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.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Still Alive

Whew, sorry for not writing at all recently. Everything has been really busy and, ironically, I'm too busy to fully bring you up to speed about all the business. Let me give you a bullet point-style breakdown of what's been going on in this neck of the woods, though, so you at least have some idea:

- End of February: Drove from Mtubatuba to Richmond (~13 hrs) to check in on the site and hang out with Anna. Sadly, had to return Chandler, our awesome pickup truck, to the farmer who owns it. Took a bus down to Cape Town for meetings with GRS bigwigs to bring everybody up to speed about progress on the Mtuba project and then rented a new car, packed it full of donated Nike soccer gear to use in KZN, and drove the ~20 hours back out to Mtubatuba. Long haul driving but pretty awesome way to see the country.

- Early March: A couple weeks of pretty unbroken time in Mtubatuba. Kept launching the GRS curriculum in our partner schools and checking in on our coaches. Remember, we just trained these coaches in our curriculum a month ago and many of them just graduated from high school and have zero teaching experience. A big part of what I can offer to this project is basically to make sure they are facilitating well and offer advice about connecting with kids, making the curriculum more fun, and so on. I can't understand a word of isiZulu so content-wise I'm pretty useless, but in any language you can definitely identify whether a coach is facilitating the curriculum well or not. Began coaching for the Mtuba Football Academy, which has been awesome. I really look forward to Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays when I help out the head coach of this rural soccer academy coach the 100 kids who participate. I'm in charge of the Under-10 age group...coaching soccer for little kids has to be one of the most rewarding experiences there is. Mtuba Rugby Club pre-season began, initiating what will surely be a long schedule of me getting pulverized by huge Afrikaner farmboys.

- Super recently: A week ago movie star actress Charlize Theron was in town to check out Mpilonhle's programs, which included her touring some of our Grassroot Soccer activities. I guess people probably say this most of the time after meeting celebrities, but she struck me as very normal and friendly. Got to eat lunch with Charlize. Pretty sure the relationship will end there, but will update you guys if anything happens re: a wedding date. Last weekend visited Anna in Richmond to help her with a huge VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) soccer tournament she had organized. I was just a pair of hands on the day and had a blast. Anna did an amazing job organizing the whole thing: had a great soccer tournament, brought the community together, and we tested 179 people (7 of whom were HIV positive). Really cool to be there for that.

- Now: All kinds of stuff to organize with Mpilonhle: supporting 50 coaches, organizing GRS soccer camps during the World Cup, high school soccer leagues, and so on. Going to Johannesburg this weekend for a GRS training with a few colleagues from Mpilonhle. On the schedule: GRS training, hanging out with Soweto intern Karti, and trying not to get stabbed. Next week might go to a big music concert close to Durban with a bunch of the interns. After that the Zululand rugby season is starting and I should have some good war stories to share.

Need to get into town and get to work but will try to write a little more frequently once things settled into more of a routine and I'm not driving thousands of miles.



Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Zulu Names Of Interest

Just an image-heavy post about some great Zulu names. They're drawn from the kids living in rural areas surrounding Mtubatuba who appear on our GRS Skillz attendance sheets. They range from...

...The Sweet:

...To the Career-oriented

...To the Nearly-American:

...To the Prophetic (and, above Thabani Wiseman, to the Unfortunately Mis-Spelled):

...To the Hyperbole-Laden:

...and, finally, to the Hilariously Ironic:


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Security in South Africa: Inyala Headquarters

At about 11:30 PM last night, after meeting up with a few Mtuba Rugby friends at the literally-20-feet-from-the-sideline-of-the-rugby-pitch bar called The Rugby Club and watching the Blue Bulls play the Free State Cheetahs, one of the guys named Vernon and I drove over to the headquarters of a company called Inyala Security. Vernon, a thick, 6-foot-4 Afrikaaner farm boy and literally one of the largest human beings I have ever seen, is a manager at Inyala Security, a security company here in Mtubatuba, which offers services including V.I.P. security, physical cash transfers, alarms with armed response, guards, and "farmwatch."

A few examples: when Charlize Theron comes to visit Mpilonhle here in Mtubatuba (Charlize is a big supporter...), Inyala picks her up at the nearby Richards Bay airport. When I look out the window at night and see a guy patroling the perimeter of our property, he's Inyala. Banks have 4 or 5 Inyala guys out front (Wild West-style bank robberies still happen out here in rural Zululand).

Now its time for a digression about security in South Africa. You really can't imagine how thoughts of safety and security control people's lives here. I mean, just imagine if every (okay, not every...but what if a huge percentage of...) middle class (and up) household in the States were locked down with windows criss-crossed by burglar bars, surrounded by electric fencing, patrolled by machine gun-armed guards. And don't just imagine the physical impact it might have on you (your ability to see out your windows), but imagine the psychological effect. To generalize horrifically, white people in this country, in my limited experience, are living in a constant state of fear. Some (maybe more than some) of that fear is absolutely justified: South Africa, is after all, a place with a lot of crime, violent crime, prime crime, crime-y crime, and all the other kinds of crime out there. It's just interesting to be immersed in a culture and a place where crime is a reality and fear is widespread. Which brings us back to Inyala.

