My expectations were exceeded once I left my first practice at Nyamirama. I’m not going to lie I was a bit nervous considering there is such a huge language barrier. However, the basketball terms that I learned over the summer, plus the help of Isa made things much easier. There were roughly 20 kids ranging between the ages of 10 and 16. Thankfully there were about 10 balls at that court so kids were able to stay involved throughout the whole practice. I have never seen anyone so excited to take part in lay ups and partner passing. Seeing them smile made me feel like I could be there all day. One kid came up to me after practice and said, “With practice, can you make me good like you?” My heart melted!
Before leaving I had some fun dribbling around the kids while Rem was showing off his dunking abilities. These kids were going nuts! He was throwing kids up to dunk and you would have thought that they watched Jordan play, as one of them split his legs in the air and cocked the ball back before dunking.
It was a great taste of what Shooting Touch has implemented throughout these past 2 years as you can really see the love for the game within each smile.
Along with Nyamirama, we practiced at Kayonza, Rwinkwavu, and Rukara. While traveling through these villages who don’t normally get many tourists, I’ve heard “Muzungo” (foreign person or white person I’m not 100% sure) probably about 300 times. Sometimes people just stare at me, even after we make eye contact lol, just a tad bit awkward but you get used to it. Anyways, I will be staying in Rwinkwavu for the majority of my stay in Rwanda, so I have had a few practices with them already. I’m telling you, some of these kids are good! Playing barefoot and all, they will cross you without hesitation haha! I’m slowly learning everyone’s name and getting to know everyone’s personalities both on and off the court. A few kids have already shown their colors when helping us get groceries, or walking me to my room because I didn’t remember how to get there. That’s a big deal considering these hills are something serious! At the end of the day you can tell what a great job that Shooting Touch has done by the way we have been embraced into the community. Everyone loves and will ask me daily about Kevin (the 2013 grantee) and Casey (the 2012 grantee) while welcoming us with open arms. I can see why it has been so hard for everyone to leave this place, and why some (not mentioning any names, ahem…*Isa*…) just won’t leave lol.
Speaking of Isa, we were able to play in my first Rwandan basketball game! It was more of a friendly match between the team I am now part of, Ubumwe (unity) against the coaching staff, president of the organization, and etc. Although there was no real ref (just Remy haha) we had our full uniforms on and played four 15 minute quarters. I was exhausted by the first 5 minutes haha!!! In my defense, it’s much harder to breathe being 1 mile above sea level (just saying). Besides that, we all had a blast, and somehow ended up winning 91-86 after being down 20 at one point! We were all going crazy as if we had just won a championship match! I can’t wait to actually play league games with these women.
Besides the basketball portion of what we have been doing, we met with the National Federation of Rwandan Basketball. We are now partners with them and they have agreed to allow us to host a tournament in their stadium. This is huge! For one, the kids from the villages have never been to Kigali, much less played in a stadium, so this will be an amazing experience for them. Secondly, this will give the federation a chance to see the skill level out in the villages and possibly recruit some kids for later on. Remy and I are also going to get a group of kids from one of the villages to come out and watch a men’s league game. We are going to arrange that the kids play at half time so they can feel what it’s like to play in front of a crowd. Again, this will be huge for the kids and hopefully something they can remember for the rest of their lives
We have also met with people in Gahini, where Remy and I will be building our court. It is on the campus of a boarding school where 2 primary schools are nearby so the number of kids playing will be plentiful! The head master is excited to get started and it looks like we will begin constructing in the beginning of November, once the kids are on vacation.
For the next month Remy and I are planning a coaching clinic in order to get the coaches ready for the December Classic tournament that we will be hosting. This way we have some solid coaches for the league that we will be running throughout the year. Along with that we are getting shirts and headbands designed for the kids, dealing with immigration, and meeting with partners to discuss future tournaments.
Behind the business side I have been embracing my time in Rwanda. Although there has been a lot of traveling in tight buses and living out of suitcases for the past 2 weeks, I am getting more and more comfortable in this country. Waking up to look at countless hills in the distance, while gazing at the bright stars at night has given me a peace of mind. It feels as though this is how life should be. In Rwinkwavu there are no big buildings, no street lights, no cars. When it gets dark (around 6:30pm) everything stops and you are left to enjoy the simple sound of nature. This is something I could definitely get used to.
Until next time!