I'm going to begin by saying sorry for my slackness in not updating my blog in goodness knows how long. But here it is, another long awaited blog post from me.
My last few months haven't been overly busy but I'll give you a bit of a brief rundown.
After returning back from Nairobi I began helping at the hospital at Harvesters in Yei, which some fellow Pioneers staff run with dedication. I was mainly just helping in the pharmacy with distributing the medicine, etc. This help to tide me over until the funds due to Fly Sports finally came through around late September. Although Manny's church had sent enough funds to cover our previous costs and also provide for equipment, etc. to run another kids' league, we didn't actually receive the money from Across until around late September. During this time I also continued with my Arabic lessons, which I have since stopped. However I really enjoyed learning another language and am actually planning on doing so again at university next year (partly because of a requirement for one of the BCOM majors I am planning on doing). Towards the end of September I went to Nairobi with mum to see her off from East Africa (to make sure she finally left! :P) back to NZ and ended up staying there for a few days after as basically my last break from South Sudan before I leave for good (or at least for a long time). I didn't stay longer because firstly I had a break in August (last blog) only a month or so previous, and I also wanted to get back to Yei so I could begin with organising the kids league.
I guess from here on I will mostly talk about the kids league as that is freshest in the memory (and probably the most interesting).
We started the kids league mid October, after I had been training a semi-new group of kids since the end of September. Many days I was working with up to 50 kids with little help from anyone else. I eventually narrowed down the mass of players into a team of about 25, including some of the players I worked with in February, in the tournament held earlier this year.
Most teams in Yei play the same formation of 4-4-2 so I decided I wanted to change that into a 4-2-3-1 where the wide defenders also attack to give some width, however it was a bit ambitious to try and teach them this in the space of a couple of weeks and it failed miserably. We lost our first game 3-0 and decided to make many changes. As a team we decided to switch back to the 4-4-2 system they are familiar with and we drafted in a few new players. We also agreed that we would decide as a team who would start each game, in each position (the word democracy really is flavour of the month). Fortunately this yielded immediate results and we won our second game 1-0. Followed with a bit more training we backed that up with a 3-0 win in our third game, meaning the team qualified for the quarterfinals as second in the group (4 teams per group, meaning 3 games for each team in the group stage, with 4 groups total). This meant we played a team coached by a player from the Fly Sports adult team. Unfortunately for him we won and qualified for the semifinals, but not without a bit of drama.
Our team scored an early goal and we held that lead until not long after half-time when the opposition equalised (something that has happened too many times to the kids team). The game was very even and ended up going to Extra-time which is basically two halves normally 15 minutes long, but were only 5 minutes long for the kids league. This due to both the age of the kids/fitness level and the dwindling light around 6:45pm (when most games are finishing). After an uneventful first half of extra time, the game looked destined for the cruel penalty shoot-out, and as I was organising who would be taking the penalties we won one. There was a lot of debate and arguing between the players about the decision but a huge roar from the crowd who rushed onto the field and surrounded the goal and penalty spot to see the outcome of the kick (the game wasn't even over but the refs had almost no control over the much larger crowd). One of the more senior players in the team took the penalty and kicked us into the semifinals (effectively) as the final whistle went straight afterwards, to much joy and jubilation sported by my players. The drama wasn't over there though as no sooner had the final whistle gone than the crowd surrounded the referees and linesman and proceded to beat the linesman. I didn't see what happened but was told by a friend that they tore his shirt off and beat him up. See our penalty decision came from a corner that had been argued between referee and linesman. The referee had signalled for a goal kick and the linesman had signalled for a corner. The linesman insisted that it was a corner and the referee eventually caved and gave the corner kick. Not only that but this linesman had previously helped me a couple of weeks before in one or two trainings with my goalkeeper and been very loosely affiliated with the team. Inevitably words like corruption and bias were bandied about and the linesman found himself on the wrong end of an upset crowd. I am told he is ok but was not happy that the incident occurred.
It seems that when Fly Sports is organising a league we can't escape some sort of accusations of favouritism or corruption no matter how hard we try, so it is probably a good thing that we won't be winning the final. Unfortunately for my team we lost our semifinal on the Saturday just passed to the despair of my team. After again leading 1-0 at half time we proceeded to throw away our lead, and eventually the game, when the other team took their few chances presented to them to score twice while we could not make the most of our glut of chances and lost 2-1. Ironically to the same team we knocked out of the semifinals in the tournament held earlier this year. My players were all absolutely gutted and many were either in or near tears. Fortunately we have another game remaining, depressingly labelled as the "losers' match" where we will be playing the team we beat 1-0 in the group stage. The game will be played tomorrow (Tuesday 6th Nov.) and my players are determined to win it. It really hit home after the game how little time I have left here. I have 4 weeks remaining and then I will be leaving South Sudan, it seems crazy how fast the year has actually gone, even though for large parts of the year I wasn't doing a whole lot. Despite this, I have experienced and learned a lot and am definitely still glad and appreciative of this year I have had.
This weekend I will be travelling to Mundri in Western Equatoria, the birthplace of Manny, about a full days drive from here due to the poor roads rather than distance. During my time there I will be involved with both coaching kids and playing some football with the adult Fly Sports team Manny has set up there. Life there is more primitive than Yei, with little access to electricity and with no long drops either.
Hope that's been a good update for you to read. Im planning on doing another one after I get back from Mundri with a bit of a round up of my time there. Looking forward to arriving home in NZ and getting back to family and friends, however I will miss the people from my time here and am not looking forward to leaving. Like a wise person once said: "Arriving is great, Leaving is hard".