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March Sadness

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Hey All,

I am finally getting a well deserved break, or more like a slow down, from all of the hectic running around I have been doing the past two months or so. The past week was especially crazy as I mostly voluntarily upped the “realness” of my experience and service here by going full Khmer during my experience at the national sports tournament held in a province north of my own.

To travel up north to that province, I had to meet up with my girl’s basketball team and head to our own provincial main town, which is about 20 minutes away. They came to my house at around 4:45am and we arrived in our provincial at around 5:30am or so. From there, we proceeded to mill around for about an hour before deciding to walk and get breakfast, but by the time we sat down for breakfast it was time to leave for Kampong Thom, where we were headed. Without eating. By around 7:15am, we still really hadn’t left our town but had made our way to the outskirts of it and were proceeding to pick up the athletes who were going who lived along that road on the way north.

We made it thru the capital Phnom Penh and up to our designated lunch spot, Skun, at around 11am, in a van filled with over 20 people. I was sharing a bench seat with four others and myself. We would later arrive at the school we would be staying at at around 2pm. That would make it about 9 hours since I left my house but in all regards the actual time spent traveling was close to 6 hours with 3 hours of waiting around for people.

Once at the school, my team was then assigned a classroom that they would be sleeping in for the duration of the tournament. I stood in there helping to arrange a sleeping area for them and apparently the administrators from my province and also from my school assumed incorrectly that I wouldn’t also be staying there with them as I was left without a spot to sleep. This was corrected by allowing me to sleep outside of the classroom on a straw mat under a mosquito net with three other male students from my school who accompanied the team on the trip, in an area approximately 2 meters wide. Also throughout the week or so I would be there, I would be bucket showering outside with other students who were there. I was prepared for this and brought two “kromas”, the male bathing dress/towel. However, after pulling them out within minutes my deputy school director claimed one of the two “kromas” unbeknownst to me and I didn’t see it at all after that unless he was wearing it.

We arrived on a Friday but wouldn’t be playing our first game until Sunday. We wound up playing a team that was a good warm up as they weren’t that experience or skilled and made for only a small challenge for my girls but not big enough that their confidence would be compromised in anyway. We wound up winning that game 30-9.

Our next game would be Monday but the challenge would sadly be too much for my girls to overcome. We got stuck playing the home team, Kampong Thom, and they were just too overwhelming for the girls. They had three different girls who could effectively handle the ball and slash to the basket and then also the biggest difference maker, a giant girl who we just couldn’t guard. I wound up being ejected from the game for arguing with the referees as I was trying to protect my girls but I was massively frustrated with some of the things the referees were calling as I obviously disagreed. It didn’t help that I was mouthing off in Khmer either and the referee came over to ask me if I was the coach and I said I was. He then responded by saying that I was not and asked my girls if I was, and they confirmed it. Well, my name wasn’t on the official roster we submitted so I was not the coach, and if I truly was as I was claiming he needed me to leave. It was then finally that my “co-coach” came over to talk it out and it basically ended with them telling me to stop talking. I did later apologize to the ref and told him that I was upset and just wanted to give my girls the best chance possible to win. We wound up losing that game 42-12. It wasn’t pretty and my girls lost a lot of their confidence after that.

Luckily, our next game was much more winnable and was a good one to have so we could rebound from the previous one, for me as well as I could focus more on my girls and less on the refs. However this was difficult because I was also recovering from a hangout generated from the night before. My co-coach and I had gotten ourselves invited to the house of a BBQ meats seller lady who we would frequent at the school. We headed over there to enjoy some palm wine and baked fish. Both not favorites of mine and I am quite sure I wound up getting either an amoeba or giardia from the palm wine. Anyway, we wound up winning our third game 28-18. I was worried initially as my girls got down a few points to begin with but they came back right away and took control of the game. This game wound up being the deciding one to move on to the elimination round of the tournament as our fourth and last game in pool play was a forfeit win because the other team didn’t even bother to show up, something that happened for reasons unknown to me.

We moved on to the bracket or single elimination round of the tournament but got probably the worst draw of all to begin with. In my estimation, the team we lost to previously in pool play was the best team in the tournament, and who would we have to play first in the bracket but the second best team, the team from Phnom Penh. The day before I watched them beat a team 96-24. It just wasn’t going to be a good year for my girls. We played hard all game and even with a ton of other issues going on (a starter didn’t show, my team captain didn’t come for warm-ups and couldn’t start cause she was sick, the rest of the girls responding to that by also not warming up, also the night before three girls took off to stay with an aunt and I wasn’t able to communicate our game plan to them, etc…). We lost 44-19 and I was proud of the girls for not quitting, some of the girls who I didn’t normally give playing time played well when they did.

The reality is that they are all 9th graders, very young and if they want they will have three more years or playing ahead of them if they so choose. However, that last game was really sad for me as it was the last game I would be able to coach them and I had a hard time not getting a little emotional in public about it. It didn’t really affect them as much, my guess is because they had resolved that they would lose the game before it started.

My days during this week generally consisted of waking up at a time between 4:30am and 5am unless I managed to trick them into letting me sleep longer, hanging out for about an hour or two before a massive group breakfast at 6:30am. This was usually white rice porridge or rice porridge with stuff as they are called. From there, it was either go coach a game or go watch the games until lunch around 10:30am. After lunch it was time to go find a breezy place to set up hammocks for a midday nap that lasted till around 2pm. I would also use this time to get some quality reading time in but I was usually wiped from waking up so early so it was a good time to sleep as well. At around 3pm, it was time for more game watching usually volleyball, basketball and rarely soccer. This lasted until about 5:30pm when it would then be dinner time. These meals were very basic and usually had rice, vegetable soup, and some kind of baked fish although not always. With the change in diet for that week and the arrival of a stomach bug I am sure I lost another 5lbs or more. Weight I really cannot afford to lose anymore these days. After dinner the girls would gather with the others from our province and play some type of campfire games with each other. I was really happy to see them playing a versions of “steal the bacon” and “duck duck goose”. It cracked me up to witness all of this.

I feel really lucky to have coached these girls as they have always been quite inspiring to me. It has been so fun to watch them mature and develop and see their knowledge of basketball grow, but especially to watch them be kids. My biggest hope is that they continue playing even though I won’t be around to coach them. I know they are capable of getting so much more out of it if they do and they are all keen enough to do so. I did my best to make sure it was enjoyable for them so that they see it as something fun for them to do in the future and ideally will learn that it’s more fun to win.

So that’s that. Just adding to the things I have wrapped up now. I hope everyone is well and just a heads up I am now able to leave here (but not necessarily when I will be coming home) in less than 100 days. Love you all and absolutely cannot wait to be back! I am pumped. Take care fam and friends.

Oh yeah, I’m famous:

http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.media.press.view&news_id=1756

– Ryan

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