Monday, July 26, 2010

Um Por Todos, Todos Por Um

Despite all the stereotypes about Africa, my first seven weeks here could hardly be described as “roughing it.” I spent every night in a big city—Cape Town or Johannesburg—and the wildest animal I’d come across was Heidi (Adrian’s Rottweiler). It's been all warm showers and wireless Internet… until last week. Right after I posted my last blog entry, I jumped in and out of the shower, packed my bag and headed over to the UJ Sports Bureau to embark on my latest adventure: a one-week trip to Manica, Moçambique.
Manica is a small town of about 40,000, located in central Manica Province of Moçambique, near the border with Zimbabwe. Last week I was lucky to join a group from University of Johannesburg on the lovely 18-hour drive north to be hosted by the Grupo Desportivo de Manica (GDM). Our group included 16 fourth-year architecture students, 3 architecture lecturers, three soccer coaches, two administrators from UJ Sport, a nurse, and two of the coolest drivers ever.

Grupo Desportivo de Manica was founded as a small football club in 1980. After a strong start, the club struggled through the years of civil war in Moçambique. In recent years the organization has rebuilt itself to become an integral part of the Manica community. In 2006, with the help of South Africa native Schalk van Heerden, “the club partnered with the University of Johannesburg to start ‘operation reclaim the dream': a dream of a holistic club that use sport, specifically football to facilitate social change. The rest, as they say is history.” Schalk was our official host in Manica throughout the week.

While Moçambique borders South Africa directly to the east, our group made the drive north to Manica through Zimbabwe. Apparently, the poor state of the roads through Moçambique would have added a half-day to the trip. Unfortunately, this meant dealing with Zimbabwe. My momma told me if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I will say that our experience in Zimbabwe amounted to one very long, very desolate highway—for which we had to buy vehicle insurance twice!?—15 police road blocks (each way), and only one bribe... yay!

Regardless, the trek through Zim was well worth it. Moçambique is beautiful—the land, the people, the air, and the vibe!
We pulled into to town after 8pm on Monday and unpacked the trailer before heading out to dinner. Before we arrived, the members of the GDM men’s team had packed up their stuff and moved out of their rooms at the clubhouse to make room for our group. In addition to housing for the players, the club now has a computer lab, kindergarten, nursery and recreation room.

On our first full day in Manica we got a tour of the town and an introduction to our two main projects. The architecture students and staff would be advising and working at the site of the future GDM sports complex. The plan is centered around the construction of three soccer fields—one for matches, one for training, and a smaller field for the little ones. The site plan also includes a housing village for the players with families, a building for visiting teams, and facilities for other sports. I was surprised by the scale of the project, but was particularly impressed with GDM’s holistic, sustainable approach. For example, the site plan includes the planting of over 100 fruit trees, including citrus, mangos, avocadoes, and lychee. In an effort to prevent deforestation, Moçambique law dictates that each planted tree adds to the land value. Also, the fruit from the trees will be sold to generate significant annual income for the club.

The project is certainly ambitious, and most of it is waiting for the necessary funding. But so far, they’ve made great progress: clearing and leveling the area for the first field, and constructing the necessary well, pumps, tank and storage tower to get running water to the worksite. They’ve also successfully relocated two families that were squatting on the land by building them identical housing nearby.

The UJ architecture team was there to provide technical assistance, as well as the physical labor required to construct one of the buildings. But I don’t know the first thing about architecture, so you know I was there for something else. While the students and lecturers were busy building the fields of the future, I would be back in town at the existing municipal field, getting my coach on. So, in the meantime, I sat back and enjoyed the first of many campfire braais while the architecture team started planning their attack.

On Wednesday morning I headed over field to join the players and coaches of the GDM Men’s First Team. We figured that a good way for me to get acclimated to the team would be to actually train with the players, so that’s what I did. It was strenuous, to say the least, and after chasing a bunch of 22-year olds for two hours I was ready for a nap.

