Saturday, September 24, 2011

Osman goes to Sierra Leone Amputee Soccer Club Practice!

So, for some time now we have been wanting to get Osman (click if you need a refresher on Osman's story) to see the national amputee soccer club play. 
We first started hearing about the team when we arrived, and then a photographer from the ship posted some pictures of them playing and we knew we needed to see them in action.

Their schedule has been a little less consistent because of rainy season, but this week we finally made all the connections.

First stop: pick up Osman and his uncle (serving as his care giver) at the Hope Center, and head to the practice fields. 

Along the way we saw some beautiful scenery- this country is breathtaking – as well as some typical signs that I tried to capture on film.

Osman was warmly greeted by the team who had not met him before, but were happy to show off their skills and give Osman a picture of how amputation has not meant an end of the sport that is almost larger than life here.

We arrived at the same time as some of the last players (who were making better time than most of the traffic, while they made there way with two crutches and one foot along the road – who knows how many miles they had to travel on foot.

Immediately the drills began.  First a sort of rhythmic march between two sets of orange cones.  I’m not sure which words to use to describe a march with only one foot.  It was more of click, stomp, click, stomp.  The click being the crutches, then a swing of their bodies and then the single foot launching them several feet forward again.  I don’t think I would have been able to keep up at their normal cadence, let alone when they did “Super training” and picked up the pace to a full on sprint.  I would have ended up in a jumbled pile on the ground, but no one lost control during this part.

Next came the balance drills.  One on one chicken fighting- slam dancing to see if you can knock your opponent over.  Laughter rang out across the dirt field as they tried to get the best of one another.

They divided into blue versus green and the battle began.  Those who were missing an arm could serve as goalies.  The rest of the players were on crutches and had one good AMAZING leg.  They all used crutches with the arm holds (which Osman has been refusing to try because he thinks they are harder- I think he’ll be singing a different tune from now on). 

There was no gentleness about this game.  It was an all-out battle for victory as they knocked each other down, sent the ball rocketing into the elephant grass (to be retrieved by the neighbor boys), and didn’t even stop play for their water breaks- squeeze a bag of water into your mouth, on your head, and keep on playing. 
I wanted to soak it all in.  I wanted to sit down with each player and learn their story.  Their youngest player is 12, their oldest is 35.  These are survivors of civil war.  I would imagine most of their limbs were taken at the hands of a fellow Sierra Leonean.  Maybe someone they knew.  Maybe a stranger.  I didn’t want to leave. 
We asked if we could get a “snap” (a photo) of the team with Osman, and not only did they want to honor that, but they sang a celebration song to us and Mercy Ships. 
There was no fan fare here- no street meat for sale or boiled peanut vendors – just hard work, sweat, and lives that have pushed through incredible hardship and come out victorious. The team has competed worldwide and has even won their World Cup beating Brazil.  Their next trip is to Ghana.  You can read more about it, and the documentary, Leone Stars, that has been made about them (and won an award at the TIFF film festival – no relations) on the film's blog:

ps- I don't know if you can view these photos- so please let me know if it doesn't work to use Skydrive- I know on the ship here I can't view them! 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

It takes a village…

Much like we would on a sunny February day in Minnesota, we smiled brightly this morning seeing a reprieve from the rains and grey clouds and headed to the beach.  Rainy season began in May and most days don’t go by without rain.  But, today looked promising.  We loaded up a Land Rover and  navigated the roads that have become holier and holier since we got here.  Pot holes, that is.  The rainy season has done a number on the streets and to drive without four-wheel drive here would be quite the challenge (and painful to your car repair bills).
As soon as we got out of the car at Lakka Beach, Savannah spotted these “shy” plants.  She and Kylie had seen them earlier this summer on a field trip with the other kids, so she recognized them and showed them to us.  Watch what the leaves do when touched….
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Cool, huh?

Next we were greeted with green coconuts.  Being thrown from the sky.  We looked at this giant palm and wondered how the fruits were falling so suddenly. 
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We’re talking a GIANT tree.
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Notice anything unusual about this tree?  Say, like a small boy at the top??  Talent I tell you. 
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We took a walk hoping to find some shells, but instead came across one of my favorite phenomena at the beach: the bringing in of the fishing nets. 
Twice a day the village sends a huge net out – a canoe is used to spread the net out in a semi-circle 500 meters from shore.  After being out there for a few hours, it’s time to bring in the nets. 
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This is not a one-person job.  The entire community comes together.  The young, the old.  The women and the men.  Everyone joins in and uses their strength to pull in the nets.  In the nets is dinner.  Income.  Livelihood.  Purpose.
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There’s even a rhythm keeper.  His job is to “beep,” and keep time. 
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Once the net is in, whatever you take is yours.  I asked “who gets the fish?  Will there be an argument?” and the local man answered me, “No, we all share.  Here it belongs to all of us.”  The sense of communal living is incredibly strong in West Africa.  You aren’t as much an individual as you are a part of a group.  Clubs, societies, denominations, neighborhoods – all of these ways of being a part of something bigger is of extreme value here.
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Hard to tell, but this net is pulsing with it’s fresh catch trying to flip to freedom.  Fish of all sizes were wrapped up here – from two inches to 20.
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So everyone comes with their plastic bowl.  And takes what they need.  They will chop up and put it in spicy sauce as a rice topping, or smoke it and sell it in the market.
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Only the loose scales will be left on the beach (and those will wash out with the next wave).
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Savannah, almost age 8, with her teeth growing in!
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Kylie, 10 for a few more months, sporting her new shorter hair!
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Dan, showing off some spiny lobsters (that he had nothing to do with, other than watching the extremely ripped man carry them onshore in a giant crate on top of his head). He’s hoping to do a night dive in a couple of weeks and catch some himself.  There will definitely be a blog about that if it happens!
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And they became his tasty lunch.