Home Sweet Home

We returned to England last Sunday and didn’t exactly get the warm welcome we had hoped for by setting foot back in the country at a harsh -4 degrees. Of course it felt worse than this as 8 hours before it had been a lovely 30 degrees, as well as the fact that I was still in shorts and a t-shirt as I refused to wear warm clothes on my final day in Barbados.

I’ve been back for nearly two weeks now and had a chance to reflect on what a wonderful experience the last 3 months have been. Getting to work abroad from such a young age had been something I’d wanted to do since high school and for the work to be based around football was an absolute bonus. I thoroughly enjoyed my time and learnt a lot from other people about myself – mostly that I’ll probably struggle to survive a British winter again after skipping the last!

Unfortunately my time back home hasn’t been as relaxing as planned as I was back in hospital less than 24 hours of being in the country after the pressure of the flight seemed to have caused the problems with my nose to reoccur.  Multiple trips later and different meetings with various doctors it’s been decided I need a minor operation to overcome the bleeding and hopefully prevent any problems in Tanzania – my next destination.

Of course though, Tanzania is now just over a week away so everything is a bit of a frantic rush. All the necessary medication has now been bought, a ridiculous quantity including over 100 malaria pills. It’s fair to say that half my baggage allowance will probably be gone on health prevention! This will be my first true experience of Africa and if it’s half as good as experience as Barbados I’ll be very happy. I’m excited to get going on what I’m sure will be an eye-opening 3 months however I’m not ashamed to say that I’m quite apprehensive about living there and the risks that are involved – And the spiders and snakes which seem to be abundant and they’re both creatures I don’t like to see!

The link to my blog whilst in Tanzania is http://sokasafari.wordpress.com so be sure to have read of my experiences there. This will probably be my final post on this blog, so thank you for reading and thank you Barbados.

Finally to any future ‘gappers’ who are reading this, if you have any questions about my time on the programme in London, Barbados or Tanzania, please do not hesitate to drop me a message. I’ll be happy to answer any queries as best I can.

Adios for now

Farewell

I’m quite emotional about this so it may get a little soppy:

Over 180 sessions delivered, more than 250 hours of football, over 300 different kids worked with every week, 6000km of driving, and 79 wonderful days, it’s time to bid farewell to Barbados. I’ve had a fantastic time, worked with some amazing people and enjoyed everything this culture has to offer. I’ll certainly miss the sandy beaches, hot weather (the rain not so much), welcoming people, exotic food, splendid scenery and relaxed lifestyle!

Of course though, the priority of our stay in Barbados, was to promote football across the island to all age groups and abilities. I have always been a firm believer in that football has the power to bring people together and this is something that has only been emphasised on this trip. There have been many examples of this and I’d be here all day if I was to list them all, so I’ll tell you my favourite. A few weeks back, we were a little early to watch one of our groups play a match. Whilst waiting I saw a young fella out on the field walking around by the goal. I decided to go over and take a ball and we got talking and ended up just taking a few shots at each other. A few minutes later another boy emerges, this time a little older, and asks to join in with us. Within 5 minutes another 5 guys appeared and we’ve set up small pitch playing a bit of 4v4. All of that happened because of that spherical, plastic object we call a ball, something so simple, yet so powerful. 8 people had been brought together, none of which I had ever met, or spoken to before and we all ended having a great time. The influence of sport on people, in particular football, is something that amazes me and something that I don’t feel is utilised across the world enough – something that has confirmed my desire to continue working in sport after this programme.

On a more social topic this final weekend has been pleasant for sure. Saturday night we returned to Oistins for some of the best fish I have ever tasted. This time I sampled marlin and before the national dish flying fish, an experience I certainly recommend. Make sure you head down to this place if you’re ever about. We then boarded our catamaran, Sunday morning, for our cruise up the west coast. I’m a bit of a snorkelling enthusiast so this was an ideal trip for me. We initially anchored off Folkestone Marine Park to see a variety of species followed by a swim with a few turtles, another fantastic experience – such great creatures. We also received the added bonus of two sting rays passing up and down beneath us and the trip was capped off witnessing flying fish doing as their name suggests. Only downside was that I got rather sunburnt but you can’t have it all.

