Feb 10, 2014, 3:01 PM EST
A pair of Notre Dame men’s soccer alums, Greg Klazura (’11) and Mike Rose (’12), are on a six-month internship with Grassroot Soccer in Zimbabwe and are sharing their story with us as it goes. Their first post is a collection of summaries about their travels and the beginning of their internship with Grassroot Soccer. Enjoy…
Munich, January 17th (Mike)
So we’ve made it almost halfway to our destination, and are sitting in the Munich airport enjoying a few beers while blogging. As Boss says, “always sipping”. Also, it’s how Facebook started so we figured we’d try our luck. Greg slept like a baby on the plane, which was good because I didn’t have to put up with him any longer.
CALLING AN AUDIBLE WE ARE GOING TO WANDER AROUND MUNICH FOR A FEW HOURS.
5 hours later…
So we ended up taking the train downtown and managed to get ourselves to the hub of the city. We were only down there for about two and a half hours but we are more than glad that we decided to make the call since our layover was 7 hours long. For the record, German women intimidate me. Not sure if it’s the assertiveness of the language or the fact that I don’t think they like Americans.
We are about to board our 11-hour, overnight flight to Johannesburg. From there we have a relatively short, two-hour layover before we get on our early afternoon flight to Bulawayo. We are trying to mentally prepare for the 60-70 degree shift in temperatures after the cold rain in Munich.
Day one, January 19th (Greg)
From here on out instead of chronicling our every movement we’ll try and stick with stories, videos, and pictures. I’m pretty sure reading about Rose’s every waking moment has to be one of Dante’s deepest and darkest levels of hell.
On that note, this morning I thought I would go to church for an hour or so and then sneak out the back. I heard services in Africa can be really long and given my jet lagged condition I wasn’t in the mood for a church marathon. I walked in and an usher showed me to a seat. The service started and the choir was rocking and rolling, Ndebele spirituals filled the sanctuary and people were clapping their hands and dancing. I was really enjoying myself. Then all of a sudden the music stopped and a woman at the front of the church is asking all first time visitors to stand and share their name. This might surprise you but I sort of stuck out just a little bit. Everyone in the congregation immediately turned and stared at me. I stood up and shared my name and was greeted with an enthusiastic applause. Soon after the usher informed me that an elderly lady at the front of the church had invited me to sit next to her at the front for the rest of the service. Sneaking out early was clearly no longer an option. Two and a half sweaty hours later the service was over. Although I was completely exhausted at the end of the service I was happy I went. The people I met were incredibly welcoming and it was great to get my first taste of Zimbabwean culture and spirituality.
Arrival in Zimbabwe, January 18th (Mike)
We’ve finally made it to Zimbabwe and we are on a bit of a travelers high, or at least I think so because I haven’t gotten any good sleep in the last 48 hours. Methembe Ndlovu, cofounder of Grassroot Soccer, Executive Director of GRS (Grassroot Soccer) Zimbabwe, and coach of the Bantu Rovers, met us at the airport along with another GRS employee that will be showing us around for the weekend– Andele. We got a ride from the airport which is northeast of the city to our temporary digs in the north suburbs. nice place, with a few bedrooms, but it will get very crowded here soon because it will be where the rest of the Bantu Rovers players will be staying for preseason. The house is in a moderately populated suburb which kind of reminds me of certain neighborhoods in and around Tel Aviv where I lived for a while when I was a kid for a few years. The weather is pretty amazing so far, with it not being too hot – combined with a nice breeze, which made our walk to the convenience store very pleasant. We’ve gotten some weird looks while out walking around. Not sure if it’s because we are the only white people in the area, or if it’s because of Greg’s ugly mug.
It is kind of funny that we have two big screen TV’s in the house with lots of channels but no indoor shower or heated water. We are watching lots of soccer while trying to stay awake until tonight in order to get our sleep schedule on track ASAP. Also, the power sporadically goes out throughout the entire city quite regularly.
This evening we grabbed some authentic Zimbabwean food with Andele. We ate with our hands and the meal consisted of isitshwala (it’s a pasty maize similar to mashed potatoes), chicken and fried greens. The food was quite tasty. We topped the night off on a rooftop bar drinking the local lager, Castle, while jamming out to some African house music the DJ was spinning.
Week In Review, January 27th (Greg)
If our first couple of days in Bulawayo were a walk in the park then our first week was something akin to the original Marathon in which the soldier Pheidippides ran from the town of Marathon to the city of Athens to deliver the important message that the Persians had been defeated. Pheidippides then collapsed and died.
