Tuesday, July 29, 2008

White (Wo)Men Can't Jump

One of the volunteer groups staying with us at Red Chilli invited us to participate with them in a local sports tournament with their local partner organisations.

We extended the invitation to our housekeepers and shambas - most of whom have a general knockabout with a ball at the end of each day anyway.

It felt like a perfect plan - the boys and girls deserved an afternoon out - they have been working extra hard during this busy season - and it was a chance for R and I to integrate into some real local life.

As for the sporting element we thought it would friendly, amateurish fun. Jumpers for goalposts, that kind of thing...

Oh how wrong we were.

We turned up at the grounds near St Paul's Church in Banda, a small local town off the Jinja Road. Drums were beating down by the football ground. A PA system was blaring out Lugandan match commentary over a musical beat. Team buses sat parked up a vertical bank of grass. Groups of strapping young men in different colours of shiny nylon were tying the laces of their football boots. Towering young women with netball skirts flapping around their long, glowing limbs were stop-start-turn-leap-running across the length of the netball pitch. Shouts rang out and children cheered.

This was no sunday league. These people took their playing very seriously indeed.

With a certain amount of intrepidation, I squeezed myself into a tiny netball bib that squished my tits flat and tried to remember the rules. Suddenly I realised,

I have not played this sport since 1989.

Who was I trying to kid?

Ten minutes after the first whistle blew and it was clear. I had forgotten the rules. I could not keep up with the fit local women always one step ahead of me, nor could I match the stamina and speed of my team-mates - a bunch of mainly 17 year olds from near Manchester and the odd cleaner from Red Chilli.

By the end of the first quarter, I'd swapped with Annet, one of our housekeepers, who went on to play a far, far better game than I ever could have.

By the start of the second quarter, the white faces had turned pink and one ankle had been turned on the rough ground. The opposition, a team from the local HIV Outreach Clinic in Mbuya, were trouncing us. Two goals to Nil.

We were getting plenty of shots at the hoop but none of them were getting in.

Demoralised but determined the team soldiered on. Another fifteen minutes in the blistering heat, sun beating down on the hard red baked earth. The crowd were sat silently in the shade, lulled into a stupor by the heat that was punishing the players so hard. But the Outreach team were leaping past us every time, passing the ball down the line with impeccable timing, getting their ball through the hoop one shot in every three.

Finally, in one of the last minutes of the second quarter, K scored a goal for our side.

Everyone erupted with noise. The crowd lining the top of the bank, sat beneath the maize stalks, the captain of the opposition, the children with the big goatskin drum - all whooped and hollered and cheered and roared at our success. It may only be one goal against the four scored by the opposition, but they were every bit as jubilant as we were.

Half time was spent visiting the boys - a team of black and white shirted players flailing, in a dignified way, against the polish athleticism of another local team. They scored a goal from a penalty kick whilst we were watching and made the score Three-One.

A few of our shambas swapped in and I looked on as Ronnie, Pascal and Godfrey all took their turn on the ball. Aisha, the tiniest of our cleaners but a keen footie player, was sitting frustrated on the sidelines watching the boys. I encouraged her to join us girls as we headed head back to the netball ground, to our own battle.

The third and fourth quarter, now we had our eye in, saw a lot more goal scoring. Suddenly the gap had narrowed and it was Five-Four to them. I stood at the sideline and roared support, along with a small boy who had two lengths of wood he was clapping together to show he wanted our team to win too.

But the other side were simply better. Better athletes, better practised as a team, and better shooters. The game ended on a respectable Seven-Five and the teams, pink-faced and dripping with sweat, lined up for photos.

The people driving home in the Landrover were better friends than before. Suddenly we had history together that spanned more than just the workplace.

Annet was so fired up, our netball queen, that she's asked for permission to try and set up a regular Red Chilli netball team. I'm all for it, if we can recruit enough players.

Since the match I've given our boys and girls some print outs of the better shots of them. I caught them pouring over them in their lunch break yesterday.

Barbara pointed to a shot of Pascal driving the ball up from mid-field and said admiringly,

You look like you are playing in North London!

Other than the banana trees lining the pitch, of course.

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