The next morning I was at the field bright and early to run a training session—in the pouring rain—with Coach Mpho. A Soweto native, Mpho now works at UJ, coaching the Soweto Campus team and the Women’s team. We took a tag-team approach with me conducting the warm-up and cool-down, and Mpho leading a session on ball-possession. I also served as his interpreter.
After the morning session, Coach Doc Mabila took us to lunch at a great restaurant in the local open market. Doc and I met over dinner on my first night in Manica, and now he is officially “The Homie.” After his playing career in South Africa Doc decided to focus on coaching and outreach. He now works with the Institute for Democracy in Africa as a coordinator of the Project for a safe South Africa. Previously, Doc spent a year in Manica helping to develop the club, but he had not been back to visit in a few years. Even though he was with our group, he was also a de facto host for me, especially when it came to finding great food. You really can’t appreciate the power and the glory of the African Diaspora until you’re back in the Motherland, staring at a bowl of greens that could have come out of your Auntie’s pot. It was true Soul Food, except there was pap instead of grits, and no tableware in sight (that’s what the pap is for). It was great to work, play, and eat with Doc, and I’m looking forward to when our paths cross again.

That afternoon I ran a session for the GDM Juniors team, who range in age from 15 to 18. After that I got to work with about 30 youngsters (aged 5 – 14)—my specialty! When it came time to take a group photo, I did what I always do with the little ones. I said, “OK, we’re gonna take three pictures: one smiling, one real serious, and one doing whatever you want.” Just to clarify, I cannot be held responsible for what they chose to do.

That evening we all geared up for a night of five-a-side indoor soccer. The format: four teams rotating; each game lasts for ten minutes, golden goal! If no team has scored after ten minutes, them BOTH teams are off. Unfortunately, after our first three games, my team had played a grand total of about three minutes—and it wasn't because we were scoring. Between the Lebanese guys, Schalk's team, and the Moçambican squad with the matching jerseys, the competition was stiff. Eventually we adjusted and managed a ten-minute tie, and even a win later on. Most importantly, it was hella fun guaranteed.
On Friday Coach Mpho and I switched roles—he led the warm-up and cool-down, while I conducted a session focused on  “finalização” or finishing, In the afternoon I worked with the Juniors and the youngsters again, then joined Coach Doc Mabila to lead a session for the women’s team.
On my last day in town I headed over to the work site to join the architecture team for a little manual labor. There really is nothing quite like building something with your hands. To me, it’s a lot like gardening or cooking—there’s definitely some spiritual earth goddess worship connection going on there. The last time I mixed a pile of concrete or mortared bricks was in 1997, when I helped build a community center in San Luis, Costa Rica. In fact, a lot about this trip took me back to the summer I spent with Global Routes—the people, the land, the construction work, the language immersion, playing soccer in the mud, the cold showers. On the last day I finally perfected my strategy for coping with this last challenge: run in place, imagine you’re in a swimming pool, sing, and keep it short. You almost don’t notice how miserable it is.

But seriously, my time in Manica was a blessing. The say you don't really know something until you can teach it. In that sense, this experience was a blessing two times over for me: coaching soccer—IN PORTUGUESE! It was a great personal and professional development opportunity for me. On top of that, I got introduced to one of my new favorite places on the planet. There is no question about it, I will return!

Pura Vida,

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Happy Birthday Mr. Mandela

So, what is my life in South Africa like when there’s no World Cup to watch? Actually, I have no idea! Thankfully, the Women's U20 World Cup just started, so I've been able to get my fix. Last night I watched Mexico dispatch England—El Tri's goalkeeper is only 15 years old! But seriously, most of my time has been split between working at the University of Johannesburg and coaching with the Wits F.C. Juniors teams. Since I’ve written about Wits in my earlier posts, I’ll share a bit about my work with UJ.

Since the beginning of July I have been working as a volunteer in the Office for Community in Engagement, which is part of the Strategic Partnerships Division at the University of Johannesburg. UJ has an interesting history—it is the product of the post-apartheid merger between three existing institutions: Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), Vista University, and Technikon Witwatersrand. UJ currently has four campus in the Johannesburg Area: Auckland Park Kingsway (APK), Auckland Park Bunting (APB), Doornfontein (DFC), and Soweto. Each campus has its own character and history, with a different group of students, staff and faculty, and a different academic focus. In total, UJ has about 48,000 full time students and 3000 permanent employees.

