By Phil Wilkinson
Participant African Hockey Experience 2017
Smiles all over the place
My African Hockey Experience: a tribute and the experience of a lifetime. Zambia was my first taste of ‘real’ Africa and proved to be an unforgettable experience with the brilliant Hockey Dreams Foundation project. The first thing that strikes you on arrival in Zambia is the genuine warmth of the welcome and the infectious smiles that greet you. Combined with the raw energy and ernest politeness that runs throughout Zambian society, it makes for a very friendly first impression. Lusaka, the sprawling capital of Zambia has a flat, arid, dusty landscape and a slow pace of life. The hot sun beats down every day and once daylight is over there are no streetlights meaning when darkness descends everyone must rush home before the night curfew begins at 9pm.
Sense of pride
Life is unquestionably tough in Lusaka. Many basic human needs are scarce; food, water, clothing, medicine, education. In the homes we visited in the compounds (townships) families sleep on the floor, five to a room. But positive human traits can be found in abundance; respect, politeness, enthusiasm, kindness and above all joy. The spontaneous song and dance that broke out on many occasions was so good for the soul. It seems the less material wealth you have, the greater the sense of gratitude, pride and community. It is impossible not to feel guilt for all the materialistic comforts we enjoy in Europe and think the world an unfair place for having such an uneven distribution of resources. But I never once heard a Zambian moan, grumble or complain about their lot, they are far too proud and full of self respect for that. Over 70 different tribal languages are spoken in Zambia and three quarters of the population live on less than 1 US dollar per day, yet almost no one begs on the street.
The Zambian life
Africans are famous for their rhythm, athleticism and strength. Every day we witnessed women balancing baskets full of goods on their heads, babies on their backs and heavy bags in their hands. During our stay we sampled the local customs, eating cooked caterpillars, maize and impala stew although we had our bananas stolen by a giant baboon. We also saw rhinos and a crocodile feasting on its catch. I must admit it felt very strange being constantly stared at, asked to pose for pictures and called ‘muzungu’ (white man) wherever we went, although it was almost always well intentioned. There were remnants of colonialism everywhere; English is spoken, school uniform is worn, cars drive on the left.
Hockey Dreams Holland
The Hockey Dreams project is organised out of Holland and is focused on developing 10 local coaches, young people who dedicate their time to training and educating hundreds of local kids in the skills of hockey and the values of sport. The coaches all play for the Zambian national team and commit to running projects and completing their own education with support from the foundation. Over 10 days we formed a strong bond, they are a remarkable group; resilient, talented and inspirational. It was sad to say goodbye. We started as strangers from different corners of the world and finished as true friends and equals with a shared passion for hockey and life. I personally took part in the trip as a tribute to my father, who passed away earlier this year and had played in Zambia with the Angels Hockey Club back in 1973. It felt special to follow in his footsteps 44 years later and I believe he would have been proud of the project which uses hockey as a means of creating hope, joy and friendship.
Inbetween the busy days of hockey camps, school visits and working with the local coaches, we took a two day trip to Livingstone, scene of the awesomely spectacular and powerful Victoria Falls. Rafting through the raging grade 5 rapids was exhilarating… and scary! Quite appropriately given the name of my dad’s hockey team, David Livingstone said on first sighting of Victoria Falls on 16th November 1855: “The most wonderful sight I have witnessed in Africa. None can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It has never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” So thank you Zambia, I believe we have learnt a lot from each other and shared some special moments these past 11 days. I wish you all the best and look forward to meeting again one day. Until then…..Zikomo!