A Hopeful Transition
August 7th 2014. CAC volunteer Layla Joudeh blogs about her CAC experience in southern Africa and returning home.
7 weeks later and I’m sitting at home in South Carolina. I never thought this day would come. And by the end of the trip, I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted my time with CAC to end. Back in the USA, a different life awaits- college, friends, and family. I think part of my hesitation towards my time ending was the fear of adapting to a Western life again. 7 weeks ago I was focused on transitioning from busy college student in New England to soccer coach in southern Africa. Now my focus is on adapting back to school with all the experiences I gained from CAC. The last few days in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo were a great way to end my trip but did make leaving a little more difficult.
After partnering with the Georges Malaika Foundation (GMF) and the FIFA Football for Hope Center in the previous week, we had the opportunity to work with GMF’s school. We played games with GMF’s students, teachers, and parents. The Monday with the students was one of my favorite days of the entire seven weeks in southern Africa. All of GMF’s students are young females, so we worked with about 60 girls that were 4, 5, and 9 years old. When we first pulled into the school, the younger students greeted us with a welcome song. Charlie, Jamie, and I tried singing along, but we didn’t sound quite as good as the girls. We spent the rest of the day playing our games with the students. The girls were a little hesitant when we started Circle of Friends- our simple, fun warm up- but as soon as Charlie and Jamie showed off their dance moves as part of the warm up, the girls didn’t stop laughing and smiling. The students didn’t know English so our main forms of communication were silly faces, funny voices, kicking around the ball, and some cone balancing on our heads (see above picture). Anything that we did, the girls were eager to try. Needless to say, Jamie’s elephant impression was a hit. At the end of our break, there was a parade of elephants traversing the field. Playing with the kids was incredibly fun. After seven weeks of coaching, I’ve never had a dull moment with children. They are eager to the play the games and are easily entertained, which makes our jobs a lot more fun(ny).
The following two days were spent working with teachers and parents of the students. When I first approached one of the moms, she berated me in a fairly motherly tone about how my shorts reminded her of underwear. Most of the parents we worked with dressed in the traditional patterned cloth dresses or skirts that came down to their ankles. I realized I was a little out of place in the group of mothers. But soon after we started playing games, everyone was having fun together. We had a pretty competitive group that absolutely loved handball games. The parents and teachers were strong, athletic, and didn’t like losing. On the last day, Charlie and I participated in a few games while we were coaching. We were having a blast, and I truly didn’t want the day to end. For our last game, we brought the students, parents, and teachers on the field for a round of scary soccer- a fun adaptation of rock, paper, scissors. The girls were cheering and excited to play. The adults were getting more invested in the games as their students’ enthusiasm grew. When a team won a round of scary soccer, the parents, teachers, and kids would all jump up and down and chant their team’s name. I watched from a far for one round of scary soccer and couldn’t help but smile and laugh about this awesome, fun, and funny experience. Different generations were working together and having fun because of a simple game. Sport gave different generations a medium to connect and learn together. That was one of my favorite parts about CAC- watching age and cultural barriers breaking down because of simple, fun games.
As I try to get accustomed to life back in the United States, I can’t help but think of the people I had the opportunity to work with for the past seven weeks.They taught me that adapting to other cultures, people, and communities can be much easier once common ground was found. For the past seven weeks that common ground ranged from a dirt field, a school’s soccer field, a tennis court, and a FIFA Football for Hope Center. Maybe next time I need to adapt to a new group of people, environment, or job, I’ll ask my colleagues to find some grass or dirt to play on because that sure did teach me a lot this summer.