Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Soccer Ball Soap Opera

Never would I predicted or would have seen it coming that my goodwill of offering 16 sport balls to my village as a friendship gift turned out to be a fiasco where greed and shortsightedness in all its glory ensued. This is a true recount of what happened to me in my village.

***Names of people have been changed to protect their identity***

I- Peace Corps Volunteer, the benefactor

Abe- the scapegoat, innocent and trustworthy friend, teacher and would-be-counterpart who unfortunately got the bad rap and the victim of threats and accusation

Maria- Abe’s colleague, a friend and who was mentioned in the accusation along with Abe

Machiavelli- the antagonist, the soccer coach whose greed and shortsightedness started the soccer ball fiasco

Minions- Machiavelli’s 4 teams of young soccer players in their 20’s, vijana (Swahili for youth)

The Muppet Show- village government leaders

The Motley Crue- The Muppet Show, Machiavelli, and Minions

Hermes- an important good friend who is temporarily living and working in the village, a soccer player and my messenger

Joe- a friend, counterpart, also a soccer player/referee who replaced Abe as my counterpart as a result of pressure from The Motley Crue

Mack- a teacher

Doll Face- the sweetest and considerate friend, sister of Machiavelli

House girl- my house girl

Matt and Ben- my two young good looking educated friends who come visits me  from a nearby village, soccer players from a different village

 This story can easily be told as a feature movie, but to keep readers’ attention (‘cause we all have ADD these days) I’ll do my utmost best to make it a 30 minutes sitcom, okay maybe realistically an hour TV drama, how’s that?

 Having spent the first 3 months researching my community, I discovered there exists no other recreation or entertainment other than drinking alcohol (commercial or homemade) and watching  a soccer match at a school field. As a gesture of support and generosity, I gave 16 soccer balls to my community as a friendship and goodwill gift to those who love playing and watching soccer. The cost was almost two month’s of my living allowance, which I gladly forked out if it meant happiness to people in which they could all partake. The beneficiaries are the soccer players, primary school students, and I suppose anyone who would like to play soccer. What’s the problem? The story goes like this:

I was told by Machiavelli and Hermes, that there are 6 soccer teams made up from one of the 6 streets or sub villages. I decided to give 2 balls to each of the 6 teams and 2 schools making a total of 16 balls total.

After I have purchased the soccer balls, Machiavelli wasn’t exactly truthful and may have tried to nab more balls than necessary from me. Disappointedly, Hermes didn’t accurately inform me either of the exact number of teams. It was only at the soccer ball distribution to the soccer team captains at a village meeting that right there and then, I found out there are only 4 teams and not 6 as originally told to me. The coach wanted the extra 4 balls to be given as prizes to the winning teams at the end of their match on March 6. When I knew of this plan, I was not pleased but agreed given I was already giving balls out in front of everyone and I just went with the flow, trusting those around me. I’m basically kind of stuck now…

Shortly, someone apprised me that Machiavelli wanted to give out the 4 last balls as prizes for winning teams because his team, named “Poison” was the best and naturally, that meant his team would receive more balls. Upon learning this, I told Machiavelli via Hermes that I would prefer if the balls were again evenly distributed and not given to winning teams. He agreed so it was decided that on March 6, I would be handing out the remaining 4 balls on the last important match.

After I gave out the 8 balls to the 4 soccer teams, I also gave out the 4 balls to the village’s 2 primary schools. There was a formal lining up of students where the head teachers made a speech in front of them and then….drum roll….I give the 2 soccer balls to one boy and one girl….then claps and cheers…photo op and then more blah blah, blah in Swahili…and Wendy is all that plus a bag of chip. My speech in Swahili consisted of a sentence or two basically expressing, “I’m happy to give you guys balls, have fun kiddies!” However, my presentation at a big soccer match where the Motley Crue were in attendance was more elaborate. The purpose of my presence was so that all soccer teams could acknowledge my gifts to them. I expressed that being engaged in a fun and wholesome recreation is not only healthy and keeping busy but stave off unhealthy activities such as drinking, substance abuse and unprotected sex (HIV rate is one of the highest in my region).

Afterwards, someone asked me what about the ladies? I’ve given balls to men and children, but how about the women? I realized that was a great point. I decided immediately that the right thing to do is to exchange the last remaining 4 soccer balls to different sport balls where ladies can partake. I went to Abe, my trusted friend and chosen counterpart, to ask his opinion about exchanging balls and the new idea. He agreed that was a great idea and I asked him about exchange and refund policy in Tanzania. We both go next door to Maria’s house and discussed further since she is the person in charge of the netball, a sports ladies played, which is now a pathetic ratty torn up ball. It’s agreed that Abe and I will go into town to exchange the 4 soccer balls to 2 netballs, 1 volleyball and I’ll supplement more money to buy a volleyball net. I believed this was an excellent idea and use of the last 4 remaining balls in my possession as this not only supports gender equality, but a variety of different sports now available to the entire community where even men can enjoy.

