Day 12 – Festival time again!

Wise words from the skipper (Rob Jones)

I’m sure the team are sick of hearing it by now, but I have actually been to Rwanda before. I’m not the only one to have travelled either, Lewis I believe has been to Uganda and don’t quote me on this but I’m fairly sure Chris has been to Thailand. Whenever I eulogise about Kinihira however, I think I am justified in doing so and from how the guys have reacted following the days up there they will agree. It is almost a year to the day since we launched cricket in the region

That Saturday was definitely one of my favourite days of the previous trip. Neatly, one of my favourites this time around happened in exactly the same place.

The drive up was as picturesque as ever. In addition, the journey through the tea fields is one where virtually everyone you pass stops and stares. Excited waves and shrill cries of ‘muzungu muzungu’ are abundant. It is perhaps the closest you feel to ‘true’ Rwanda during the trip and the experience is more enjoyable for it.

We had the Kinihira festival scheduled at the sports ground at Kinihira secondary school for the afternoon, but we were due to coach there for two hours before lunch. After meeting the ever reliable Remy, I was invited to meet the headmistress before we started, a ritual which I have performed a few times on this trip and always makes me feel both honoured and intimidated. Headmistresses worldwide have a certain air about them and this lady was no less foreboding. Though the discussion began graciously enough the tones of her and Remy’s voices changed quickly and I sensed something was wrong. In hindsight I must have looked quite foolish and definitely very British, hands clasped behind my back, a look of blank polite confusion on my face as the debate unfolded in front of me, all incomprehensible. It didn’t help that a third party, who I suspect was the deputy head, was incessantly pacing around the office making exaggerated despairing gestures and interjecting with streams of furious Kinyarwandan, only to be completely ignored by everyone. I was starting to get genuinely worried, fearful that the entire festival was in jeopardy. Fortunately however, the disagreement was because the students had to go in for prayers at 11 (the school is Catholic) so we could only coach for an hours. Annoying yes, disappointing yes, but I didn’t think is warranted quite the tete-a-tete it caused.

Although the session was shortened considerably, it was still productive, with games of proper cricket being played over the sports field. In fact the standard of cricket I had seen up there, along with the reports from the rest of the team, convinced me to run the upcoming festival with proper pairs cricket matches, just as we’d done down in Huye. An extended lunch break allowed us to plan the festival fixtures properly and to enjoy the delights of the Sorwathe guest house one last time.

I had seemed to forget that we were in Africa – the fixture schedule was very tight – and maybe I was naïve to expect us to get them all in. It was inevitable in hindsight but most of the schools arrived late and the sports ground was saturated with kids anyway. Whilst I was conscious this was eating into the fixture times it was nevertheless pleasing to see the ground filled with happy excited children of all ages, a large fraction of them participating in some sort of cricket. A football match permeated the entire field too and some of our members were only too keen to get involved. Though Coleman covered a considerable amount of ground and his work rate was never in doubt, he got delusions of grandeur and tried an optimistic 35 yard effort that sailed well over the bar. Sugden was the first muzungu to get on the scoresheet over in Rwanda though with a fortunate tap-in delicately timed chip over the advancing goalkeeper following good positioning for a corner.

We did eventually get started with a full contingent of schools, although time restrictions meant we couldn’t play all the fixtures. For the length of time that the festival ran for though, it must have been quite a sight watching from the outside. It was remarkable that such a short time after the game was launched up here in rural Rwanda competitive, knowledgeable and skilful cricket was being played. If we are to leave one cricketing legacy from our time here, it would be the progression we have identified in the less central areas of Kinihira and Butare through the festivals we held. It was very noticeable how many additional children were present watching the matches unfold avidly, even if they weren’t involved. The input and enthusiasm of the teachers and coaches there mustn’t be underestimated either. Festivals such as these are a great way of achieving mass exposure to cricket.

It was excellent to see Josh up there too and his presence meant we had double the amount of prizes to give out to the winners. In true African style there were plenty of speeches made, lots of laughter and a huge amount of shouting from the children. The most encouraging aspect of the final presentation was that all the players, particularly the older ones, were very well versed on their HIV messages and a lot of credit for this must go to Remy. If our cricketing legacy is about the development in the more rural areas, then I believe our HIV awareness legacy will be characterised by an effort to target those older children, imparting not only knowledge of the messages, but developing a truer and deeper understanding of them.

pictures to follow

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