Last Sunday (took a week to write this) I joined my new soccer team, Kamwenge Town Council, for an away game in Mayhoro. In middle school I played on a team in Westchester, NY that traveled much of the Hudson Valley for Sunday games. One distinct memory from those years was my mom refusing to let us join the team caravan that drove “way too fast” on the Taconic State Parkway. With that in mind, last Sunday I piled into the back of a blue Isuzu economy-class dump truck with 35 of my new best friends for a brain rattling and backside bruising 90 minute dust bath. The team sang songs and threw political fliers as we rolled through towns – a local candidate sponsored our petrol for the day in exchange for us chanting his name throughout the district, this type of loyalty lasts only until the petrol runs out. After this exhausting drive we arrived at the shores of Lake George – not as beautiful and not as clean as the New York lake – and the rest of the team jumped in to wash off and cool down. I had to be a little delicate in trying to explain that yes I do know how to swim but no I’m not that interested in getting worms getting wet before the match. (Sidenote: the major lakes of Uganda are: Victoria, Edward, George & Albert – who colonized this place again?!)
I’ve been assigned number 8 – in the US we speak of positions, here there are just numbers and if you don’t know the numbers then nothing makes sense. However once you learn the numbers you realize who is out of position (nearly everyone) and who is not even aware of where they should be. Playing 8, or center midfield, is a little bit like watching a ping pong match take place in the air above your head. Somehow it’s been decided that a soccer ball must be pumped until it’s about to burst – I’m not sure if this is overcompensating for a history of plastic-bag balls but the result is a ball that never stops bouncing. Ever. We took an easy two goal lead and the crowd that encircled most of the field did not seem too engaged (out of bounds is when it hits someone – there are no lines). I was completely unprepared for the stampede that stormed the field we they snuck a low shot past our goalie – you would’ve thought they’d won it all and the game was put on hold for five minutes. Other highlights: I fell down rather acrobatically and the laughter must have echoed through the valley; a disputed call that “cleared the benches” as they say – people absolutely love to argue with the referee and one another; bicycle kicks are very popular – passing is not; we won; we had freshly smoked tilapia at the shore; we rode home under a full moon; and lastly, I found a fish bone in my hair while showering at the end of a full day of adventures.
This Sunday I’m about 17 hours away in Lira observing another IPA project that is currently conducting surveys. Over the course of these five days I am quite literally crisscrossing the entire country: from Kamwenge to Kampala via Mbarara (Thursday); from Kampala to Soroti via Jinja and Mbale (Saturday); from Soroti to Lira (today); from Lira to Adjumani via Gulu (Monday); and then a marathon ride essentially from the border of Sudan to Kampala (Tuesday), which means that all that will be left for Wednesday is the 9 hours back home to Kamwenge (via Fort Portal). Bonus points for anyone who can find all those towns on a map!