We've been travelers our whole lives. It's practically second nature for us to be on a plane either flying to a game, a job, back and forth between family or heading on a new adventure. But never in our lives have we experienced something like flying to Malava, Kenya. Between the 3 hour flights to ATL, the 14 hour flight to Qatar, the 12 hour (sleepless) overnight stay in Doha, the 6 hour flight to Nairobi, the 1 hour flight to Kisumu and the 2 hour mitatu (bus) ride to Malava - specifically the Tumaini Miles of Smiles Orphanage - our bodies and minds had never been so tired and confused. And trust us when we say that we're gifted at functioning on no sleep (ask our roommates), but this was something different. The funny part was we didn't even get uncomfortably tired until the bus ride. We're 100% sure our lack of exhaustion up until this point was fueled by our pure excitement. There really are no words for us to fully explain how this trip made our hearts feel, so here's our best: It's a feeling of genuine and immense happiness that you can only feel when you experience it yourself. Although it’s a feeling that is hard to explain, it would be unjust of us to keep these emotions and experiences to ourselves when they have so much meaning and importance. So, we write these posts to do our best to let you into our world -a world of incredible adventure, heartfelt friendship and life changing perspective. And like the cleats we play in, our intentions are to tie you up into this mesmerizing, beautiful adventure. Thank you for reading this. Nothing is even possible without you.
We got to the orphanage - which I will refer to as Tumaini for the rest of this - it was already pretty late, so most of the kids were already out of school. We put our bags in our rooms, which were in Rose's house, and headed outside. Tumaini is one really big, beautiful piece of land that has a school for grades pre-k to eight, a home for them, a soccer field and a Rose's house. Rose is head "momma" because she started Tumaini many years back. Rose and I spoke back and forth through email before I came to Tumaini in order to set up the soccer details of the trip. To say the least, Rose is one of the most incredible people I have EVER met. Her intelligence is unmatched, her heart is huge and her drive and passion are inspiring. After growing up in a poor home, Rose was given the opportunity to go to school and then from there, passed the opportunity along to others until she had created Tumaini. I mean this woman literally moves with grace and knowing her is a privilege.
After finally meeting her face to face, we headed out to the field where the kids were playing red rover and tag. Me, having absolutely no will power when it comes to cute newborns, gravitated towards the "nursery" part of the building. I say "nursery" lightly; a clean, bright room with flowers is not exactly what it looks like. Never the less, the babies were being taken care of by house moms. I picked up a little boy named Thompson and he fell asleep in my arms. I quickly learned every single kid here is loved and cherished immensely by Rose and her staff. Their upbringing was translated through their polite and loving personalities and interactions with us right away. I left baby Thompson in a friend's hands when I saw the soccer ball come out though. But were we expecting anything less? NAHH. I walked over to the boys and started throwing high fives "goata, goata, goata" - a sign of greeting in Tumaini. "Can I play?" "Of course!" Polite AND good english? Honestly, shout out to Rose, these kids rock. After a little shuffling around, I got everyone in a circle. The first rule I ever learned on these soccer trips? You've got to earn your respect on the ball field. You're on their turf. (Especially being a girl). So basically, if I'm gonna hang with the big dogs, I've got to to show them I have tekkers (in soccer terms, that means skills). So here I am, all 5 ft 10 of me with my cute little Nike shorts and hair in a side braid, telling these little Neymars to bring it on. They passed me the ball and I flicked it up and whipped out every juggling skill I knew. They. went. nuts. Respect earned - game time. We laughed a lot as the ball bounced back and forth between end lines for an hour. I didn't speak swahili but we were all talking: if you get that. At one point in those minutes, I stopped to look at Jordan with a huge smile on my face and said "this is amazing. We're right where we're supposed to be. I think we'll be back soon." It seems so crazy to me that I felt that connection so instantly, but I truly did. The best part of this was that when I turned away from Jordan, the young boy next to me nutmegged his defender and turns around to me and says "I'm taking your style." Basically that boy and me, who I would soon learn was named Pheniox, were friends from that moment. After that game we tucked it in for the night. The jet lag and the footy did me in and I was knocked by 7:15.