One morning, Abe and I traveled into town to exchange the soccer balls. The new items would be available for pick up at a future date, so we left the 4 soccer balls at the store and Abe would return by himself later since I would be out of town for further Peace Corps training.

I tell my good friend, Hermes, about my change of plan and he concurred with my reasoning. I asked him to inform Machiavelli since he knows where he lives and can communicate fluently in Swahili. I knew he wouldn’t be thrilled but believed wholeheartedly that he would understand and agree that this was fair, reasonable, and a benefit to all since soccer players now have extra sports to play if they wished. This was gender equality, different recreational activity available, and total fairness. I was hoping that they would be grateful and satisfied for the already 8 balls they’ve received. I asked Hermes to promise me to give a speech to the minions on my behalf since the day of the last soccer match where I was to speak and give out the balls was the same day I was to leave my village for Peace Corps In Service Training in the town of Bagamoyo, a long journey from my district. Unbeknownst to me, it’s only later that this change of idea with the soccer balls created an uproar and total drama rama within my village, hence the soccer ball soap opera.

During In Service Training, Abe, my counterpart whom I have invited to training, canceled at the last minute claiming there was an emergency and that he was not able to attend so Joe was sent to replace him. When Joe arrived in Bagamoyo, I asked what happened to Abe? He claimed ignorant. Hmmm….in a rural village where everybody knows everybody’s business, especially if he is a replacement…he doesn’t know? Poppycock! I figured I’d get the lowdown upon my return.

After trainings, I return to my village. Abe tells me “something terrible, very terrible had happened! I’ll tell you later.” I am wondering who died or was someone hurt? Finally, this was Abe’s story:

One day at the soccer field, minions were shouting, accusing and threatening Abe who was inside his house located next to the field, that they won’t let him out of his home and will throw rocks at his house if he doesn’t give the soccer teams their last 4 soccer balls. They accused him and Maria for changing my mind. They believed it was Abe who persuaded me in the new idea in where they now lost 4 soccer balls. The soccer players were extremely angry with him. Out of fear, he remained inside his house with his wife and two young sons. The leader of The Muppet Show, trying to placate the possibly violent minions, appeased the riot by telling them they would receive their 4 soccer balls. The Muppet Show, Machiavelli and the minions all claimed that Abe had no right to do go training in Bagamoyo with me. They forbade him to go. Their reasoning was that as a teacher, he is not a suitable fit. He can not leave and must stay in the village to teach. They chose Joe instead, who had been the counterpart for past Peace Corps Volunteers. (The reason I did not chose Joe is because after previous PCVs returned home to USA, Joe did nothing in terms of continuing to teach or train others in the village) One ridiculous Muppet called Abe telling him that if I’m not agreeable, I can not work or teach in the village anymore. I almost choked on the ugali I was eating for lunch with Abe upon hearing him uttering these incredulous words. (Are you serious Mr. vice chairman of a primary school? You are kidding me, right? Aside from health topics, I am volunteering to teach extra subjects that are not part of my duty as a Peace Corps Volunteer and assisting in community development and you’re threatening me that I can’t work?) Abe told this Muppet that The Motley Crue are fools for being short sighted and having “no vision.”

When Machiavelli found out from Hermes my change of plan, this angered him and he manipulated his minions in believing it was Abe’s idea. When Hermes saw how Machiavelli reacted, he shrunk into his snail shell and decided not to give my speech at the end of the soccer match on March 6. Basically, he was scared and reneged on his promise to inform my change of plan and the good reasons behind it. I don’t blame him at the end of the day because this was ultimately was my responsibility and not his.

Feeling pressured and forced from The Motley Crue, Abe reluctantly returned to town and picked up the original 4 soccer balls and gave it all to Machiavelli and his minions. Not all the apples are rotten; some vijana did apologize to Abe about the position he was in and disclosed that it was Machiavelli pressuring them to make a big stink. The majority of minions were greedy and wanted to punish Abe. Honest Abe felt that it’s possible that many people may feel envious of him being asked to go to training with me since there may be goodies to be had and why he has contact with the foreigner. He already has a salary as a teacher so he doesn’t need the extra fringe benefit. Joe has no work and is a youth like them so he may receive more sympathy since they may be from the same position.

