ST Blog Post #3
By Jake Mendys
Well, this is certainly long overdue. In my last post I promised a follow up post at the end of October and now it’s almost December. Get ready for an in-depth introduction (or for some, re-introduction) to the Rwandan experience. Our orientation (seems like forever ago now) was markedly different than any other onboarding experience I’ve had thus far in my professional career. I was not so much taken aback by the nature of the work as we discussed it, I had an idea of what to expect when I signed on to be a coach and mentor for the players. What has been most shocking is more so the absolute bedlam of the ongoing social experience I’ve been thrust into here – culture shock at its finest.
Kigali is hectic. For the entirety of my first moto ride into the City Center, I thought I was going to die. It certainly didn’t help that I am both taller and heavier than just about anyone these moto taxi drivers are used to ferrying around. These guys are absolute savages on the road too, they will risk like and limb just to move forward a few feet at a stoplight or in a traffic jam. Parts of the City Center are the stereotype of what people envision when they hear “developing world marketplace.” So many moving bodies, cars, bicycles, motorcycles. People trying to sell you a map of Rwanda or outdated issues of the Economist. One guy yesterday insisted that I needed new windshield wipers for the new Shooting Touch car and didn’t stop pressing the sale until I quickly rolled out of the parking lot of the supermarket. On top of the inherent chaos of the City Center, everyone stopped and stared at the three Muzungus walking through the middle of downtown like we were aliens. Even now, two months in, the blank stares persist as I walk just about anywhere in Kigali or my little slice of the Eastern Province.
Speaking of which, I’ve settled into a nice house in the heart of Kayonza, a small town that serves as a midpoint between Kigali, Tanzania, and Uganda. At home here, I have a bed, a small camp stove to prepare meals, a knee high table to eat at, no running water, and a leaky roof. The living situation is humble, but I’ve come to realize how much of the “stuff” that I keep at my home back in the states is relatively unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. It took about a month to find this place, after I spent a month living with LiLi (Lisanne) and C-Breezy (Chloe) in Rwinkwavu. It was great having everyone together in the same house, but I’ll admit, I don’t miss having a 3-hour round trip commute from Rwink to Rukara 3 times per week to travel to and from practices.
The work itself is great. We’ve just wrapped up our 4th unit of curriculum concerning team defense and malaria prevention. It was certainly a process teaching some of the finer points on playing “ball-help-deny” man-to-man matchup defense to our kids – these are concepts that American children who understand everything I’m saying cannot sometimes seem to grasp. However, the process seemed to come full circle when on this past Friday in Kayonza, we let the kids end practice with a 5 on 5 scrimmage and two of the players were chanting “HELP, HELP, HELP” and “DENY, DENY, DENY” was quite a high note, poetic justice of the Rwandan sort.
I’d be lying if I said the kids aren’t starting to get under my skin. There are a few here with such incredible hearts, strong wills, and wonderful demeanors. Seeing them has made me realize even more how similar people are, regardless of their race, ethnic creed, nationality, religion, and whatever other silly means of division we seem to cook up as humans. Chloe and myself have such a powerful opportunity to influence and develop these kids throughout our tenure here.
One of my personal life goals is to help develop and nurture the next generation of great leaders. A quote that really impacted me as I’ve spent time reading in Kayonza is “Youth aren’t the future leaders of the world. They are the present AND future leaders.” (Salim Mohamed, It Happened on the Way to War”) When I sat and really thought about it, Salim was absolutely right. One day the kids we’re working now will certainly be the people in charge of businesses, governments, and local communities. There are also those who are/will become leaders and influencers among their peers from a very early age. Providing our youth here with rich opportunities to learn and grow as soon as possible is essential to creating a new generation of Churchills, Mandelas, King Jrs., Roosevelts and their ilk…Chloe and I have a duty to ensure our kids are receiving this sort of education each and every time we spend time together.
The work we’re doing here is so much bigger than basketball. I am of the opinion that anyone can come and teach these kids how to dribble, pass, and shoot a ball. Teaching life skills – teamwork, unity, perseverance, a sense of duty to our fellow man – these require a special blend of patience, experience, and empathy from the teacher as well as a welcoming and inclusive learning environment. I’ve already seen a few kids with incredible potential to be great basketball players, as well as great people. Will I seize the opportunity and show them how to realize it? Will Chloe do the same?
As I’ve said before, we’ve been granted an extremely broad mandate to change lives while we are here – to quote Uncle Ben from Spiderman “With great power, comes great responsibility.” We have a responsibility to carry ourselves with poise and confidence at all times when we’re working, to not feel discouraged when people don’t grasp a concept right away or when the task in front of us seems too monumental to achieve. Not gonna lie, the need here at times seems quite colossal in proportion to my resources, but we’ve already managed to achieve some great things in these first few months. Upward and onward!
Please find it within yourself to contribute to the work we do here, you likely don’t realize how much of an impact one basketball and a couple of rims can have on our kids here. We are quite literally changing and impacting hundreds of young lives beyond measure. To my family and friends in North Carolina and elsewhere in the country, I love and miss you all an insane amount. To everyone in Boston and the Greater Boston area, thank you for this chance.
Finally, S/O to Papa Kittredge on changing the slides game forever – I won’t wear another pair of flip flops for the rest of my days, and I don’t think I’ve gone a day without rocking the slides since I’ve been here. I’ve been absolutely inspired by all of the news these past couple weeks about the company.