So far, so good – Starting the Program in Zambia

Original Post: 8/30/2009

Written by Coach Sam working with Beyond Sport Integrated, Monze, Zambia

9am, Lusaka, Zambia. The plane touched as sun was
already beating down and unforgiving as I walked across the
busy runway in a kamikaze like mission in which the British
board of health would have had a field day, but just a way of
life in Zambia, a theme which would continue throughout the
day. As per usual at a international airport there was a
“Welcome to…” sign. What was different however was the
smiling faces, helpful and friendly staff and locals which
actually did make one feel genuinely welcome when entering a
country. After a two hour wait in the quite small Lusaka
airport, without any money, phone – it all became apparent as we had the pleasure
of sampling Zambian public transport. Wow! A bus type
contraption which made the Dodge conversion van I recently
had to sell for scrap look like absolute luxury. The bus
spluttered into action on the dusty ground with the help of
half the passengers push starting the vehicle and then
scampering after it and jumping back in.

We drove through the dirt tracks for an impressive
three and a half hours which by all accounts seemed to defy
the laws of physics. The windows were open for AC purposes
whilst everything seemed to shake, especially the
passengers, who didn’t mind one bit, all laughing and
joking for the whole duration. We were all packed in there
along with cargo, everything from rice to poles to my
footballs to car batteries which made sure the cabin space
was filled. Every time the bus shuddered to what would feel
like a terminal stop, teenage girls would appear from the
local village thrusting mainly bananas and apples for sale
through the bus window, especially at me, being a muzungu.
Stranger items where also offered, from pirate dvds (not
ones staring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly)
to children’s’ underwear. There was constant noise for
the hours we packed into the bus, more beeping then NYC
taxis, considering we didn’t see other vehicles for miles
at a time it was rather unclear for the reasoning, but
morale was high with shouting and laughing always being
heard.

As day turned into night villages were noticeable by
tiny camp fires outside of each home with the overpowering
smell of smoke and burning wood. Finally to where would be
my home for the next three months. A humble dwelling in
Monze. The night had now well and truly drawn it dark cape
over the town as we had a welcoming camp fire outside with
my housemates underneath the clearest night’s sky I have
ever seen, with thousands of stars twinkling above us.
Awoken by natures own alarm clock, the rooster, along
with the burning sun blazing through the window and my
mosquito net, it was off to my first football coaching
session. I would later learn that this would be a loose term
for the task at hand. With a three mile walk to the football
pitch (also a loose term) along the sun burnt red soil and
avoiding cattle which were haphazardly meandering around the
paths it was already draining. The friendliness of the
locals with cheery shouts of “hello” and “bboola” as
the whole nation is football crazy and mesmerised by the
sight of a bag full of footballs which are too expensive to
own for the average inhabitant. Children came rushing out of
everywhere on our trek to the field in a very much Pied
Piper like situation. Children kept appearing as they knew
that this could be the only time in the week that they had
to play, have fun and actually be children.

The growing numbers of youngsters are not put off by
the burning sun above, the dirty dusty stoney ground with
sparse patches of burnt grass, the fact that 90% aren’t
wearing any footwear or even that some are carrying their
baby siblings on their backs. It was obvious rather quickly
that the children had a limited English vocabulary, and
unsurprisingly my Tongan language education was extremely
small. Through a lot of key words, hand signals and
demonstrations it seemed to be a success for the 60
participants. Smiles, laughs, intrigue and eagerness filled
the faces of the children for the couple of hours I was
there. A particular highlight of mine was including a small
girl, to which the language barrier was eradicated due to
the fact she was both deaf and dumb. Seeing the enjoyment
she was having joining in with every game we played was
phenomenal.

For the second session I took a ride on the back of a
motorbike in my shorts an tee-shirt along the uneven cattle
worn tracks for ten miles. A hundred times more thrilling
than a roller coaster but also more dangerous and scary! As
we arrived my arms were tired from holding on so tightly but
we were met by the whole town on a sports afternoon. There
was an adults football match in full swing on the village
football pitch, a Netball game on the netball court, which
left myself and my assistant coach / translator with seven
footballs and 10 square yards of grass. Again kids came from
everywhere to fill this small space. Whilst they were still
pouring in I counted over 140 children in this tiny area. I
will never forget that hour and a half in which we kept
every child involved with plenty of touches of the ball,
having fun and smiles on their faces. The appreciation the
kids have for our visits is undeniably evident. We wrapped
up each session with the kids sat down and a talk on
‘Childs rights’ which the kids could ask us questions,
answer our questions and learn more. All together this is a
great programme for everyone involved and I am extremely
thankful for the experiences and to be part of it.

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