Wednesday, September 1, 2010

When malaria, the NBA, and Wolof meet…

Who knew that after all those years of playing basketball I’d have to come all the way to Senegal for my first opportunity to meet – and converse with – a real-live NBA player. It was kind of a bizarre experience – not the typical situation: you go to an NBA game and meet some players afterward, or a player comes to a camp you’re attending and get you meet him there. Rather, I was in a room full of Senegalese kids trying out the Paint program on new computers and was asked to translate for the NBA player that was in there at the time so he could communicate with the kids. I guess this all needs a bit of an introduction to make sense…

The first Friday of August I left the English camp that I helped out with (see previous blog post) a little early to go to Rufisque, a city just outside of Dakar, to help out with a malaria prevention/bed-net distribution event that was being hosted by various NBA affiliates and other organizations, namely NBA Cares, Basketball without Borders, and Nothing But Nets. A group of NBA players, several of which are from Africa (Luc Mbah a Moute, Cameroon; DeSagana Diop, Senegal; and Hasheem Thabeet, Tanzania; see for the complete listing – though this site says that Dwight Howard was there, but he actually ended up missing his flight from China, so he didn’t make it), as well as NBA and WNBA “legends” and others, such as coaches. That afternoon involved lots of speeches, a comedy/drama skit about malaria, visiting families and giving them bed nets (local health workers had done a survey the previous day to know how many bed nets each family in that specific section of Rufisque needed). PCVs had been asked to help out with the event by acting as translators for the various Americans that were there. I helped translate for a group of people adults who work for the NBA in some capacity and a couple of their children. It was really hectic and I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t get to meet any NBA or WNBA players. As I’ve already given away, though, that changed less than 20 hours later...

Most of the PCVs that translated that day went to the YMCA in Dakar the next day to help translate during the dedication ceremony that they were having (because NBA Cares had worked with the YMCA to build a better gym, a reading room, and a computer room). The ceremony started out with more speeches that were all in French so I did my best to translate (my French has, unfortunately, declined significantly since learning Wolof…) for a couple daughters of a manager of one of the NBA teams (sorry, can’t remember which one…) – the last one by Luc Mbah a Moute, an NBA player from Cameroon, who speaks terrific French, and whose speech was directed toward the Senegalese kids up front, encouraging them to not just have fun with the new gym, books, and computers but also to use them as educational resources so they will become bright, passionate, hard-working young people. His speech was by far the best – and the kids let him know by clapping loudly when he was finished talking. After that some of the kids did a dance, and then everyone dispersed to explore the new facilities of the newly-renovated YMCA.

I started just walking around the various new rooms, taking pictures. When I walked into the computer room I noticed 2 NBA players there with the kids – Danilo Gallinari, from the NY Nicks, and Willie Green, of the Philadelphia 76ers. I quickly snapped a couple pictures and then was about to leave when one of the NBA Cares staff members called me over and asked me if I could translate for Willie Green since he wanted to be able to talk with the kids. I clearly was more than happy to do that – and proceeded to talk with him and the kids for about at least 15 minutes. It was fun – and I could tell Willie really appreciated being able to actually communicate with the kids, because I think he had been talking to them for a while without a translator. I jumped right into translating so quickly that I don’t think I ever even introduced myself. I was glad, though, that I was able to get a photo with Willie a little while later. It was a nice way to wrap up the experience.

While Willie was messing around on the computers with the kids, other NBA players were doing other activities with the kids, such as playing a version of head, shoulders, knees, and toes. When the computer session wrapped up, we all went outside because there was some traditional – and not so traditional – dancing going on, which everyone enjoyed (as you can tell from the videos below).

Overall, we had a great time and I think the kids will really enjoy the gym and reading and computer rooms. Though I know a lot of the activities were planned with publicity in mind, I’m more than willing to look past their concern with publicity because of the fact that these famous basketball players (and many other people) are taking advantage of the opportunity to reach out and help others – by more than just giving money, but by coming all the way to Senegal to meet people and see what life is like here.

If you want to learn more about these organizations and the event as well as see more pictures, check out these websites:

Here’s an article in a Philly newspaper that includes a photo with me in it!

Pictures from the NBA website (

Some videos I took:

1 comment:

  1. Aww how awesome!! :-D It is kinda funny you got to meet NBA players all the way over there!