Our preseason with the Bantu Rovers began on the 21st. For the next four days we would be working out in the morning and practicing in the late afternoon.
We arrived at a gym in downtown Bulawayo at 7:30 am. After ascending a set stairs past a chicken hatchery and a laptop/TV repair shop we walk into a room that smells of rust and sweat. African house music is blaring. Patrons throughout the gym are using equipment that is either broken or is breaking. Rose and I are soon grabbing our step platforms and stepping onto the aerobics stage in the front of the gym with the rest of the team. We are both excited and terrified. The music starts and for the next hour we are a flurry of kicking, stepping and jumping. For those of you familiar with the aerobics class at your local YMCA that your mom might go to, imagine that, but on speed, the Breaking Bad stuff. Rose and I probably could not have looked more out of place as we struggled to stay on beat and move in step with the rest of the team.
At 3 pm I had an hour long session with the defenders, at 4 pm the rest of the team joined us for a fitness session, which was then followed by practice. When practice ended at 6 pm I was completely exhausted. I only had three more days, six sessions and a game to go!
During the first week of preseason the team all stayed together at the team house, Number 7. Rose and I had been living there by ourselves for a couple days before preseason began and then twenty other dudes moved in. The more the merrier! Initially Rose and I slept quite well in our breezy accommodations underneath our mosquito nets. The other players, however, do not have mosquito nets. They are also accustomed to shutting all the doors and windows when it is time to sleep in order to keep the bugs out. If you were ever thinking about inviting twenty of your closest friends over in the middle of the summer for a sleepover and then closing all the windows and doors just to see if it gets hot there is no need, TRUST US, IT GETS REALLY FREAKING HOT. Quarters were cramped but it was a great opportunity to get to know the guys. Although there were four people in our room, we ate our meals on the deck, had cold, outdoor showers and never really had a steady supply of toilet paper, it reminded Rose and me of preseason at Notre Dame. Everyone together, everyone working hard.
After a hard day three (Thursday) I thought I had made it through the worst. The day before a game is usually light and with our first preseason game on Saturday I was already excited to play. I woke up on Friday feeling a bit ill but pushed through both sessions. On Saturday I woke up and felt terrible. I made the poor command decision to play anyway. We drove twenty minutes out of town, along the way we were periodically stopped at police checkpoints (which are apparently standard). We arrived at a police barracks, which serve as a base for the “reactionary police” and their families. The reactionary police are one of the many tools Mugabe, the president, uses to enforce his “rule of law.” I managed to play a half and we defeated the police team dubbed the Black Boots, 2-1.
For some reason the blazing Zimbabwean sun and 45 minutes of soccer hadn’t improved my somewhat maligned physical condition. I was feverish with chills and achey. I also had a headache and a constant runny stomach (diarrhea). Methembe (head coach, director of GRS in Zimbabwe) insisted that I see a doctor. I had low blood pressure and dysentery so they hooked me up to an IV and gave me an antibiotic and I am on the mend as I blog. I was told by some former interns that the water in Bulawayo is safe to drink. I had a small glass of tap water on my fourth day and all was well so I started to drink out of the tap more, mainly because of convenience. I think both the combination of fatigue from practice, sweaty sleeping conditions and local water caught up to me.
So far the picture of our stay depends on what lens you view it through. We have access to internet, refrigeration, running water, grocery stores, cars and cell phones. We also frequently lose electricity, have to sleep under nets, can’t drink the tap water and shiver every time we shower. Bulawayo is not a wasteland, it has resources, culture, and wonderfully nice people. It is, however, struggling immensely. The majority of the city’s (and country’s) residents are incredibly poor. Buildings and general infrastructure as a general rule are in terrible condition. Yesterday, as we were driving home from the clinic we noticed a police officer waiting for a combi (mini-van) to transport a handcuffed prisoner. Combies are for public use. They drive around looking for passengers to take to a designated location. The police man was basically hitch-hiking with his prisoner. Chisse, the assistant coach, burst into laughter at the irony of it. Most residents live below the poverty line and the poverty line is $500 a month. In Zimbabwe if you make more than $6,000 a year you are not poor. According to the CIA fact-book, 68% of Zimbabweans live below the poverty line.
I said this once before but hopefully from here on out we will have shorter posts that are more story structured. We felt it was important to recap our first week and we also planned on posting this much sooner with pictures and videos. Two-a-days and dysentery got the best of us.
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