Despite the sunburn Mullins Bay (my favourite beach on the island) was hit on the Monday morning. Seen as it was our final week we also decided give jet skiing a try. After a bit of haggling we were ready to go and went speeding off into the horizon…for about 10 minutes. This was until mine just decided to cut out about a kilometre from shore. I tried restarting but nothing. So I’m in the middle of the Caribbean Sea thinking ‘bugger, that’s a long swim back’. Some people on a passing yacht offered me a ride but I politely declined and waved back to the coast for help just bobbing up and down. Eventually some other guys came out on a jet ski and I was relieved to learn that it was in fact actually knackered and not me being stupid. We came back in and went back out on another ‘ski to make up for lost time. Brilliant fun if you’ve fancied a go.

So here we are with only one more free day before flying back to cold England. A big thank you to the Brewster Trust and Arsenal in the Community for organising this trip and thank you Barbados for the last 3 months. You’ve been great!

Here’s a link to a video of some our highlights whilst working in Barbados: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLgR74EGypk

Truancy

Our time is coming to end in Barbados, sadly, and due to Easter, this week was our last full week, meaning it was our final sessions with some groups. The ‘goodbyes’ have commenced and it’s fair to say I’m gutted I won’t be seeing certain people, from students to teachers, again for a while. The predominant topic of the week has been shooting, something everyone enjoys, so on a plus side it’s been a great week for coaching and I’ve seen a few screamers hit the net. Another fun story from this week is that I discovered some children had been missing ‘social science’ lessons to come for extra football. It finally came out that some students had been telling their science teacher they “had” to go to football and therefore must skip lessons.  Although I don’t condone students missing other lessons I take great compliments from it. Must be doing something right, eh?

Wednesday is a busy day for us and this Wednesday was even more hectic than usual. Our first session in St Lucy went as planned with around 12 kids, a lovely number to work with. Then came the second. 12 turned into 51 in a matter of minutes and the field was swarming with kids. We ended up splitting people into groups and due to a lack of goals, used some bags and jumpers for goal posts – proper old school. Brilliant none the less and took me back a few years to the school playground. Although certainly the busiest, this is one of the best sessions I’ve worked in. Had a whole field buzzing with football being played all over – and it just worked.

The week didn’t end there. Friday morning I woke up to an email telling me I’m off to Tanzania in April for 3 months!! Delighted. Tanzania was my preference to travel to for the next stage abroad and I look forward to what I hope will be another great experience. Our week concluded with us putting the finishing touches to our Be A Gunner, Be A Runner video for the Arsenal Foundation, which can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErSj3DZwTRA and then having a tour of Harrison’s Cave, something I wanted to do since arriving on the Island. For those who don’t know it’s a network of underground caves which have limestone rock formations and make for a spectacular sight!

Going to be a busy few days but hopefully I’ll squeeze another update before returning to England.

Sir, I Burnt My Arsenal Kit

So I’ve made my return this week after two weeks off recuperating from my nasal bleeds and it’s fair to say I’m feeling the effects from not moving properly for a full 14 days. Walking up the stairs is tiring and after moving about all of Saturday I ached like I had just ran a marathon. However it’s great to be back out in the sun especially as it dawned on me we are into our final 4 weeks now. 4 weeks to cram in all the activities we’ve been planning since the start.

On Saturday I experienced one of the best days of my time on Barbados so far though. We got in the car and headed along the east coast, something I highly recommend you check out if you’re ever on this island. Forget the map, head east, let yourself get lost, and you’re sure to end up in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Ambling over some rocks and (slightly dangerously) descending down a few cliff faces  we found our self in places untouched by man looking out onto the Atlantic Ocean and back onto the East coast. It made for some for some great photos and a great time – and best of all, didn’t cost a penny.

Apart from that however I don’t have much to say as I’ve just been resting so I thought I’d share a little story I saved with you from a few weeks ago:

Language difficulties – Being English, this is not a problem you would expect to encounter in a country where English is the first language. Because of this, when I speak to locals there is this common, but very wrong, conception that we understand each other. Residents of Barbados have their own English slang and speak rapidly fast to add to the difficulty of understanding. When talking to the kids in schools, this can become a bit embarrassing; having to ask somebody to repeat themselves 4 times before making a guess at what they’re trying to say. The classic example happened at Parkinson school a few weeks back. Just before my session a kid approached me and I heard ‘Sir, I burnt my Arsenal kit’. I asked the boy to repeat himself and he did. With a confused face I replied ‘why did you do that? ‘Just for you’, he said. I then joked ‘I’m not letting you play if you burnt an Arsenal kit’. This is when his friends began to laugh. All along I had understood the boy to be saying he had ‘burnt’ his Arsenal kit, when in fact he was saying he had ‘brought his Arsenal kit’ for the session. A comical moment which provided a few laughs all round. This has not been the only occurrence and a lot our students find my southern accent particularly funny. I often find myself being mimicked by a few as the way I pronounce certain words they find hilarious.