Our first full day here was Sunday. At Tumaini, Sunday is rest day, we we didn't have to really be prepared for anything. My early exit the night before lead me to wake up at 6:15am. I was the first one up so I went to the living room to read for a while. The silence mixed with the little feet running around outside was practically a symphony to me. When I finished reading I made toast with PB. (Side note: if you ever travel to Africa, DONT forget to bring PB with you. It can literally save lives. Shout out to my new friend Whitney for that one). When Jordan woke up we went for a run because I need to stay fit before preseason. And also running is where I find my peace of mind.
There is something about running down a dirt road, halfway across the world from your family and freinds while chasing every single on of your dreams that radiates immense freedom. In that moment I knew I was right where I was suppose to be.
At noon we were welcomed into Tumaini by so many of the kids and adults. Here's a little proven fact from the Tay Ross Fact Organization: Foreign country church is AMAZING. It's basically hours of endless music, inclusion and FIRE dance moves. After being welcomed into the church, we spent most of the rest of the day creating lesson plans for the kids. The week was set up like this:
Monday-Thursday: school, music class, craft class, and rec class.
Friday: Soccer tournament between 7 local schools hosted at Tumaini.
Saturday-Monday: free time with the kids.
Here's a fun fact for you: Before starting Cleats Count, one of my biggest fears was teaching kids. Just the idea of being a coach, tutor or teacher scared the living daylights out of me. So although there were a lot of motives for starting Cleats Count, a personal one for me was stepping out of my comfort zone and growing as a person. If my comfort zone was explained as the end of a cliff, the idea of teaching to me was taking bazillion foot plummet off the side. I'm literally not exaggerating. What's amazing though is that Cleats Count has allowed me to change that. Teaching used to be a foreign language to me and now I can teach in a foreign language. And I LOVE it.
So here's some advice from my experiences with this: if you ever find yourself on the edge of your cliff, staring your biggest fear right in the face, jump. I promise you that in some way, a net will appear and your life will change forever, for the better.
After we finished the lesson plan and had dinner, a huge meal of chipotee, Kenya's famous food that tastes like thin pancakes, I explored Tumaini. I went into the dirt rooms of the kids. I also saw the place they eat. Although they eat with their hands and they don't have many tables, they all work together to make everything work. It was pretty amazing. I was walking back to the house when a group of boys stopped me and said "play? please play!" And like CMON. What am I gonna say? No? HA. We grabbed a ball and split into teams. We played for a little but it was pushing pitch-black outside. I literally had to pick the ball up and call a timeout to announce that next goal wins so these kids would stop playing. It was hilarious and awesome and refreshing. We soon all said goodnight and left with high fives (and even a few hugs already). I walked into the house and sat on the couch just smiling. What a day - and it seems fitting that Sunday is already my favorite day of the week.
Monday was the first day that we had to wake up for events. Toast and PB was the perfect way to start the day. We went out to the field where all the classes (baby class through eighth) met us. They greeted us with songs which was soooo cute. "Welcome to Tumaini, welcome to Tumaini, welcome to Tumaini!" We split them up by little kids and big kids and this day I was in charge of rec and crafts class. We started rec by stretching into a big circle. They would sing "1...2....make a circle. 3...4....a big, big circle." When we stretched, I had the kids "shake it out" which pretty much meant wiggle after every stretch. They died laughing every time. We did relays and crafts for the whole day. The kids were so fascinated by the colorful markers and glue. It was so cool and refreshing to see these kids so excited about the littlest things.
One boy stood next to me. He was the tallest in grade 4. "Gino locko ninani" I asked him (what's your name?) "Brevick" he said. For some reason, that whole first day I would keep catching his eyes looking at me. Something about this little guy caught my attention - maybe it was the way we shared a countless amount of laughs together just from the meeting of our eyes on this first day together.
When we made crowns with the kids in crafts class, we were teaching them that they are all kings and queens in their own way and that they're valuable. It was the same thing all week - give them lessons in school that teach them that they mean something. It has been amazing to see the direct correlation between this type of learning and confidence on the soccer field. But hands down the best part of it all was when the kids would leave, a few would run back and say "thank you" for whatever we taught them that day then run away to the soccer field. We spent the second half of the day doing the same thing but with the older kids. By 4pm, school was over. Cue the giant soccer game.
