It’s the end of another good session under the scalding Kisumu sun. The 50 kids in my sections are all gathered around as I conclude the roundup, where we reinforce the HIV messages we’ve been learning. Everyone’s on point with their ABCTs, but I have another question for them.
‘Mzungus,’ I say, ‘are very good at cricket. However, they are famously bad at something. Can anyone tell me what it is?’
They usually get there quick enough – I prime them earlier by using ‘dance like a mzungu’ in one of the relay drills we do, getting them to throw some pseudo-Saturday Night Fever shapes when they reach the last cone. (NB: mzungu is Swahili for ‘white person’ – originally meaning ‘traveller’, it’s not a pejorative, and you get used to being called it very quickly out here.)
Once we’re all on the same page, it’s time to start the procession, from our corner of the dusty, pocked field to where all the sections convene. The kids are quick to pick up the chant:
Dance like a mzungu!
Dance like a mzungu!
Dance like a mzungu!
It grows in intensity as we wind our way on. I feel the collective noise of their voices as a physical force on my back. It’s actually getting less mzungu-like and more rhythmic, more incantatory. The kids are having a great time – I’m not sure they’re used to seeing ‘adults’ willing to make plonkers of themselves – but for me it’s nothing short of magical. I’m breathless, dancing and chanting, chanting and dancing. The pie-eyed piper. In a weird way, I’ve never felt more myself.
Had I showed the video of it to my younger self, he would never have believed it possible.
I first came to Kenya exactly twenty years ago, September 1999, a callow, gap-yearing 17-year-old. While I’ve always held the experience close to my heart, it has always been tinged with regret. Naturally enough, given my age, I was in survival mode much of the time. I was too self-conscious, too inhibited, too bewildered, to truly engage with a such a radically different place. I never really felt like I connected, because I never really tried.
Two decades later, here was my chance to make up for that. To make connections wherever I could.
Connections with the kids we coached, cramming in as many fistbumps and high fives as possible, answering all the questions, enjoying a good mobbing by the little ones, drinking in the smiles and the enthusiasm (if you ever want to feel like a rock star, get your mzungu backside to nearest Kenyan primary school).
Connections with the local coaches and ambassadors, learning from them, seeing how hard they work to spread the love of cricket, understanding and appreciating the sacrifices they make in order to do so. Two of the great privileges of the trip was to be fed lunch in Coach Nico’s father’s compound near Siaya, and coach George’s dad’s house in Nakuru – tourism doesn’t afford such experiences and welcomes.
Connections to the local culture – embracing new foods (hello to you, nyama choma – barbecued goat), learning dances (the shukashuka and gwaragwara, courtesy of local CWB volunteer Beatrice), picking up scraps of Swahili (clutchy sana), seeing how Kenyans go about their everyday lives.
Connections to new teammates. A disparate bunch of us, between the ages of 22 to 55. Some cricketers, some not. They are such funny f^&%ers. One particular night in Muranga, eating in a deserted nightclub because the upstairs restaurant wouldn’t serve us booze, I laughed longer and harder than I can remember. It was cleansing. Long bus rides were a pleasure in their company. It’s amazing how quickly the bonds of trust can form, and, I hope, the foundations for lasting friendships.
And, lastly, connections to myself. To see the how the safari1 from 17 to 37 has changed me. From the perspective of this wonderful trip, the main thing is this: your ability to connect is determined solely by your willingness to do so. To embrace vulnerability and make a fool of yourself. To trust that if you open up, you will be accepted for who you are. To smile and be smiled upon. To hear the call and dance like a mzungu.
1 FAO: Nick Withers, safari actually means journey in Swahili, rather than gawking at animals