Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Something I wrote recently on an application to teach next year when GRS kicks me out of Africa:

My day-to-day work involves organizing Grassroot Soccer events for the community, harvesting food from a small garden, story time in Afrikaans, breaking up fist fights between seven-year-olds, defending my title as the best American foosball player this side of the Mississippi, negotiating deals for purchases of vast quantities of juice, smiling and nodding when corrupt government official stop by to check things out, and getting that group of kids away from the outskirts of our soccer field because, Makwemkwe, that cobra will kill you. It is an extremely challenging job, but an endless source of energy and motivation has always been the kids who show up every day, rain or snake or shine.

That should give you some idea of our work here.


Trip to Joburg

Going to Johannesburg this weekend to visit fellow GRS intern Karti Subramanian, who is working up there in the Soweto township (politically famous during Apartheid, currently socially infamous). I wish I had some grand GRS mission I could tell you I was fulfilling in this trip, but it's really just to visit my man Karti, get out of Richmond for a weekend, and hang out in Joburg. Oh, and not get murdered (http://www.realclearworld.com/lists/most_dangerous_cities/johannesburg.html).


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cool South African Music

"Ntombenhle" by Zulu Boy attached at right >>>>>>>>

It finally happened: SNAKE ENCOUNTER

Afrikaans Lesson #17: "Ek Het Slange." Put that into an online Afrikaans translator (or take my word that it means "I Hate Snakes"). I've written about this a few months ago, but--by way of nature and/or nurture--I inherited a severe fear of snakes from my dear mother, bless her ophidiophobic soul (I'm not going to pretend like I didn't have to put "phobia fear of snakes" into Google in order to word that last sentence). With that said, Richmond maybe wasn't the best place to be posted during the onset of summer "snake season."

So, what I've been fearing most finally happened this past week. Early in the week Anna had reported her first snake encounter while running in the veld on a little country trail...just a little guy that slithered out in front of her. At the time I was pretty envious since now it was all over for her...that mental "snake sighting in Africa" barrier had been broken and she could live a healthy, happy life. I, on the other hand, had to wait until Wednesday.

While our Training of Coaches was going on at the Community Center, Anna and I found ourselves out on the soccer field playing a small-sided game with a dozen or so 12- and 13-year old boys. A commotion erupted on the other side of the field, right on the outskirts where the sidelines of the poorly-maintained pitch start to blend into the surrounding grasslands. Anna and I looked up to see a few boys huddled around something, but not before both of the teams we had been playing with bolted in the direction of whatever action was taking place.

I'm going to be honest: it was a pretty small snake. Maybe a foot and a half long, a really skinny. But, after doing my homework on the snakes around here, I identified it as one of these bad boys, a Cape Cobra.

Obviously, it was nowhere near this big or scary-looking. But, looking on from behind what was by now a group of 30 children surrounding the terrified creature, it was still creepy to see this baby cobra with its little head reared up slithering around, snapping at kids' feet.

Now, a responsible adult probably would have dug into his intellectual recesses for the Afrikaans phrase for "IT'S A SNAKE GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE" and tried to move the children away from the cobra. I'm not proud of my conduct, but I will be honest with you: as I looked on through barely-parted fingers horror-movie-style from the back of the crowd, the children took turns running into the middle of the circle and trying to stomp on the snake and take this thing out. The first couple kids weren't able to get close enough for a "head shot" and the snake kept snapping at their feet, at which point the group devised a collective strategy of throwing rocks at the snake's head. The cobra was so small, though, that there was really nothing good to hit. A new, final strategy then became clear (remember, we're in the middle of a soccer field, in the middle of a bustling town at midday): about 5 of the oldest boys began shoveling handfulls of dirt and sand on top of the snake as a strike force of a couple of the bravest kids sprinted in circles around the creature and took turns trying to leap on top of the half-snake/half-sand pile forming in the middle. Eventually someone injured the snake badly enough that the whole group could rush in and stomp it to death.

Cut to vivid memory of a group of boys walking away from the scene triumphantly carrying the carcass, playing tag by whipping each other with the snake's lifeless body.

November Manliness Rankings:
Children of Richmond - 1
Chris Kaimmer - 0


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Richmond GRS Event Yesterday, TOC Starts Tomorrow

On Saturday, Anna, myself and our current coaches took over Richmond's dusty soccer field and organized a one-day GRS event for a bunch of kids in Richmond. The format was pretty straight-forward: each of our four coaches recruited a team of 10 local kids aged 12-15, and then as the day progressed the teams alternated between soccer matches and GRS HIV education activities. We bought bread, baloney and cool drink (all cold drinks - Coke, Sprite, Orange juice, Kool Aid, all of it - are lumped together here as "cool drink") for lunch, followed by a consolation match and the Championship game. The Championship ended in a thrilling penalty shootout, and the Shooting Stars narrowly defeated the American Stars (Anna and I took no part in naming the teams and take no responsibility for the fact that the four teams ended up being named Shooting Stars, American Stars, Golden Stars, and All Stars). The boy who scored the winning kick was immediately hoisted into the air to great fanfare and carried around by his teammates. A brief ceremony ensued where each of the winning kids were given their prizes: GRS Skillz Snap bracelets (the kind that are magnetized or whatever magical technology it is that lets them stay rigid at first but then snap around your wrist as a bracelet). Pretty fun event.

