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.

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