I live on the main campus on Kingsway Ave in the Auckland Park neighborhood. The Kingsway campus is the former home of RAU, and is now the campus with the most students-in-residence. My host here is Adrian Carter, the Deputy Director of Sport at UJ. Technically, I am his only roommate… BUT, he’s got two doggies and a girlfriend (not necessarily in that order). I spent the first few weeks separated from Heidi (Rottweiler) and Nemo (Jack Russell Terrier) by a good set of metal bars. Heidi in particular seemed to think I looked or smelled like a nice steak. Thankfully, she’s gotten over that, and now we are certified besties.

As for the girlfriend… let’s just say that Mr. Carter is a
hopeless romantic. On Friday, he talked a few hundred students into forming a giant human "I LOVE YOU," spelled out in an open field on campus. The plan was to fly his girlfriend, Marike, over the field in a small plane—and this was to celebrate their 3 MONTH ANNIVERSARY!!! The students showed up, but unfortunately there was a mechanical malfunction and the plane never got off the ground. I said, "look on the the bright side: would you rather be stuck on the ground, or flying in a plane with a mechanical malfunction?" Ironically, it’s not the first time I’ve watched my roommate fall head over heels for a girl named Marike (or Marika, same pronunciation). In fact, Felix is getting married any day now—CONGRATULATIONS BIZZLE!

Adrian’s place is just a 10-minute walk to Campus Square, a good-sized shopping hub for students and local residents. Another 10 minutes walking will get you to Melville, where 7th Street is home to a nice selection of restaurants, bars, book stores and other shops. Plus, there's some nice street art along the way, courtesy of Pressure Control Projects.

The Office for Community Engagement is located on the Doornfontein Campus, near the Central Business District. I’ve joined a small team at OCE, which works side by side with the Alumni and Development Offices. My boss is Ernestine Meyer-Adams, who actually set me up with everything I'm doing here in Jozi (thank you for the intro, Emmet Carson!). On top of putting me to work at UJ, Ernestine's husband, Grant, is one of the coaches at Wits F.C. Juniors.

Our main project in OCE this month has been coordinating a University-wide initiative in the spirit of Mandela Day.
“Mandela Day is an annual celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life and a global call to action for people to recognize their individual ability to make an imprint and change the world around them… The Mandela Day campaign message is simple: Nelson Mandela has given 67 years of his life fighting for the rights of humanity. All we are asking is that everyone gives 67 minutes of their time, whether it’s supporting your chosen charity or serving your local community.”

Our office has designed five community projects based around the Millennium Development Goals, and we have been pushing to get all students, faculty, and staff involved. Although Mandela Day is July 18, on Madiba’s 92nd birthday, our projects last from July 19 – 30, with the hope of building on today’s momentum. Apart from helping with the overall coordination of the initiative, my role has been to design and spearhead the Environmental Sustainability Project. So far, we’ve got almost 200 people signed up to participate in a City Clean Up Day on Friday, July 30.

We put a lot of work in this week going to the different UJ Campuses and meeting with members of each Student Representative Council. Their support has been, and will be, the make-or-break factor in the success of these projects. It was great finally see the Soweto campus, since I live on APK and work at DFC. Actually, it felt a lot like being at SF State—only this time I was passing out flyers for Mandela Day instead of for a Collectiv event.

After a few hours of work on the Soweto
Campus we headed to a meeting with the local branch of the Red Cross. As part of the Strategic Partnerships Division, the Office for Community Engagement works to build bridges with organizations throughout the region, country and world. Which brings me to the end of this post! The reason why I’m posting on Sunday instead of Monday this week is because at midnight tonight I will be piling into a van for a whole new UJ adventure. I will be away from my computer for the entire week, but I promise, I’ll get you all caught up in my next post!