It's 11:30 PM and Vernon and I are hanging out around Inyala. Vernon's telling me stories about Inyala subordinates and friends who have been killed and paralyzed in shootouts with criminals (Wild West...) while the cops were cowering behind their cars. Sometimes, it seems, these private security companies actually do a lot of the work that would clearly fall under the expectations of police back home. After taking ten minutes to find a key he had lost, Vernon gives me a tour not of Inyala's arsenal (which I'm sure is impressive), but of Vernon's personal arsenal, housed at Inyala. No less than three modern shotguns, a sniper rifle, four pistols and a late 1800s rifle which still works handed down through the generations to Vernon from a Voortrekker Dutch ancestor, we finally took off for our respective homes. I was raised to fear guns and, even though they weren't loaded, just being around this small stash was enough to make me feel more than a little uncomfortable.

But it's life for a lot of people here. Vernon has guns at his house, and he's trained to use them. Vernon's girlfriend has advanced pistol training. A lot of this is obviously somewhat specific to Vernon, a security professional whose job revolves around armed response. But my point is that in the States Vernon would be seen as somewhat "out there." Here in Mtubatuba he fits right in.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Normal Routine Begins

Hey everybody. Just finished a grueling two weeks of back-to-back trainings: this past Friday we graduated an additional 23 Skillz Coaches (on top of last week's graduating class of 21), now trained to implement Grassroot Soccer's HIV/AIDS curriculum in their communities. Here they are.

Last weekend was sandwiched between the two Trainings of Coaches so we took it pretty easy. We did get a chance to go to the nearby Mfolozi-Hluhluwe Game Reserve, which is an awesome game park located basically in our backyard. Most game park tourists, in my experience, plan their game-seeing trips like military operations: getting up at 5 AM to maximize the chance of seeing certain animals coming in from night hunting (mostly lions), hiring guides knowledgeable in the local wildlife and safety precuations, renting pimped-out Land Rovers with viewing platforms, and so on. We, on the other hand, went a more budget route - we slept in late, stumbling into the park around noon, and one of the Mpilonhle employees drove us out there in her SUV. We just sort of mosied around the park's roads, getting lost repeatedly, not even opting for the cheap-o game park map purchase. But, as my Lobsterman Uncle's good friend Henley would say, the price was right.

And, despite our poor preparations, we ended up seeing a bunch of awesome stuff. This place was packed full of cool animals...for our our laziness, we ended up seeing FOUR of the "Big 5" (the 5 most sought-after animals on game excursions: lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino, elephant). Here are a few pictures:

The game park was beautiful:

Buffaloes grabbing a bath:

"Excuse me, sir, have you been drinking tonight?"

Lion walking down the middle of the road:

Real work starts on Monday, and I'm just getting a chance to catch my breath from all the crazy trainings. Excited to get the ball rolling here, though. Playing on the town rugby team, and training with a great semi-pro soccer team, but only because the coach likes me. Expect updates soon.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mtuba TOC

Mtubatuba Training of Coaches (TOC) #1 just finished, and 21 new coaches trained. Our partner organization here is Mpilonhle (in Zulu, "A Good Life") and 3 of the coaches are full-time health counselors at Mpilonhle offices here in Mtuba; those 3 will manage the other 18 (plus the ones we are going to train this week), spread throughout surrounding rural communities up to about 1.5 hrs drive away. Next week is TOC #2, where we're training 24 additional coaches. TOCs take a lot out of you, but "training the trainers" is always really fun. When the dust settles this Friday, we'll have 52 new Grassroot Soccer Skillz Coaches spread throughout 12 rural communities, aiming to work with several thousand kids before the World Cup starts. Exciting!

Briefly, Zulu is an awesome language which requires clicks and pops and squelches and all kinds of crazy noises that I have no chance of ever correctly creating (how would you pronounce Hluhluwe? I'll give you a hint: it requires puffing your cheeks out and shooting saliva everywhere). My forays into Zulu pronunciation, at least, give the coaches some entertainment.

TOC Graduate Group:

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Big changes, and life is a bit too hectic to fully explain right now. GRS needed somebody to head out to rural KwaZulu-Natal to help with a project, so I've actually moved away from Richmond temporarily and am living in Mtubatuba, KZN. The environment (jungles, rivers, close to the ocean) is sweet, the GRS work is amazing, the Zulus are a crazy group to be working with, and life is great.

Will be writing about life here soon.

In the meantime, here's a map of where I am:,32.199383&spn=0.07383,0.154324&z=13


Friday, January 15, 2010

Don't worry, I am alive...

But just barely, for a variety of reasons but - most recently - after somehow emerging unscathed from ramming into an enormous baboon that decided to launch a surprise attack from the roadside bushes outside East London, sprint across a lane of highway traffic, and pulverize the front of my smallest-car-possible-allowed-by-law rental vehicle. I do, at least, have the cool license plate as a souvenir.

Sorry for not writing; it has been a hectic 3 weeks of African backpacking and travel. I decided not to go home for Christmas and, instead, gallivanted around South Africa and Mozambique from the end of work on 18 December and arriving home only at 6 AM the day work started again, 11 January.

Impending updates to include:
- Richmond Community Center Christmas Party (Santa on a Donkey Cart)
- Port Elizabeth - Durban "Surf" (read: belly-board) Trip, Christmas on the beach
- The 30-hour bus/taxi/shuttle journey from hell from Durban to northern Mozambique
- New Year's in Mozambican Paradise
- Durban - Port Elizabeth reverse Wild Coast Road Trip

Will put ink to paper on these stories and adventures as soon as I'm able. In the meantime, hope you all are doing well!