Mr. Robinson, one of the Kenyan teachers came up to me and said "make sides lets play." I got to it. We split 11v11 WITH subs. I turned around and expected to see just the kids knocking it around but THERE. HE. WAS. Mr. Robinson running full speed ahead doing step overs at these kids. It was hilarious, jaw dropping and left me with the widest eyes and the biggest smile on my face. We played all night, teachers included. One girl, her name was Milly, was inching into the game. I knew she wanted to play but she was nervous. I took her by the hands and said "It's okay, come play. You can be on my team." She JUMPED in. Soon lots of girls were playing. One girl, Lucy was killllllling it. TOO fun.
It was this day that we sat down with Rose and asked to hear her full story. We talked for hours, learning that she started by taking one kid in, then three, then five and so on. She told me that it has been amazing to see Tumaini grow and they she is so thankful for all the incredible people that have come through to help build it. Especially our friends at the International Sports Federation. If you want to read Rose's story, told by herself, then you can find it here:
The next three days were much of the same kind of fun with everyday having its share of laughs, smiles and new friends...and of course soccer. Although I met so many kids, five pulled on my heart strings: Brevick, Alfiyo, Milly, Davey and Chelsea. Sometimes you meet people and they influence your happiness. Here I am in Kenya thinking I'm suppose to be bringing the happiness to them and it turns out they're bringing it to me. These guys made me EXCITED to walk out the door and see them. And I know that sounds well, average. But don't forget. We don't speak many of the same words. I've learned some Swahili and they've learned some English but our moments are brief in dialogue and rather exchange through an emotional connection fueled by an understanding or resemblance. I can look at Chelsea and make her laugh with just my smile. I can watch Brevik dribble the ball and wait for his eyes to meet mine with a giggle every time someone steals it away. I can run after Alfiyo and know exactly where he's headed - the back left of the soccer field where he protects his own little goal between two trees. I can feel Davey when he falls asleep on me and know his big exhausted breathes are coming soon after. And I can look at Milly and see myself - athletic, taller than all the boys, and quietly gravitating towards desired affection.
Besides my squad of mini-me's, I spent most of my time on the field. Whenever we were doing rec or music class, if there was a lack of communication due to the language barrier, I would just say "football???" and everyone would go NUTS. By the fourth day we were playing boys vs. girls every game. I wish I could just explain to you how relentless these kids were when playing but you honestly have to see it to understand. These kids have grown up their whole lives together at Tumaini, all 100 of them, so running full-speed at each other was, well, pretty normal. Oh, and trees? FORGET IT. What's a tree anyways?? It's with this "style of play" you can imagine how they go through soccer balls so quickly. There were five new soccer balls here when we got here and three are already busted!! For a moment that might make your jaw drop, especially when you find out how expensive soccer balls are in Kenya.
When you're on the field with these kids watching them have the time of their lives over a game their inexplicably obsessed with, you cannot help but smile cheek to cheek and say "worth it."
On Wednesday night, Jordan and I organized the cleats with Hezbon. Hezbon is THAT guy at Tumaini. He's a driver, a technician, a chef, a shopper - you get the point. He's whatever you need him to be, whenever you need it. He carries himself with such kindness that he feels like a protector and a friend all at once. He kept a list of players coming in from around town for the tournament. When we finished matching up sizes, Jordan and I wrote out 100 cleat tags with the names of all the incredible people that helped us get here.
That for me is one of my favorite parts. How awesome is it to connect two worlds like that, then be able to physically show one world how they changed the other.
Moments in life where we genuinely appreciate connection to people we don't really know are a rarity, so I love that the cleat tag aspect of Cleats Count creates these. For a moment it reminds you that good-in-the-world still exists.
I woke up early on Thursday to read by the window again. I didn't set an alarm or anything, I think my body just longs for the serenity here. As I sat engulfed in my current business book by Robert Herjavec (If you know me you know I'm either reading books about love or books about business. I guess to me they're one in the same). Anyways, Jordan interrupted my daydream as he walked into the room at 6:50am, "you ready?" "I've been waiting for you!"