After returning from training, I would indirectly ask people I am close to what was new during my absence and what happened to Abe that Joe was his replacement. I already had the lowdown of the incident but I wanted to see who had the balls (Ha ha…get it, get it? Pun totally intended!) to tell me the truth. To my dismay, everyone kept quiet. I asked Doll Face and House girl and they gave me the duh…I don’t know anything look. I think to myself that they are D actresses (D for dumb) and I’m playing with amateurs here. I was most disappointed in Hermes. Joe was uncool too. They both kept quiet. The Muppet Show told everyone to be silent and keep the incident and the whereabouts of the soccer balls from me. Ssshh….it’s a secret! We can’t let her know. I wonder about the IQ of the villagers. Would I not ask about the new balls and volleyball net? Am I not to wonder why Abe didn’t come? Am I to believe that Joe really had no idea why he was the replacement? I know I’m a middle-aged woman with a lot of white hair, but for the love of God and ugali, I don’t have dementia or Alzheimer yet!!! Am I Jim Carrey from the movie “The Truman Show”? Everyone around me is an actor and I’m the main character clueless at being played at.


I approach the Muppet leader requesting a village meeting with the village committee and asked Machiavelli to attend. Muppet leader tells me that I should prepare a speech. I said, okay. It’s set, Saturday at 9AM. I tell Joe about the village meeting I have just set up and I need him to come translate, as we will be sharing with the village what we plan to do now after training.

I texted Matt asking if he can come visit me on Saturday instead of Sunday as I may need his help in translation for a speech I may prepare. I never received a reply. In passing, I told Hermes I will be speaking at a village meeting. I sense nervousness as he asked me what I would be talking about. Casually, I answered that I’ll be sharing about community projects I’ll be assisting and that my training with Joe was successful.

On Saturday, I received an email from Ben saying he will come see me. (He and I play cat and mouse as he is always trying to come visit me) I thought if he comes and Matt comes too, not a bad idea as I can shoot two birds with one stone. This will be Ben’s first visit. I met both of these young dudes in their 20’s at my village’s soccer match. Maybe they know each other. At 9 AM, the village committee hasn’t arrived and I’m still waiting. To my surprise and total delight, I see Matt and Ben arriving together at my house on their bicycles! My thoughts: 1) Okay, great! You two know each other…fantastic! 2) You guys dressed real cute today 3) Aw…how guys trekked an hour on your bikes to come see me 4) You will be my translator if things don’t work out as I planned. I welcomed Matt and Ben into my home and told them the scoop of the soccer ball fiasco. I invited them to attend the meeting if they’re ever so interested.

Two and a half hours later, at 11:30AM, (Typical of village life and meeting, everything is always late) finally Joe comes to my house and tells me that everyone has finally arrived and the meeting will now take place… it’s on.


I walked out of my house and surprised to see many people sitting outside. The meeting was not inside the village office as usual but in front of it where people sat on the ground and a table and some benches were set for village officials and myself.
I sat next to the Muppet leader. The village meeting commenced. Muppet leader spoke and finally introduced me to speak. I began my surprise attack:

I made 3 key points:

1.     Trainings with Joe in Bagamoyo and Dodoma were successful. We are excited and looking forward to teach health topics to students and community members.
2.     The following are community projects we feel are priority for the village. Blah, blah, blah…
3.     In order to successfully and effectively mutually work together, there must be elements of respect, trust and cooperation. Unfortunately, some village members have not shown me these; therefore, I can not work in community development but will continue to teach health as that is my primary role as a Peace Corps Volunteer.


Joe was so shocked that he began to stutter in translation as I caught him completely off guard…along with everyone else at the meeting. I say to him firmly several times “Just translate what I’m saying!” He was obedient and translated. At the end of the day, he always supported my idea and I never gave away that it was him who gave me the idea of changing the balls. I protected him. The minions would plunder him if they knew it was one of their own.

I tell the entire village that I need to clear Abe’s good name. It was unfair and totally not true that Abe and Maria persuaded me in exchanging the balls. I only approached them for counsel. (By punishing Abe to not go to training is a disservice to the village since he is a teacher who has the perfect platform to reach his audience of students. In addition, he can train fellow teachers.)

I am extremely disappointed that the village government (The Muppet Show) and the soccer coach (Machiavelli) had so poorly handled the situation and what a terrible example to the soccer players, the youth (minions). They failed to see what the outcome is for all involved.

My reasoning for changing the balls is to give women an opportunity to play a recreational sport and also give the community other activity aside from just soccer. This is gender equality and perhaps you may be sabotaging your sister, mama, girlfriend, wife, and friend…of having something fun and healthy to do. In life, you have to be flexible and be accepting of change if it is for the better. This is a positive change.

