the starting roster for the game, and he just looks at me and says, "Cribo, attacking center midfielder."

Now, it's important to note that not only have I never played center midfielder in my entire life, but that I don't know the names of 75% of the guys on the All Stars (and wouldn't be able to pronounce them if I did) nor am I able to communicate with them in any means other than screaming noises and grunts. But I did start at center midfield, and had a great time playing in a position that is admittedly a lot more fun than defense, where I've played my entire life.

Games played for cash can get pretty tense, and a fight almost broke out when one of our players and a Wonderboom guy got into a fistfight before the sides broke it up and they were both sent off with redcards. Things settled down after that, Wonderboom got a lucky goal, and we missed a ton of great chances to win. I played 60 minutes before getting subbed, and the All Stars account is less 500 Rand. Can't wait to keep practicing and playing with these guys though.

In other news, Anna and I moved into our house today. This will be our permanent residence in Richmond so we were excited to finally "be home." We still need to personalize it and make it a bit more comfy, but its a cool place in the middle of the village and we're both really happy with how everything looks. Since we now have a kitchen, we cooked dinner for the first time in 3 weeks. More accurately, Anna cooked dinner; I badly need to learn some culinary skills put I think this year will be a good one in my development on that front.

Another big week of work in front of us. I'll post pictures when I get a chance.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hoezit my bru?!

Anna and I have settled in a little bit here. Quickly, here is a link to a map showing exactly where we are:,24.098511&spn=1.214138,1.809998&z=9

The first thing I'll say is that Richmond is a really interesting place: it appears to be some sleepy little Karoo Desert village (and, in some ways, it is), but there's definitely a lot boiling under the surface: local politics over jobs and appointments, horrendous poverty and unemployment, serious racial tension between the white farmers/business-owners, the Xhosa-speaking blacks and Afrikaans-speaking "coloureds" (the politically correct term in South Africa for those of a mixed racial background). And I feel like we're just scraping the surface right now.

Anna and I are spending most of our time working at the "Richmond Gemeenspektrum," which is the town's little community center. The center is run by Ovetin (Ova) and Saddam, both 22-year-old coloured Richmonders who are avid (and talented) soccer and rugby players. They work primarily for the organization Hope in Richmond (HIR), a charitable organization with ties to Rotary International run out of Maryland, USA. Their work with HIR centers on using the community center as a means for empowering Richmond's youth to make good life decisions; here that basically means staying away from alcoholism and HIV. The center has a dirt soccer pitch, stadium seating, a library, a daily soup kitchen for the really poor kids, a movie theatre and, in the next few months, a game room with pool tables, foosball, etc. There's also a GrassrootSoccer office at the center, and Ova and Saddam are in cahoots with GRS, running our programs and activities in Richmond and the surrounding area. They're responsible for the 3 GRS coaches in Richmond: Mila, Mewlin and Bianca. So you have to think of Ova and Saddam as jack-of-all-trades community center directors who are GRS's men on the ground here in Richmond. They're both amazing guys, and it's awesome that even though they are no older than me or Anna they're really trying to help the youth of their community avoid the pitfalls that are everywhere. All 5 of them--Ova, Saddam and the girls--are becoming good friends of ours even at this early stage in the game.

Soccer is huge in Richmond. All the men play on 8 different soccer teams here in town, in a semi-organized "league." The way it works here is the different teams compete for players in town, organize games (meet us at X location at Y time on Sunday...) and then play for straight cash (looks like the going rate for a game is R250, or about $30). The winning team keeps the cash, and uses the funds to pay for its coach, buy equipment, etc. Last Sunday I played a half for Bafana FC, Ova's team in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss. Anna and I have been training with Saddam's team--The Richmond All-Stars--this week, though, so there may be some transfers in the works. All-Stars are traveling to a nearby farm to play Vonarboom on Sunday, and it sounds like Anna and my defensive services may be needed. Saturdays are for Rugby here, and word is that Richmond may play a match against a neighboring town this weekend. Everybody here is like 5'6" at the most, so I'm excited to get out there with Ova and tear it up.

