Friday, March 30, 2007

Athletes with Heart

Peter dodges Matatus and Lorries for 6 kilometers in his wheelchair. His hour-long trip down the Mombasa-Malindi highway is done in 35 degree heat at 90% humidity. It’s dangerous and very very hot. He takes the trip every Saturday for the opportunity to play wheelchair basketball with the team he founded eight months ago.

Practice is held at the White Sands Beach Resort. The resort is kind enough to donate their court time once a week. For months there was no where to store the basketball wheelchairs at the resort, so Peter would heap the chairs on to his hand-trike (see photos) and hall the chairs himself down the highway to the resort. Eventually White Sands agreed to give them a storage room. Peter is grateful. I think it’s ridiculous that this posh hotel loaned them a room on the third floor. Only one team member is sufficiently mobile to hobble up and down the stairs with the chairs. The coach helps.

Practice starts with wheelchair repair. The donated basketball wheelchairs are crumbling. The tires have slow leaks. Pumping up is the first order of business. It takes several men to pump up the tires because all they have is a standard bicycle pump which requires someone to stand on it for stabilization. They work at it as a group and get the job done. There’s lots of general tweaking and tightening that goes on. These chair are about to fall apart.

None of the players can afford basic protective equipment. Hands bleed from blisters during practice. Shines take a thorough beating. Some players don’t have shoes for their deformed feet; which are occasionally bashed between chairs in the heat of play. Water is available from a nearby spigot, but in the extreme heat they players suffer from head aches because they cannot afford re-hydration salts.

The game stops frequently as the small front tires literally spin off the chairs and across the court. There is a loud bang. One of the tire tubes explodes. The tubes are ancient. They can’t stand up to the heat of the black top on the court. The tread-bare t-shirts of the players and the dilapidated wheelchairs are in stark contrast to the palm trees and enormous crystal blue pool of the five-star resort.

Once practice starts they all go at it on the half-court. James is the star. He has been selected to travel to Nairobi next week for national team trials. Go James!!! Not once did any one complain. Equipment malfunctions are taken in stride. Injuries are endured with a smile. They love this game!!

There is so much drive, spirit and determination. They are contagious. After spending a morning with them I’m onboard. There are so many insurmountable problems here, but this one can be fixed, and I with so much commitment I know any help they get will be put to excellent use.

Geoff and I will be writing American and Canadian organizations looking for a sponsor. If anyone reading this post would like to pitch-in, or if you know an organization or person we should contact about this, please email us.

What the team needs:

Shine guards
Net for the hoop
First Aid Kit
Re-hydration salts
New basketball wheelchairs
Portable Hoops - they can practice at Bombolulu and would not have to travel the dangerous highway to White Sands
Uniforms would be great

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Reality Check

We had a reality check yesterday about the hard life that people have here. We are starting to make many friends here. One of them is Paul. He is a great guy with a physical disability that leaves him confined to a wheelchair. He has no use of his legs and barely has use of his arms. He is a guide here and it is someone’s job to be constantly push him around the premises because he can’t move the chair himself. Paul has such a strong and great personality that sometimes all I see is him and forget to say hello to the person pushing his chair. I need to remember to work on that.

Paul lives in one the newer buildings here in the compound. They were constructed with money given by Zimmerman. They are built in rows of 3 and have a common courtyard with the 3 houses opposite them. The houses are about 9 or 10 feet wide and probably 20 feet long. It is split in half with a room in the back and a room in the front.

There is no running water or kitchen. The front door is a thin piece of cloth or curtain. There is a small porch in the front. If there is not enough room to sleep inside, the kids will sleep on a straw mat outside the buildings. They are airless and have poor ventilation. We get a bit of breeze here from the coast but it doesn’t seem to make to these houses. There is power but they have no refrigeration. Food is cooked on charcoal on a small grill out front. I can only assume that foodstuffs are bought every day. The bathrooms are at the end of the block of houses. There is no wheelchair access and those confined to a chair either have to have someone carry them there or have to crawl across the floor to get to the toilet. The housing is provided free to the workers by Bombolulu. For the families here, it’s still a good deal for them. Because they don’t pay for housing, their money will go farther.

On Saturday after we got back from Nairobi, Paul told us that his wife had just had Twins and Cindy and I went over to his house for a visit. They were two small perfect looking little babies. Paul was just beaming. His wife who is not handicapped speaks little English. They didn’t expect twins and it was a total surprise. Her mother is here from her village to help her take care of them. He has 3 other children. A 9 year girl died last Christmas.

Yesterday (Tuesday) I saw Paul and asked him how the little ones were. He greeted me and then broke the news. The little boy had died the day before. He started to get sick in the morning and wouldn’t eat. Paul went to the compound nurse and she gave him some medicine for the baby. I don’t know what it was. Paul checked in on them a few hours later in the afternoon and the baby was starting to get worse. Strangely it started to bleed out its nose. Paul had his pusher run to the main building to secure transport to the hospital but it was too late. He said the baby turned orange and then died. He thinks that there was something wrong with the boy from the beginning. Something they should have found at the hospital. Unfortunately his wife was only in the hospital for one day. There are too few beds and if she stayed longer they would have given her bed to someone else and made her stay on a mat on the floor. Paul thought it would be better to bring her home where there was better care and a mosquito net. Malaria kills so many babies here. She was still bleeding from the birth.

They cleaned the body as best they could and buried him on Sunday. The rumor mill in the compound is already circling. "if only Paul had taken the baby to the hospital in the morning" blah blah blah. He would never have known that the baby’s condition was serious. It all happened so quickly. We went over to give our condolences last night and brought a small amount of money in an envelope as is customary. On the outside they both looked like they were handling it better than I would expect. Children die here. So much more than in a developed country. It’s actually rude to ask a pregnant women when the baby is due because so many don’t make it to term. Reality checks suck.