This weeks blog is written by International Fellow Douglas “Doug” Nedab II.
My first month has been filled with excitement, constant adjustments, and forming bonds with people I already know I’ll never forget. The motherland is like no other place I’ve been to and the scenery is amazing. I can honestly say I wasn’t nervous at all leading up to this trip because I knew that this was for me. I’m blessed and extremely humbled to serve in my role as an International Fellow with PeacePlayers South Africa (PPSA).
Before my flight took off from DC, I ran into a fellow Old Dominion University graduate at my gate. ODU’s diversity is one of the reasons I chose my current career path.
After a few long flights, Nasiphi “Nas” was waiting on me waving a South African flag after I retrieved my bags at King Shaka International Airport in Durban. I arrived to Durban on the first day of the three-day training for local coaches. On the last day of training they went around in a circle to express where they hope to be a few years from now and one coach simply said, “alive”. After roughly a month here, it became more apparent for me to see how kids here can become hopeless. I knew how serious that coach was and I was happy that PeacePlayers could be a positive influence in his life. Another coach, 19 year-old Sizwe Blose, has stood out to me after numerous conversations because of how well rounded he is. Despite all that he’s been through in life he’s easily one the smartest, most articulate and most adaptable human beings I’ve ever met.
During my first two weeks I was able to learn more about PPSA’s history and visit the three townships we work in: Lamontville, Wentworth and Umlazi. I even got the opportunity to sit down with a very passionate principal, Mr. Oliver, at Gardenia Primary School in Wentworth to discuss a range of topics. I also visited Molweni where Sifiso (Head of Programs) and Sanele (Area Manager) are from. Some of the kids I coached and officiated for that day still recognize me when they see me. When I played in a basketball league at a local university with other staff members, a kid I saw previously from Umlazi walked up to me and shook my hand like he’s known me forever. These kids don’t forget you and I’ve heard the same sentiments echoed by former fellows and current employees.
South Africa has eleven official languages. However, where I’m located the natives speak Zulu or Afrikaans, then English as a second language. There is a humorously small language barrier for me because I’ve been told that I can pass for a member of the Zulu ethnic group. People always come up to me speaking three to four sentences in Zulu until I tell them, “Angsazi isiZulu” – “I don’t speak Zulu”. Most of them know English well, except the really young kids, so I’m grateful that we can carry on with our conversation once they pick up my “American accent”. I’m learning Zulu as I go and I truly embrace being immersed in an environment where I’m the one who has to adjust.
This experience is going to be about constant growth and making an impact in as many areas as I can. I’ve been working in all facets of our operations such as marketing/communications, community outreach, program strategy, and development/fundraising strategy. We’re getting prepared for our Friendship Games during the weekend of August 24thand I can’t wait to see the turn out. I’ll be doing an interview on the radio this Thursday to promote the event with my colleague.
Speaking of events, Nelson Mandela Day on July 18thwas another highlight. Nelson Mandela is one of my heroes and it’s been great to see him held in high regards. His face is on the currency here and there are pictures of him in every school. It’s interesting to get different perspectives about how people view what he did for this country that I hadn’t thought about before I arrived. Though the kids were filled with pure happiness on this day, I remember an area manager telling me that things aren’t always this merry. There are some days where a kid will walk in 30 minutes late to practice and you can’t reprimand them because you don’t know what they had to go through to make it there. Sometimes they have to take alternate routes to avoid gang violence. In other cases, kids may have terrible attitudes during practices but those attitudes can be rooted in what’s going on outside the basketball court for them.
It’s different seeing how people from different ethnic communities live in their own bubble unless someone outside of what they look like can benefit them in some way. It’s evident that post-apartheid feelings are still felt but not discussed enough. I’m happy to be here doing my part through the game I love. Seeing the division is just one thing I have to get used to. Other things I’m getting used to are identifying traffic lights as “robots”, calling napkins “serviettes”, and calling gas “petro” for petroleum. We’ve had a few braais at the beach so far and I look forward to many more. A “braai” in South Africa is almost like barbequing or cooking out on a grill, except the food is cooked on an open grill and you have to be very meticulous when cooking or you’ll burn everything. Lastly, I’ve had a few popular native foods such as Bunny Chow and Igwinya/Fat Cake/Vetkoet (the terminology differs depending on your culture). Both are must haves if you visit here and please look these up!
The staff has been extremely welcoming in my short time here. My birthday was last week and we had a brief in-office celebration. Nas was a former fellow in Northern Ireland so she understands the struggles I might encounter. I’ve met so many people here so far through her and others. Understanding Nas and Sifiso’s story to the extent that I do makes it easy to see why we’re brought here together to achieve our ultimate goal. They come from humble beginnings and this game has had an indelible impact in their lives just like it has in mine. To wrap things up – I want my family, my friends, and my PPI family to know that I’m doing great and to please keep me in your prayers. I came a long way from Prince George’s County, Maryland and I hope I’m making everyone proud in the 301. E-mail me if you want to talk more: email@example.com #PeacePlayersSAUnite