One of our primary ministries in Nosy Be was playing basketball. I know, rough summer of playing basketball and hanging out at beaches. There are though, very real social problems in Nosy Be, most notably underage prostitution. Playing basketball gave us a chance to get to know people on a personal level by playing basketball and walking around the streets talking to people. Hanging out in the beach towns gave us a chance to observe what goes on there and witness to girls that may or may not have been prostitutes.
Jeff having already been there awhile, got us introduced to the basketball crowd that hung out each morning; at least while U.S. teams were there. The locals would choose the teams, which usually meant that Scott, Mindy, Patrice, Jeff, and I were on the same team. It was semi-organized unsophisticated basketball that these guys played (When I visited again a year and a half later, I found a different group of guys playing that were legitimately good.)
Some guys were good, some not, everyone had their own style. We would generally play 4 days a week for 2-3 hours enough time to get a good tan and thoroughly dehydrated. It was technically “winter” when we were there, which meant it only got up to 85-90 degrees during the day.
We would walk to the court from our house, through downtown. The court was located a few blocks from the central market and the heart of the town. The market was a half warehouse, half outdoor market, full of fly covered meat and reused rubber stopper medicine bottles full of fresh ylang ylang oil from the nearby factories. The court we played on was a concrete patch, no nets, surrounded by palm trees and dilapidated houses, and bordered by the wall of the local prison. There were many potholes in the court that had to be craftily avoided. It’s surprising none of us tore up a knee or ankle.
We played, got to know the guys, and the guys would then join us for services that we had during the week. Some of the regulars I remember were Samir, Birkoff, and Fidel. Teams would be chosen by the guys playing, and we’d play half court games, the winner staying on til they lost. It took us a while to get our rhythm together, but once we did we were able to fit in nicely.
One day while playing, we finally played full court basketball. The locals didn’t seem to be used to playing full court, so our team “vizaha” dominated. After winning four games in a row, an argument broke out about something we didn’t understand. After while Fidel grabbed a big rock from the edge of the court, set it down in the middle of the court and sat on it, thus ending our day.
Near the end of the summer, our shoes got stolen from the porch in front of the house. I don’t know why we thought it was a good idea to leave them outside, but we did, and they were gone, sometime between the time the night watchman left and the laundry lady (“Mama”) came. For the last week we played basketball barefoot with the locals. The concrete was so hot we got blisters on our feet, but we were having so much fun we kept playing anyway. Later, back in Tana, where it was actually cold at night, we had to wear our flip-flops with socks.
We played basketball with the guys, got to know them, and fit in a little, but we were always outsiders. Until one day, when Scott and I stayed a little longer at the court. The rest of the team had gone home, and most of the guys had left too, so there was only a 4 on 4 game left. During that time the guys all started showing off, busting out moves, and trash talking each other. It really felt like they were finally comfortable enough to be themselves around us. This may have been our best day there.
Later that day, Scott and I went back downtown and taught English to some of the basketball players. Fidel found an abandoned classroom, or something resembling that, near the port, and we used it as our classroom. Mostly the guys asked us questions about what they had learned about English. Some of them may have still been in school, some were studying for their baccalaureate; a required, very difficult exam, to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma.
After that point the guys were more open to us and more open to hanging out with us. They came to our services more often (though I don’t think any of them came after we left) and were more casual around us. One of the best things we got to do with the guys was take them to the beach. One night, the girls had decided that they were going to have a girls night with many of the regular youth attenders. Since Scott and I were without anything to do, we decided to go to the beach. We got several large taxis and took about 25 guys over to Ambatoloaka, where we played games on the beach and swam, and had a lot of fun. I remember that night as being clear skies, and a full moon. It was so bright, that you could still see through the water just by the light of the moon. The beaches and water there were amazing.
After teaching English a couple times a week for our last few weeks there, we really got to spend some good quality time, building relationships with the guys. The last time that we hung out with them, Scott and I took them out for ice cream, then we walked around town and hung out by the ocean. This particular road we were on was a beautiful tree lined boulevard, with nice houses overlooking the ocean, with antique canons displayed in the yards; likely leftovers from French colonization. The guys were great that day, talking, joking and having fun. We ended up by the seaside where Fidel got up on a railing and danced and sang for us, a great way to end the summer.