June 4, 2008
Our African journey has come to an end. It's our last day here before we head back to the U.S.A. Words cannot express what an amazing experience this has been. I'm so grateful to Sandy Barbour, Coach Boyle, and all of our supporters who were able to make this trip possible. I can truly say that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and if it wasn't for Cal probably a trip I would never have been fortunate enough to make. Here's how our day unfolded.
We left Saly at 9 a.m. to head to Dakar where we spent out last few hours. Two hours later, we arrived at the local port where we took a 30-minute ferry ride to Goree Island. In the 15th century, Goree Island was colonized by the Portuguese and used to facilitate the exportation of enslaved African people. Beeswax, hides and grain were also traded here. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Goree was the link to communities across the Atlantic to France's colonies in the Americas. The island today has a little over 1,000 inhabitants.
The island was closed to the public that day, so we had to arrange a private tour for our group. Our first stop on the island was the House of Slaves. This was built by the Dutch in 1776 and was the last slave house built on the island. Other houses were built by the Portuguese around 1536. Here we witnessed the different cells where men, women, infants, virgins, the temporary unfit (men who weren't over 132 lbs) and the sick were kept. Young girls (virgins) were separated from the women because they were more expensive and highly sought after. Each cell was about 8 ½ ft. by 8 ½ ft. and held approximately 15-20 individuals who sat with their backs to the wall chained by their neck and arms. The slaves were released only once a day but had to remain within the house.
This was very emotional for our team and staff. Especially when we saw the "Point of No Return," the opening out into the Atlantic Ocean where the slaves were disposed of after death or put onto a boat headed for the Americas. Separation of families was a definite. A father could be sent to Louisiana, a mother to Cuba and the child to the West Indies. Once they left through this gate, it was the last they would see of Africa.
After touring the House of Slaves, we walked through the rest of the village. The residents have their own school, police station, restaurant and beach. It functions as its own little town. The locals take the ferry back and forth to the city as needed.
We stopped at the restaurant for lunch, but our doctor advised us, due to the apparent lack of cleanliness, that we only have French fries, bread and bottled water or soda. The last thing we needed was for someone to get sick for the 20-plus hour trip home that we had ahead of us. So far, we were lucky and nobody had gotten sick.
We took the ferry back over to the port, loaded the bus and headed into the city to Rama's house. When we arrived, we were greeted by about 40 of her family members. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, you name it, and they were there. It was so great to see where Rama grew up and meet all of her wonderful relatives.
Rama's mother, and the other women in the family, prepared our dinner, and while we waited, we decided to walk three blocks to the beach. When we turned the corner from Rama's street to see the view of the ocean, it was one of the most surreal images I have seen in my life. As far as the eye could see, there were hundreds of African men training in the sand doing such things as calisthenics, running, wrestling and soccer. Rama said that when she is home she joins "the guys" in this type of training, usually at dawn and at dusk. It was amazing to me to see people working this hard just for the benefit of their health. We Americans could definitely learn a lesson or two from the African culture.
After spending about 30 minutes on the beach, we headed back up to Rama's house for our dinner. We had goat, chicken, fried meat patties and French fries. It was a tasty meal after a long hot day. After dinner, we were able to clean and freshen up. Thank goodness we were able to do this because by the time we got home we would have not showered for two days. While we were wrapping things up at the N'diaye's, Rama's family was all piled into her living room watching our game vs. TCU. We all had hopes that Rama's family would get to see her play "live" in Senegal, but due to her injury, this did not happen. So we brought the family DVDs of some of the games that Rama had played in earlier in the season. They were so locked into the television, and it was so neat to see how excited they were to be able to watch Rama play.
We convinced Rama's father to accompany us to the airport. We were less than three hours away from take-off, and I was nervous that we weren't going to be able to get through all the international steps in time. Rama's father was a superstar when we got to Senegal, allowing us to skip customs, so I figured we would be safe and have plenty of time if he came along. Sure enough, we initially had to wait because we were being blatantly ignored in the ticket line while they let the natives in front of us, until Rama's dad took charge.
Rama was able to stay an extra 10 days in Senegal with her family. I was so happy for her since our busy schedule had not allowed her to spend a lot of time with her family up until this point. It was tough to say good-bye to her because she had been such a huge help for us all on this trip. She really came out of her shell and was the best hostess we could have had. Between the language barrier and the bargaining that we had to do to purchase anything, we all felt so comfortable knowing that Rama would take care of us. I will forever be thankful to her and her family for their hospitality.
So we had a six and a half hour flight back to Paris, almost a four-hour layover in Paris, and then an 11- hour flight back to San Francisco. What a trip. We all gathered at baggage claim at SFO before we all went our separate ways. Many of the players' parents greeted us as we arrived and took their daughters home from the airport. Before we departed, we talked as a team about carrying this experience with us, not only through our season, but for the years to come. We have made it our mission to give back to the people of Africa. We will be doing outreach and fundraising this season to raise money to help in any way that we can.
So this concludes our journey to Africa. Thanks to all of you who have read the blogs and followed our journey. Until next time, GO BEARS!