Jun 13, 2011

Love and Basketball

I played basketball during most of my school-aged years: middle school through college. I knew that my bball days would go on hiatus during my PC service. Before leaving for Burkina, I imagined creating a basketball court at my future site. After arriving in Pobe, however, I quickly realized how expensive and, frankly, useless that would be. Now in Ouaga, I play once a week at the local International School, scrimmaging for a couple hours with some of the school dads and working expats. Never did I imagine playing in Burkina’s national championship tournament on the senior women’s team…but that’s exactly what I’m doing!
Long story short, my neighbor/landlord Mariam asked me if I’d play with her on a team coached by her husband.  I had no idea what to expect or what I was getting myself into but I figured, what the hell, why not. We’ve played 3 games now and are just several weeks into the tournament (lasts till August) but it has already proven to be quite the experience. A quick recap:

Game 1: We play our first game without having had a single practice or knowing who’s on the team. We lose by 30. Asides from maybe 3 baskets, Mariam scored all our points.  Despite my excitement in playing again, I couldn’t hide my 3 year hiatus. I scored zero points, had 3 fouls, and actually knocked a girl unconscious with my elbow (oops!).
Game 2: A vast improvement after several practices and actually knowing the names of our teammates, we win by 25. Mariam continues to shine on the court and the rest of the girls follow through and score some nice baskets. I myself also played well, enough that I had coaches and players from the opposing teams telling me to switch to their team.

Only in this country is it appropriate to cheer for a player by screaming "NASSARA!," which basically means, GO WHITE GIRL!
(sigh, I've given up trying to explain to Burkinabes that I'm biracial) 

Since then we’ve been improving, winning our third game and playing more and more as a team. While the talent doesn’t really compare to female players in the States, I have to say I’ve been impressed with some of the players in this tournament. A few could have easily played for a Division I or II college team back in the U.S. In a poor, underdeveloped, somewhat masochistic, soccer-loving country, I can’t imagine where or how these girls trained to become so good.
To give you an idea of what I’m talking about: the tournament takes place in the second best court in Ouagadougou; an open-aired, cracked and bumpy concrete court. On one basket the rim is bent. On the opposite end, a large crack bisects the entire backboard which is so crooked that when you’re shooting free throws, you have to stand at the corner of the key in order to shoot straight.  Apparently there is a beautiful indoor court available in the rich part of the city but no team can afford the rent to practice or play so it remains empty and unused.
The best player on the court by far is my 36-year old, mother-of-two, neighbor Mariam. Needless to say, I was not surprised to learn that back in her playing days she was named the national player of the year several years in a row. I’m definitely loving being able to play again. Everyone is telling me to “just have fun out there” which, I know is true; I should be enjoying my time on the court. But my competitive side is starting to come back….the trash talking is returning, the elbows are coming out…dammit…I want to win!

The beautiful couple Meighan and Olivier

In village I went to a lot of weddings but on June 11th I attended my first wedding in Ouaga. It was a particularly special one for me, as my good friend and fellow volunteer Meighan married her Burkinabe fiancĂ©e Olivier. The day began with a civil ceremony at the local Mayor’s office, followed by a church service and ending with a reception at the home of Oli’s family. It was absolutely beautiful and I caught myself trying to stifle tears on a couple occasions. Somewhat similar to the idea of having bridesmaids’ dresses, here in Burkina the wedding guests can buy the wedding “pagne” chosen by the bride and have outfits made to wear at the wedding. As most of you know, I’ve become addicted to having my local seamstress make me dresses (a tailor-made dress for less than $8 bucks?…What’s not to love!) I knew I would probably never wear the dress again…so I went all out, opting for a one-shoulder dress decorated with white frills. Complete with the new hairdo…I was feeling like a diva!

Elisee and I rockin the pagnes

Asides from having my host sister braid my hair once during my first three months of training back in 2008, I had yet to get my hair done in this country. There are a lot of reasons for this, the main one probably being the fact that it’ freakin 100 degrees 365 days of the year, I sweat 24/7 and I could give a rat’s butt what my hair looks like. But I decided to use Meighan and Oli’s wedding as reason to try a style called “flastuce” that I frequently see and like on Burkinabe women. Sitting in the styling chair, I was nervous. So many factors made this experience horrific:
-The first words out of the stylist’s mouth are that she has never worked on a “white person” before and has no experience with my kind of hair.
- I have hair that comes down well below my shoulders but because she had never worked with my kind of hair, she tells me she can’t do the hair style without using hair extensions.
 - Hair extensions wouldn’t have been that big a deal except for the fact that the only color she had was black. In fact, looking at my choices, the lightest color of hair she had was called “midnight black.” Not so great when you have light brown/dirty blond hair.
-  I quickly discovered the color of the hair extensions wouldn’t matter, however, because she began to use about 1 lb of dark brown hair gel often used on black, African-American hair to ensure that the twists remained glued to my head. For the next two days, anytime I touched my hair, thick, dark brown globs of gel came off onto my fingers, staining everything from my clothes to my bed sheets. Fortunately/Unfortunately, she used so much of the dark-colored gel that you couldn’t even tell I had black extensions in my hair.
Add 3 black hair nets and about 30 bobby pins to the above, you can only expect the worst right? But ironically the end product looked really nice… even the hair stylist was surprised! I was worried about how long my hair would last with the heat + playing in the basketball games. But I only spent $7 and ends up, with the amount of gel she used….not even a nuclear bomb couldn’t destroy my hair do!

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