On Friday our school celebrated teacher’s day. I was told to show up at 9am dressed for a volleyball match against teachers from other local schools. Of course I showed up at 9am and was the only person at the school except for a few students setting up benches outside. Luckily I had a book with me so I read for about 30 minutes and then people from the other schools started to show up. For the first hour not a single teacher from my school came and I felt ridiculously out of place. The women who showed up were dressed in beautiful traditional dresses and intricate head-wraps while I was decked out in my finest athletic apparel (a black T-shirt, blue shorts, and blue leggings underneath to keep the outfit modest). About 10:30am more people started to arrive and it became apparent that I was going to be the only female teacher playing in the volleyball match. I suppose I should have guessed that I would be alone but I was latching onto the hope that at least one other female teacher from my school would decide to play- no such luck. As it got closer and closer to game time I started to get really nervous. I am not sure if I have ever been so nervous to play in my life! Not only was I the only white person at the celebration but also the only female playing with a group of men I didn’t even know. Since there were teachers from six schools each team had teachers from three schools so I only knew one man on my team!
Right before the match started I had a moment of absolute panic that there was no way I had the confidence to go out and play and I must admit I was frantically working on an excuse for how to get out of playing in front of the growing crowd of teachers, government officials, and random community members who just wanted to see the white girl. Louis came to get me and our team gathered in a group huddle to discuss a team cheer and positions. It was decided that since I had the best ball control (this should give you some indication of the ball control situation on our team) I would be the setter and it was nice because I never had to rotate except when I went to serve- I guess certain rules don’t really apply here. Before the first whistle blew I was so nervous that I really thought I might throw up- right there on the field- in front of all the teachers and government officials. I looked over right at the beginning and saw two of my favorite students, Fortunée and Philimine, and they smiled and waved so I started to feel a little better. If I couldn’t find the confidence and inspiration to play for myself then I could do it for the girls watching me. Promoting gender equality in Rwanda is best done through example so I took a deep breath and suddenly the game was under way.
Something magical happened once the game started- I was no longer nervous and way more vocal than I ever am in the teacher’s room. After so many years of playing it feels so natural to be on the court- even if I am surrounded by Rwandan men who I just met five minutes ago. I am usually pretty quiet with new people but I am willing to alter my personality when it comes to winning. I had a few moments of sheer brilliance (a strong serving record and surprisingly accurate sets) and some moments of absolute stupidity (like a last minute decision tip the ball over and sending it straight into the net). After one of these fantastically awful plays one of the teachers from my school, Sam, called out from the crowd, “It’s OK Suzanna- no problem!” It was wonderful to have get support from all of my teachers and the few students who had come to watch the match. We won the first game easily and switched sides feeling confident ready to go. The second game we had a rough start and at one point we were losing 10-18. This happened to be the moment when all the clouds disappeared and we were suddenly subjected to the brutal heat of the sun so we were all thirsty and tired and my team kept missing serves (which drives me crazy) and letting balls drop without effort (equally/if not more annoying). When we did manage to make a play we couldn’t seem to keep the momentum going.
Eventually one of our easiest servers (think of a 5th grade girl underhand serving) was back at the line and we were closing the gap. His serve was not difficult to pass but he put it in the court and it turns out we just needed to give the other team the chance to mess up- and mess up they did. We won the second and third game and had some pretty amazing plays throughout the morning. After the match we gathered for a quick team photo and then I returned home to shower before the party portion of the event. My ankles and arms were covered in dirt and when I took of my tights I realized that the few times I had hit the ground diving for a ball had not been kind to my knees. It felt oddly wonderful to scrub away the layers of dirt and dried blood and to feel exhausted from running around on the court all morning. For a brief moment it made me long for my days at Cornell during pre-season when you are so tired from 3-a-day practices that you practically crawl into the training room and sink into a freezing ice bath. This fond memory of pre-seasons only lasted a few moments but it did remind me just how much I love competition. And winning. Especially winning. 🙂
After a quick bucket bath I threw on a nice outfit and headed over to celebration. I arrived during the speech portion of the event so luckily I missed out on some of it. Try to get between a microphone and a Rwandan government official- I dare you. It will not go over well. They love their speeches and it is especially tedious when they are given in Kinyarwanda and you are crammed onto a tiny wooden bench without back support. A few hours later we were finally served food and there was a dance party that mainly consisted of men grinding with each other to the sounds of King James blasting in our ears. As special as that performance was I opted to skip out early and headed home to read a book. I also saw a mother give her infant a bottle of Primus (beer) like it was milk. The baby was trying to suck on it so she tipped the bottle back and flooded his mouth with Primus and he looked horrified. I don’t blame him- the poor kid was probably expecting delicious milk and instead got a mouth full of cheap beer. When I told a fellow teacher about what I saw she explained that sometimes mothers in Rwanda will give their babies small amounts of alcohol but then they quickly give them breast milk because it neutralizes the alcohol. Now I am no doctor but this science seems a bit sketchy.
Overall it was a great day and I am glad that I decided to play in the game. One of the things I am leaning from my service is that sometimes the challenges that scare you the most can end up being the most rewarding experiences of your life- and if they end up really sucking then at least it is only one day of your life! 🙂
Team Kamonyi celebrating our victory!