We headed out of Tumaini and took a jog down the dirt road. We passed the same homes and kids as last time but without any less excitement. A few boys even joined us on the road, giggling as they ran by our sides with sticks in their hands like batons. With every step we pulled a in a new crowd to the fence to watch us run by. I guess their soccer games could wait when there's a "mazunga" running by. Although we were running sooo fast *rolls eyes at self* I couldn't help but noticed every soccer game was being played with plastic bags, rolled up with string. I couldn't help but want to be able to change that for them in the future too. *Cue Cleats Count Future Plans Book*
On our way back to Tumaini we did interval sprints (I was training for senior year preseason) that had kids hiding in the bushes. A "mazunga" running at you full speed ahead? Okay lesson learned. We are sorry!! Haha we couldn't help but giggle at that though. When we got back to Tumaini, Rose told us why they were scared of us sprinting.
"People that far down the road have never seen a white person before. They think you are a myth."
Isn't that WILD? A culture and society gap so H U G E that the mere thought of us is almost too crazy to believe. Its an idea that can really mess with your head if you think about it in its entirety for too long........so naturally, thats what I did. This thought entangled me like a vine with no give. Seeing this with my own eyes and processing it with my own mind has made me realize two things:
1. I am so grateful for the things I have. I know it sounds cliche but there is a new depth to it ever since I've been going on these trips. And I don't mean gratitude like that silly saying "finish your food, there's people without it in Africa." I mean a genuine, eye opening, appreciation and thankfulness for the access I have to this world. How my world doesn't end at the edge of my street and how Ive been lucky enough to see enough of the world to know that no race is a "myth."
2. THIS is living. Running a business that calls for travel to the rest of the world rather than one that seeks material items has allowed me to fulfill something in me that I don't think otherwise could have been fulfilled. I've never been so sure that we are suppose to chase moment and relationships, NOT money. Experiencing another culture - their habits, environment and way of life is something you can only really appreciate when you experience it yourself.
So, to anyone who thinks that your world ends at the acquisition of your big house, fancy car or comfort zone - you're dead wrong. You would be so surprised at all of the things you never even thought existed, all of the ideas you never considered (white people are a myth) and all of the human emotions you never thought you could reach.
We are meant to live a life fufilled and we only have so many days to do it. So, as we say here in the Cleats Count headquarters - make it count.
Have you ever noticed how fast the sunset happens? The sky looks normal, and then its beautiful, and then everything is blue, and then its pitch black out...all within five minutes. And if you blink you felt like you missed it. Thats how this trip felt. I blinked and all of a sudden it was the last day. The good thing though was that I didn't miss a second. And I mean, this last day was about to be awesome, but none the less, the last day.
Today was THE DAY. The day we had spent months planning for. TOURNAMENT DAY. When we woke up the kids were already in school...but not for long. By 9am they were out and the schools from around the area were arriving on busses. Our entire trip team was up and ready for a day of never ending fun. Jordan and I tied our bandanas around our necks and headed outside.
We knew there was about to be a huge Cleats Count tournament but we had nooooo idea just how excited Tumaini was. When we got to the other side of the field, the students were setting up a tent for us to sit under because there was a chance of rain (If you were wondering. It rained. Hard). Next to the tent was a huge speaker they set up for announcing the play by play. I mean this thing was rigged FIFA style. IT. WAS. AWESOME.
The teams rolled in and started PROFESSIONAL LOOKING warm ups. The best part was that most of them had an African twist to them; some type of dancing or singing.
Soon everyone gathered around the back of the field. I said a few words, thanking them for having us and then we got to it. I ended up reffing the first game which was soooo fun. I had never reffed a game in America, never mind in Kenya, but they made me feel so okay. I think I did alright too. Well...besides that one slide tackle from the back that I may or may not have let go because both players came up laughing.
The games were intense, fast and fun. The students that weren't playing lined the field and screamed at the top of their lungs every time someone got within 18 of the goal. When someone scored? Forget it. I couldn't even hear myself think. These kids AND adults were awesome. After the tournament we had the cleat ceremony. We waited until the end because the cleats were the reward for hard work in the classroom and on the field.
I could honestly go on for days about Tournament Day, but I think the pictures from the whole day do it way more justice. And remember how I mentioned sunsets? This was just as beautiful.