The soccer players already have a total of 8 soccer balls, let’s not be greedy and want 4 more. Give others something else to play with. Sharing is a good thing. Be grateful for whatever you have already.

The million dollars question was why didn’t someone propose to wait for my return to settle the balls? Sadly, there is no role model to show the proper way to handle this very simple situation. The behind the back activity, keeping silence, threats, accusations, and manipulations were all terrible examples to the youths. This was ineffective and impotent government leadership at its finest.

As I presented my case, everyone attentively listened. I imagine that The Muppet Show and Machiavelli sitting next and in front of me must be utterly dumbfounded, as they were not expecting this. I feel that they totally deserved this in-your-face style of confrontation since they went behind my back and never extended the courtesy of waiting for my return to discuss how to handle the soccer balls. Instead, they bullied and tried to keep the entire incident a secret from me. This is further demonstration of how feeble leadership exists in our village. The Muppet Show and Machiavelli deserved this public showdown. They never said a word during the meeting. After I was done with my “speech”, the village continued with their meeting. I left them to go attend to Matt and Ben whom I discovered were eavesdropping outside my house so that nobody can see them. They thought what I said was excellent, Joe translated well, and a woman sitting at the meeting didn’t know there were suppose to be balls for ladies and wanted them. .

After Matt and Ben left my house, I went to Doll Face’s shack store where one ridiculous Muppet was sitting inside. Just to proof that I am not resentful or angry with anyone, I entered the store and bought peanuts where I shared with all. This Muppet was not at the meeting but obviously he knew what happened and we tried to talk as my Swahili sucks and his English non-existent. He tells me that Abe is not a good person to go to training with me because as a teacher, the government may transfer him elsewhere in the future. Yet again, this Muppet strikes again with his completely ludicrous reasoning. Anybody besides teachers can always move or die. He is punishing Abe and was from the beginning extremely keen on the idea of me giving soccer balls to the village. The Muppet leader enters the store with a bottle of beer in his hand. I smiled and greeted him. He asked if I drink beer. I said yes but only if he plans to drink the beer now that I would join him for camaraderie but I will decline if he bought me a beer and we didn’t drink together. He said that he was tired and will go home to drink the beer so I said okay, we’ll drink a beer tomorrow, Sunday and he agreed. That never happened.

Monday morning, I received a phone call from Peace Corps asking me when I had a village meeting and what I talked about. Seriously?!? The Muppet leader called Peace Corps! I explained everything to my boss. After I finished the phone call, Joe comes to meet me as were to teach primary school students about malaria. I told Joe what happened and he couldn’t believe the stupidity of this Muppet. The Muppet leader essentially may have shot himself in the foot. Mack joined in our conversation and decided we should go to the head teacher of the other primary school and they all should ask the Muppet leader what he told Peace Corps. We are now sitting in the office of the head teacher with Abe, Joe, Mack and me. I explained the possible consequence of contacting Peace Corps. Depending on what Muppet leader says, I may be removed from this village if Peace Corps felt this situation may become a safety and security issue. Nobody can believe that The Muppet Show is making a big deal out of nothing. He wanted my boss to come to our village and talk to me. I returned home while they sort out a meeting amongst themselves. Later on my Peace Corps boss finally speaks to Joe to get the lowdown from him. After that, I spoke to my boss to confirm that we shall settle it amongst ourselves and that this is nothing serious to warrant any concern or his having travel 12 hours by car to come talk to us. True to the situation, Peace Corps also questions the ability to work with a village if their Muppet leader is calling Peace Corps over soccer balls! My boss was very surprised and found it incredulous that he had been contacted about some petty soccer balls. Muppet leader asked my boss to come to my village to calm me down. Huh? Calm me down?…I proposed we drink beer on Sunday, I’m good, dude!

Since then, there have been two village meetings where The Muppet Show discussed the soccer ball soap opera. I was never invited; hence, I was never aware of what truly was going on. I suspect it’s just conversation with no real action of resolution or attempting to make a satisfactory closure.

Abe texted me asking to meet him to discuss the soccer ball soap opera. He asked me for a favor. I didn’t dig the tone of what’s to come, so I said, “it depends.” He tells me that I should verbally tell the The Muppet Show that I agree in getting a microscope (Muppet Show felt microscope took precedent over a school library) for the village as a priority instead of building a library, which is something Abe and I feel extremely strong about being it is obviously the first priority. He tells me my agreement is to placate them but I don’t have to do anything. I tell him this plan makes no sense. I am here to work and assist in development. I can’t come and pretend to work but really not working.