Pura Vida...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Long Live The King

When I was a youngster I was a HUGE fan of Garfield. Not the bootleg TV cartoon, but the original comic strips. I collected the anthology books religiously, and at one point I had the first twenty or thirty editions. Any true Garfield lover remembers how he felt about Mondays, basically protesting life every seven days by refusing to do virtually anything (except eat). Well, today has to be the toughest Monday ever—if not in world history, then at least in the history of South Africa. As the country struggles to adjust to life on the first day of the year 1 A.C. (After the Cup), I find myself just trying to stay busy. Maybe if I spend enough time writing this entry I won’t notice that there is no game on tonight…
But for all the gloom and doom, the last week of the World Cup was a great one for me. On Thursday I got an inside look at African Romance Diamonds in Sandton. African Romance is unique in that it is a completely vertically integrated company, operating its own South African mining, cutting, polishing, wholesaling, and retailing operations. I was invited to see the operation by Michael, who is the first cousin of Sonja, my earlier host in Johannesburg.

On Saturday morning I attended a coaches' clinic for the Witz F.C. Juniors staff. The session was run by coaches from Witwatersrand University and BIDVest Wits FC, dealing with everything ranging from the philosophy of the club to the fundamentals of running effective practices. The technical coaching aspects were concepts covered in different licensing courses that I’ve attended. But, it was helpful because when hearing certain themes, ideas or practices being repeated by different coaches on different continents, it reinforces their value. In contrast, it also helps to get a sense of what aspects of my training are more “American” or less universal.
As a coach who has been launching a club back home (Burners F.C.), this was a great opportunity for me. Most importantly, it was helpful for me to observe the top-down approach of the folks that were trying to create consistency and quality on a club-wide level, across several teams and different age groups.

Like any good coaches training, the clinic included an on-field session. Being the youngest one there, I was often nominated to be the guinea pig. I didn’t mind during the small-sided scrimmage, but I was less excited when it came time to demonstrate FIFA’s recommended excersises to build core strength. I did OK, but I'm sure that Mara would recommend a solid Pilates regimen to get my act together.

That night Eli and I headed to Soweto to check out the much-maligned third place game. In my opinion, the consolation match separates the futbol fanáticos from the World Cup groupies. True soccer addicts—like Jelly and I—appreciate another 90 minutes of world-class play. Uruguay and Germany delivered, and we enjoyed an exciting match over grilled “Moja Chicken” at Roots Restaurant.

When I got home that night I sat down at the computer to check my email and enjoy a little music before bed. When my phone rang I almost didn’t answer the unrecognized number—but I did, THANK THE LAWDY LAWD! On the other end of the line was my new favorite person, Dr. Sue Cook from Royal Bafokeng, calling to invite me to Match 64 between Spain and Holland! Thank you Schyleen! Thank you Sue! Thank you Kgosi Leruo, for going so far out of your way to hook me up!


When I stepped off the bus the next evening in front of Soccer City I was nearly in tears, about 3 millimeters away from having a complete breakdown right in the parking lot. Yes, it’s that serious. It would have been an amazing experience on any continent, but the site of the newly rebuilt 90,000-plus capacity stadium was something ridiculous. My first thought was the alien craft from Independence Day, hovering over the world’s major cities. As far as global football is concerned, Soccer City is truly the Mother Ship. By the time I made it to the Royal Bafokeng Suite, I just had to take a seat, sip a Sprite, and try to relax myself. The pregame ceremony made the Super Bowl Half Time shenanigans look like a school talent show. Just before the teams took the field to warm up, Madiba made a surprise appearance, bringing everyone in the crowd to their feet in salute. I am convinced that he is the most loved human being on earth, and I felt lucky to be in a stadium full of people cheering him on for the second time in my life (see earlier post).

The game was ugly at times, thanks to the Dutch. But the better team—the one that actually played with some class—won, so I was happy. Now that the tournament is over my energy is focused on my responsibilities and projects here in the country. I have been working in the Office for Community Engagment at University of Johannesburg, so starting next week you’ll be hearing plenty more about that. Also, some of you were asking for some follow up on the Jelly connection, so stay tuned for that as well.

Pura Vida...