May 30, 2008
SALY, Senegal -
Cal director of operations Sarah Holsinger will be blogging daily from Africa.
Words cannot explain how amazing our day was in Senegal. Personally, I would have to say that this was my favorite day so far. Senegal is located on the western most part of Africa. We learned that Senegal is becoming a blooming tourism industry. It is only a few hours away from major tourist markets - five hours from Western Europe and about seven hours from the East Coast of the United States. In addition, it is a sunny country that claims more than 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. The weather is tropical, hot and humid.
We loaded the bus at 9:00 a.m. and headed to the Reserve de Bandia Animal Reserve for our safari. We were told to go to the park early because the animals are more active. It's also more pleasant from a temperature standpoint. When we arrived, we loaded into the bed of three pick-up trucks that had three staggered benches so that everyone could see. Each truck had a native tour guide who spoke English.
We took off and all three trucks headed in different directions on dirt paths that ran over 1,300 acres of land. My truck consisted of Ann (trainer), Dr. Dixit, Coach Boyle, Angela (assistant director of operations), Mollie (photographer) and Astou (Oussmane, our tour guide's wife).
It was really great to see the animals in their natural environment - free to roam wherever they please. We saw warthogs, giraffes, rhinoceros, monkeys, antelope, crocodiles, tortoises, zebras, ostriches, gazelles, bison and many exotic birds. Our safari lasted around two hours, and by the time we were done (12 p.m.), it was around 95 degrees. This was a true African experience.
We arrived back at the hotel and explored our resort for the first time. This resort is beautiful. The African huts sit right on the Atlantic Ocean, and the water is a crystal clear green. We had a delicious lunch that consisted of white fish, grilled lamb, rice and broccoli. After lunch, most of us hung out at the beach or at the pool.
Next on our itinerary was our visit to the Tatteguine Children's Grammar School. We left the hotel at 3:00 p.m. and drove for an hour through rural African villages. The level of poverty in these villages is unfathomable. There was trash for miles and miles and the goats and cattle were grazing through the mess. There are no houses, only very modest huts. Yet, there was a sense of happiness and peace as we drove through this area.
The grammar school is sponsored by World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization which is dedicated to helping children and their communities reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty. Some of the areas World Vision works to improve are health, education, clean water and food.
The school has an attendance of around 700 students. Of these students, about 500 students were present for our visit. Our charter bus pulled off the only paved road in this village onto a dusty and sandy road that was surrounded by goats and children. Most of the children were waiting for us inside the schoolyard. We couldn't see the school because of a tall stucco wall that ran completely around the area. When we stepped through the entrance, we were immediately bombarded by the kids. We were told that these children had never played basketball before. We found this ironic because directly in the center of the school was a cement basketball court with two courts with four baskets with wooden backboards. Granted only one rim was really intact and none of the baskets had hoops.
The classrooms at the school were individual huts, and they surrounded the basketball court. Besides the cement court, the entire ground was dust and dirt. It was approximately 110 degrees, and many of us have never felt heat like this before. After about 30 minutes of bouncing our rubber basketballs around, we heard a loud bang that sounded like an explosion. It was so hot that the balls began to pop. Three more balls blew by the end of the hour.
We played and socialized with the children for about an hour. They study French, English and Italian, and we were told by their teachers that this was the first time that they were able to practice their English with Americans. I was quite impressed with how well they spoke our language. I spent some time talking to a young boy named Mussaffa who told me that he walks, and sometimes runs, three hours to school and back each day. He said that because his parents are very old, he gets home from school and becomes a "farmer." Mussaffa is 13-years-old and has nine brothers and sisters.
The children were great about asking us questions. They asked what the weather was like in California and if our players were involved in any other sports besides basketball. They were curious about our families and how many siblings we have. They even asked us if we listened to Akon (a Senegalese rap artist famous in the U.S.) Rama was asked most of the questions and was a huge hit with these kids. She spoke in Wolof (native language) to the large group when we needed to give them instructions.
When we left the school, it was a fight just to get onto our charter bus. The 500 kids stood directly in front of the bus and didn't want us to leave. This was a very emotional trip for many of us and one that will leave a lasting impression.
We are now at the hotel, and we just finished a great dinner. I have a feeling it will be an early night for everyone after being in the sun all day. Tomorrow, we get to sleep in, and we are all excited. We will head to Dakar at 11:30 a.m. for another clinic and our game against the Senegalese Under-20 National team. It's hard to believe we only have three more days in Africa. We will be sure to make the most of them.