Long story short, without me, there had been more meetings and a reasonable conclusion was elusive. Abe tried to keep a low profile and outwardly, Motley Crue and I are all smiley faces. Peace Corps contacted me again and I told them I would work it out with the Muppet Show and that all will be fine. The Muppet leader had communicated with both Peace Corps and our district supervisor requesting they come out to site to talk to me, again! (This may possibly be the Muppet’s attempt to make me look bad. He must be a complete fool because what do I have to lose? His village has more to gain from my presence than me staying there) Peace Corps and our district supervisor of our region told the Muppet leader essentially he needed to get his act together or otherwise they’ll be removing their Peace Corps Volunteer via a helicopter out of the village which means the village just lost their “precious” (their word) volunteer, yours truly…moi! To lose a Peace Corps Volunteer in a village would mean potential loss for many things. This would be unfortunate for the community and fault would be directed towards the stupidity and shortsightedness of The Muppet Show. Peace Corps and our district supervisor basically scolded and slapped Muppet leader’s hand for being a child. Nobody was going to travel all the way to my village to solve a rudimentary problem. Soccer balls????

Couple months later, Muppet leaders, dollface (clueless as to why she was asked to attend) Mack, Joe and I finally had a meeting in the Muppets’ office. Hopefully, the objective was to successfully resolve all issues and decide how to proceed in future collaborations. On my end, I clarified that Abe is not to be accused for anything and then I first acknowledged I should have told Machiavelli the new idea myself instead of asking Hermes to inform them on my behalf. My second admission was respect should have given to the Muppet leaders by coming forth with my newfound revelation and expressed my disapproval instead of publicly calling them out. (I believe my action was justified from their lack of regard for me, Abe, and the concept of equitableness) As the meeting continued, I was terribly disappointed that the Muppet leaders never once apologized, acknowledged, or intended to be accountable for anything. Protecting their ego and faces took precedent than having an honest exchange of what went wrong and how to make it right. They offered no resolution or admission of any kind. I was so sad not for myself that I was dealing with cowards, but how awfully unfortunate for the community as a whole to have such a namby-pamby for a leader. This was straight up case of “hit and run”. In disillusion, I realized this is their tactic: Do not admit guilt or wrong doing, avoid recounting the past and lessons learned, offer no solution or future cooperation, and shift the attention completely elsewhere. Basically, they owned up to nothing; they pleaded the Fifth Amendment. In conclusion, I expressed that I no longer am attached to the outcome of the balls and I have no issue with anyone in the village and will happily continue to teach. I mentioned nothing regarding my assisting in community development, as I need the collaboration from the Muppets. How can I possibly work with people on community projects when something this inconsequential and petty is holding us back? The Muppets’ suggested I apologize to them in front of the minions at a future village meeting. I offered a far more superior idea: Have the minions apologize to me first and THEN I’ll apologize to the Muppet Show! Needless to say, this never happened.

To this day, there is no conclusive ending or a satisfactory closure. I continue to teach and finally initiated community projects as I feel the community shouldn’t be punished for The Muppet’s lack of good judgment and wisdom in governing. The Motley Crue and I continue our demeanor as if the soccer ball fiasco never happened. Lastly, I’ve ascertained people’s innate character and on the spectrum where their integrity and intelligence lie. In retrospect, did I act rashly and did the confrontation serve a purpose? One may surmise that it’s probably best to be unassertive and not stir conflict: Let the innocent be blamed, not to disclose knowledge, allow dishonesty and bad behavior and worst of all is not to hold people accountable for their responsibility or irresponsibility. I completely disagree. I have no intention of changing the ways of people. However, aside from establishing a boundary of acceptable and unacceptable behavior with me, Joe had been completely impressed and in total admiration for my courage to speak up, uphold the truth, and insist on what is right and wrong. He told me he was in awe of my strength. Wow, and from a woman too! Perhaps, the whole village didn’t get it, but at the end of the day, if it clearly impacted one single person in an inspiring light…I think I have been successful, very successful. Not to be sanctimonious, but I won’t be surprise if many in their heart of hearts agree and respect with what and who I was defending and protecting. It’s always safer to be in the majority and keep quiet. Nonetheless in life, we do need that one fearless person who is willing to take a stand and create a voice for all. I’ll gladly volunteer. I am a volunteer after all, am I not?

1 comment:

  1. Hallo Wendy
    after reading your beautiful story i am admiring you more than i was doing before because you always stand for truth and dignity with your pride and honour...

    I wish that your story will be very good for BOLLYWOOD MOVIE as now days we are making good movies with a message for the society wendy...

    Keep it up to write all the experiences...