Tonight/tomorrow things get really crazy as GRS Master Coaches arrive from headquarters in Cape Town and we get to work on a week-long TOC (Training of Coaches) which will take 9 Richmond volunteers and 4 from Colesberg through all of the training necessary to become GRS Skillz coaches. By Friday, if all goes as planned, we'll have 13 more HIV educators in the Karoo. The Colesberg guys are particularly important because that town currently has no GRS programs at all and, as a fairly large place which is a nexus of several major highways, it is exciting to get started with GRS there.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Big Trucks, Green Peppers and Richmond: The Connection

Around these parts, they're called "Agtien Wiele." 18-wheelers have always fascinated me, from the "little boy, big truck" complex shared by many young males onwards through my life until now. Since they're the death machines flying towards and swerving around us on the N1 on a daily basis I've gotten a full dose of these trucks since I've been in Richmond. The fires of this interest were seriously stoked today, though, with the following story.

Anna and I were stuck at the office late, firing off emails in prepartion for the upcoming training of new GRS coaches in Richmond and, less importantly but a bit more entertaining, overseeing a heated match of foosball spectated by two dozen local kids crowded into our small working space. We finally managed to kick the kids out and, having been so busy that we'd missed All Stars practice for the past two weeks, decided we would pitch up at training, get some soccer in, and see a few of our friends on the team.

Walking to the practice field, Richmond seemed even quieter than usual. There weren't really any people on the sides of the streets hanging around and chatting like they usually do on afternoons with pleasant weather. Normally there aren't many cars driving around town to begin with, but today there really weren't any cars on the roads in the neighborhood of the village where we practice, Dennis Whiteville. All was quiet.

Approaching our glass shard, deep divot and sharp rock minefield of a soccer pitch we quickly noticed that practice didn't look like it was going to happen. Officially, All Stars practice starts at 5:00, which really means that players start trickling in around 5:20 and actual training starts at 5:45. Since we were at the office for a while, we were already "correctly late" as we approached the field and found it devoid of any soccer-playing signs of life. We did, however, see one of the players (and one of our best friends on the team), Atlanta (real name Hannes), hanging around the side of the field. Here is the conversation that ensued:

Me: "Hoe gaan dit Atlanta?" (translation: What's up?)
Atlanta: "Na, neh is nxa my bru." (Nah, everything's fine man.)
Me (Afrikaans knowledge now exhausted): Where's the team? Is practice still on?
Atlanta: Noooo man, didn't you hear? They're at the accident.
Me: What accident?
Atlanta: The truck accident, bru.
Me: What? Is everyone okay?
Atlanta: Yeah, everything's fine. They're all out there, though. Them and the rest of Richmond. Any poor person with access to a vehicle is out at the accident site.
Me: Where did the truck crash?
Atlanta: Just up the road there (pointing towards the N1, where it leaves Richmond in a northern direction). 15 K's outside of town.
Me: Okay, what are people doing out there?
Atlanta: It's free stuff, man! Whenever there's a truck accident around here, people load into bakkies and they make for the accident site to load up on whatever they can.
Me: They take things from the truck?
Atlanta: Yeah, the company whose goods are getting shipped is insured in case of a crash so they'll get everything paid for anyway. Whatever's in there is fair game.
Me: They just let people come and scavenge the truck wreck?
Atlanta: Yes, but you have to get there quick if you want anything. Ooohhh....
Me: So why aren't you out there right now?
Atlanta: No ride. Plus I don't like Green Peppers.
Me (not needing to ask): So what was in this truck?
Atlanta: Green Peppers.

So if Anna and I had been on top of our games this morning, we could have made off like Green Pepper bandits. Our conversation with Atlanta revealed that truck accidents happen so often around here--with November/December as high accident season--that an entire system has developed around how the townships in towns along the N1 take advantage: how they get notified by traffic police family members/friends roaming the highway, how whole sections of highway towns clear out to scavenge truck wrecks, how the companies doing the shipping just let people take basically whatever they want, how people will hitchhike up to the accident site, grab whatever they can carry, and then negotiate transport back to their homes using their new possessions, and lots of other crazy stuff. When the goods are particularly valuable and the shipping company wants to hold onto them, Atlanta told us, it usually takes police positioned on and around the truck wreck spraying rubber bullets into crowds of eager vultures to protect shipments of new Nike shoes, fine Brandy, and the like. In the past year Richmonders benefited from a turnover of a Woolworth's Grocery 18-wheeler, an accident involving a truck carrying massive amounts of frozen chicken, a yogurt freight disaster which could be smelled for miles, a truck carrying barrels of house paint (all the houses' facades got bright color makeovers), another truck carrying enormous quantities of laundry detergent, and a huge crash of a truck transporting cases of Grolsch beer (given the ravages of alcoholism here, I'll say Richmond probably didn't benefit from that one).

Just thought this was super interesting.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Locked out of the Bakkie

Going rate in Richmond for a local guy to jam a wire scavenged from a nearby fence into your car door and pop the lock after you've idiotically locked your keys inside = $2.50.

This will be a good skill to have learned, though, if I ever move to Johannesburg and need to make some quick cash.

"Our" (borrowed) bakkie, named Chandler (Anna has 10 seasons of Friends here):


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"We should just tell anyone who asks that we're traveling around the world in this Van"

Here is a picture from a few weeks ago of a bunch of the interns at Rocking the Daisies, a music festival held on a wine estate just outside of Cape Town. The Lesotho crew rented a huge van and picked us and Kimberley up on the way down. The whole weekend was insane and ridiculously fun.

Anna and I were just down in Port Elizabeth for the weekend with another huge group of interns. We brought a bit of American culture to this coastal industrial town (think Detroit on a tropical beach) by celebrating Halloween on Saturday and all dressing up in a variety of elaborate costumes. On the way home to Richmond, we stopped off at Addo Elephant Park, one of South Africa's national game reserves. We took a guided tour and saw at least three dozen elephants, Zebras, a wild boar that looked exactly like Pumba from Lion King, and a bunch of lion cubs which were absolutely the cutest animals I've ever seen in my life.

Hunkered down in Richmond for a few weeks training new coaches and trying to shore up GRS expansion plans in the region.