Anna and I are struggling to get used to how soccer is played here: not only do the guys love razzle dazzle style play, but the fields are hard dirt pitches with sand lines, sharp rocks, and shards of glass everywhere. And guys still slide tackle, manage to dribble in straight lines, and play fairly good-looking soccer. Its definitely a pretty badass way to play, but its just going to take a while to adjust. They're big on nicknames here...I have yet to learn any of the real names of the All-Stars besides Saddam; to me (they've already started calling me Cribo), there's just "Shoes," "Skilas," "Disco," "Atlanta," and many more. They're all ridiculously good players though, and practicing Mon, Tues, Weds, Thurs of every week (no real off-season here...just December during the Holidays) should be a great way to keep active and meet some local guys.

We went to the high school to watch the coaches do a GRS intervention with the 8th graders today and it was really cool to see the GRS curriculum in action. It was actually snowing out here (in the desert!) for most of the day, which was ridiculous. Right now Anna and I are just helping organize the GRS intervention schedules for our coaches to go into the middle and high schools, and also helping Ova plow and plant a vegetable garden to make the soup kitchen more sustainable. So our time isn't totally GRS...which is kind of nice actually. We sort of have a PeaceCorps/GRS thing going on right now between working at the community center and then the normal GRS intern work, and I'm definitely enjoying it.

That's it for now, but there's sure to be more soon.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

More info on Richmond

Or as I am going to begin calling it, R-Town, which--after 1 hour of mediocre research--looks like a pretty quiet little desert town. One vital aspect of Richmond appears to be the rift between Afrikaans whites and "coloureds," which in South Africa is an acceptable and quasi-official term for people of mixed white and black heritage. I'm told that both soccer and rugby are huge in the area; and Bloemfontein and Kimberley--both big rugby/soccer spots--are only about 2 or 3 hours away by car.

Spent today hiking up near the top of Table Mountain, which looks out over Cape Town and the surrounding area. Pretty treacherous on the way up (the trail was called Skeleton Gorge) but we luckily found a route down that was a bit easier (with a name like "Nursery Gorge Trail" how can you go wrong?). Aftewards I went to the local pro soccer match which was playing today, Ajax Cape Town vs. Orlando Pirates (out of Johanessburg). Nobody would go with so I was there alone, but I made friends with a couple of local guys who showed me where to buy the cheapest tickets (it's about $2.50 to get into this massive game...35,000 fans, huge stadium) and where the best places to watch were. The stadium was packed full, and by my estimate it was about 98% black fans. Everybody was going crazy with the horn instrument famous here, called the Vuvuzela. Got to see a sick goal, see the stadium erupt, and made it home in one of the local taxi vans they pack to the brim (it cost about 80 cents for the long ride back into Cape Town...yesterday two friends and I paid $15 for the same ride in a swanky private taxi). Then tonight our boss Janks organized a big interns indoor soccer night; we rented out one of the futsal gyms at University of Cape Town and had a couple of hours of hard play. Yours truly almost scored a ridiculous volley but, alas, it went just the dismay of the three fans watching.

Leaving for Richmond on Wednesday (we're told...things have to be flexible around here)...until then loading up on entertainment for the desert, maybe another fleece for when its cold and also doing our "site-specific" training tomorrow and Tuesday. I think they're going to run through a primer on how we're supposed to do the Programs work they're hoping we're successful with during our year out there. Should be good stuff...

Here is a google map I created that has Richmond plotted, in case you're interested in seeing exactly where I'll be. Its basically right between Cape Town and Johanessburg, right smack dab in the middle of the country. In a sweet, really exciting desert!


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Big news; It's Richmond

Need to write only briefly for now, but the placements came out last night and I'm going to Richmond, South Africa in the Northern Cape Province. It's a HUGE opportunity and challenge because myself and the other GRS intern being sent with me (Anna...she's awesome) are not going to have a boss or anything besides phone contact with HQ in Cape Town and we'll be creating new GRS programs in the small towns in the area.

Richmond looks pretty bumble; it took us about 15 minutes just to actually locate it definitively. But it looks like a great opportunity to be really out there in the thick of it doing the real GRS work and bringing sustainable HIV/AIDS education to this rural community. More to come soon...we have the weekend off and will be surfing, going to rugby, and hiking table mountain.

