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Mpira (Kiswahili for Soccer)
May 22, 2015

Sam and Reid wanted to learn real “Tanzanian” soccer while we were in Moshi. Made sense. Ok, why not? Our life at home was totally over-subscribed with sports, tutors, clubs, etc, so why shouldn’t we apply the same recipe of enrichment in East Africa? Maybe this time we could dial it back and get the experience without the over-indulgence. When the boys made the declaration on the airplane to Kilimanjaro that their soccer goal (ha ha) was to learn to play African-style, my initial (albeit completely selfish) thought was, “I hope we don’t have to drive 30 minutes somewhere everyday to practices like we do at home.”

The boys were attending Moshi jeepschool in Tanzania, after all, doesn’t soccer just happen there? Well, it turned out this was only partly true. Students at the international school did play “football” on the “pitch” every waking minute it seemed. Before school, recess, lunch, afterschool and weekends with the boarding students. Even when it was raining sheets and the boys (and girls) had a 2-inch layer of red mud cemented to their cleats. Soccer was definitely happening, but it wasn’t 100% pure Tanzanian soccer. It was an international school after all and so the style was a mix of European meets Africa. So, we went on the hunt to find a concentrated, all-fat, real-sugar, no low calorie, version of the “real” soccer experience. This is how we met Coach Ally.

Coach Ally was Tanzanian and grew up in Tanga, which is the state near the east coast and known to be the bread basket of the country. Just like how it’s properly done in Moshi, our neighbor Peter first made the introductions and gave him a reference. Personal references are extremely important in Tanzania. We agreed to pay Coach Ally TSH 5,000/hour (almost $3) and he would come to our house on Monday afternoons for drills and then on Fridays the boys would go to his neighborhood o Njoro to play with local kids. Njoro was one of the poorest areas outside of Moshi. Ok, some driving was involved.

The first Monday, Coach Ally came to our house, he was an hour late and he was wearing a Nigeria soccer shirt, khakis and topsiders. It was 95F. He was dressed straight out of the GAP catalog. It turns out he was late because he had walked from his house, which was a solid 3 miles. He wasn’t even sweating or wrinkled. We agreed to pay him an extra TSH 2,000 so he could take a car taxi next time to arrive on time – he didn’t ride motorcycle taxis or “boda bodas” like many people because they weren’t safe, even though they were considerably cheaper. Safety first. The session ended at 6pm, at which point is dinner. Dinner happens wherever and whoever you are with at this time in Moshi, so he stayed to eat with us, and then took a taxi home.

Friday came around and we agreed to pick him up in town so he could show us where to go in Njoro. This was a good plan, because there was no way we could have found it on our own. Even if we had the electricity that day to look up Google maps, it would not have helped. Njoro’s dirt roads had speed bumps and pot holes taller than our Toyota station wagon and no street signs. So with Coach Ally in the front passenger street wearing his Gap uniform, we made our way to the public elementary school.

The school backed up to the Njoro river and the rainforest which had cute, long-haired Colubus monkeys in the trees. Locals were doing their laundry on the banks of the river. The play yard which also served as the “football pitch” at the school was large, flat, and covered in red dirt. No grass anywhere. The rainforest was a stone’s throw away, but the soccer field only had dirt. Life can be so unfair. The goal posts on each side of the play yard were 2-foot tall, somewhat straight wooden sticks that had been stuck in the dirt. There were kids wearing cleats and already playing on the pitch with a ball made of plastic bags and string when we arrived. That’s right, cleats. Serious stuff. On the way to the school, we saw lots of motorcycles but very few cars, so when we pulled up to the school, we stuck out like a sore thumb. The “wazungus” (foreigners) had arrived.

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