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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris-
    Just wanted you to know that I'm following your blog, and am fascinated to see how you are quickly getting immersed in the local culture, using soccer as your entree. I'm looking forward to your posts!
    Eric Rosenberg