Very excited, and it's good to just know where I'll be for the year. Not much in the way of the World Cup out in the Great Karoo Desert, but we'll definitely be able to drive the 4-5 hours back into Cape Town or Bloemfontein to be around the energy when everything goes down next June.

Here's a bit about Richmond, from a local guy's website:

"The small town of Richmond, Northern Cape, is situated on the N1 roughly half way between Cape Town and Johannesburg and equally half way between the two major Karoo towns of Colesberg and Beaufort West. Placed in the heart of the Great Karoo Desert, which the locals like to describe as the World's best developed desert, Richmond is ideally situated as the perfect stop over but perhaps more as a point of departure to explore the wonders of the Karoo."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Training begins in Cape Town


That would be the Xhosa greeting. If you prefer guttural, incomprehensible, half-European/half-African languages you can look up the Afrikaans for "hello." Anyway, today was a full day of training in the hotel conference room. 5 interns were late and were summarily punished with having to dance in front of the other 20 interns and a dozen GRS full-timers. We had hours of information from a variety of black and white South Africans and also a slew of American staff. Pretty interesting stuff, especially from the local black coaches who are the ones actually going into the townships to deliver the curriculum.

Curtis and I went with one of the full-timers on a run out by the beach at Green Point, where the World Cup stadium (it's enormous) is being built. This guy does Iron Mans, Marathons and Triathalons like they're nothing so it was (literally) an uphill battle to stay with him on a treacherous run through all these really wealthy cliffside neighborhoods (we were told its the most expensive real estate in Africa).

Last night was pretty special. We showed up at GRS HQ downtown at 7 PM because we were told we had to sign a code of conduct and go over the booze/drug policy. We get there, get handed a legal document we had to read and sign (which really was a legit drug and alcohol policy), skim it and sign, and then Kirk--one of GRS founding fathers and current bigwigs--tells us law requires him to read the entire thing (word for word) to us. Nobody made it too visible, but disappointment was in the air since this monster document was 2 pages of thick text and it was going to suck to be stuck there on our first real night in Cape Town. Then a booming creaking noise rang out and one of the African staff dressed as MJ dances out of the door and into the room, tears up the contract that was to be read, and then moonwalks across the document's scattered remains to the tune of Thriller. With the act of defiance, at least 40 or 50 GRS full-time staff, their spouses and children--who had been hiding in the office's upper loft the entire time--exploded into visibility out of doors and windows and showered us with confetti and candy. At that point the whole GRS staff--higher-ups and all--broke into a "Welcome to GRS" parody medley of Thriller, Wonderwall and Wagon Wheel. The whole ridiculous show was insanely well choreographed by the whole staff and made us feel way too special. Then there was a little bit of schmoozey meet-and-great before the interns took off for dinner. Pretty cool though.

On Friday they do the "big reveal" of our posts and jobs for the year, so that's exciting. Can't really go wrong though. You'll definitely know when I do...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Alive and Well in Africa

After a bit of a scare yesterday when I slept through my alarm on flight day and had to hop a taxi to JFK, I arrived safely in Cape Town this afternoon; almost all the other interns were already at the hotel as our group of 5 rolled in. I'm totally blown out from a day of travelling, lots of soda at altitude, several movies and countless Simpsons episodes.

We all went to the Grassroot Soccer office and helped unpack some (over two hundred) boxes of donated Nike, bags, jerseys in all sizes and colors ("colours", as I better get used to). Cape Town is ridiculously pretty: huge mountain peaks ring a bowl that contains picturesque Cape Town, white sand beaches, golf courses, etc. But, as we saw even on the little drive from the airport, for every beach and golf course there's a beaten down shack. The economic disparity between white, coloured and black was apparent from the get-go, and we received an extended view of the shantytown townships on the way in.

Pizza for dinner on Long Street (a Cape Town hotspot); walking around at night felt pretty safe, especially in a big group of athletic, studly GRS interns. Back for sleep now, as we're up at 7 AM in the morning for a "get to know Cape Town" scavenger hunt, and I'm going for the win!