Sun, Sea and A&E

As promised before:

Liming – Bajan term for relaxing, enjoying food, drink and the company others

A lot of that was done over the past week. After a Saturday morning of work, we hit the beach after catching up with the premier league games. On a Sunday, we lay in… and then hit the beach. Due to elections recently, however, on Wednesday and Thursday, of last week, schools were closed leaving a lot more time to lime and a lot more time to lay on the beach. Unknown to me at the time, this extended time off was going to prove to be slight issue in the near future not helped by me deciding to ditch my hat over the last few weeks trying to make the most of the sun and even out the ridiculous tan-line on my forehead. This is a decision I now regret but I’m British – what do you expect?

This is an eventful story so we could be here a while: It started Saturday evening. I came home off the beach getting ready for the evening ahead. Overhanging the edge of my bed I looked down at the floor and saw a splash of red that had just descended from my nose. For the record, I never have nose bleeds, so this was odd. Nothing came of this and it soon passed. Sunday evening the exact same happened. Overhanging the edge of my bed I looked down at the floor and you get the picture. This time my nose bled for around 20 minutes, though, and myself and my host family were a little concerned – the latter probably more about their bed sheets and lovely house!

Monday morning came and my nose was still threatening to bleed and it couldn’t have done it at a more inappropriate time. About 10 minutes into our Monday morning double club session, I was standing at the back of a full class and suddenly came to the realisation that I was going to have to try and stumble past 20 kids, clutching my nose with a red (originally white) rag, without them freaking out. I found a staff member and asked for some help. He directed me to a room with a cry of ‘We need someone who can do First Aid’. After being passed between about 4 different people as no one wanted to clear up the mess I was creating I was treated by a lady who I presume was the school nurse. 20minutes later she decided this was too much for her and we were escorted to a nearby doctor surgery – in the middle – of literally – nowhere. 2 hours passed and after having various things poked up my nose I left, told I had to take 2 days off.  I actually asked the doctor how often they get someone come in who needs immediate attention and he said the last was 4 months ago. That’s how ‘in the middle of nowhere’ this place was.

Later that evening the predictable happened… again. This was now too much. Off to hospital we went. A long night was ahead. The first hospital decided I was too much for them (do you see a pattern emerging here) and I was transferred to QEH, the main on the Island. The guess was that I had burst a blood vessel most probably due to too much time in the sun and not wearing a hat. The ENT specialist there poked all sorts of things up my nose in-between my nose flowing like a river and me spitting the stuff that hadn’t come down my nose, out of my mouth. Sorry to be graphic. I never knew things could travel so far up the nose. The doctor used some technical word for the procedure he’d done but essentially he just grabbed a bag of cotton wool and kept pushing it up my nose, causing a lot of pain, until it was full. With no form of entertainment 4 very long and tedious days eventually passed and apart from hearing a contender for the worlds loudest snorer, who of course was sat next to me, nothing much else happened. My nose was cleared and I was discharged – about half a stone lighter thanks to being on IV fluids and banned from eating or drinking for the entire time.

Finally I would just like to thank everyone who assisted me over the last week. From Russ (our mentor) who was a massive help, especially on Monday night, driving me up and down the island and acting as an unofficial doctor, the staff at Grantley Adams Memorial School, my host family who are taking great care of me and all the doctors and nurses who treated me. I do appreciate it, even though I probably didn’t show it at the time!

So I’m now home, signed off for a week, with too much time on my hands, in Barbados and I’m not allowed out in the sun. Brilliant.

Lesson be learnt – Always wear a hat in the sun.

Culture Differences

It is now approaching 4 weeks on the island and we’ve driven through most parishes. For such a small place the amount of driving we are doing is crazy. Travelling well over 1500km already, we’re getting through a full tank of fuel every 4 days. For a country that is only 34km by 24km that can be crossed in under an hour that seems a lot. The driving distance isn’t helped by the number of time’s we’ve got lost, mostly in the first week, and ended up going on long detours, which normally result in finding a picturesque view in the middle of nowhere. It’s so easy to get lost. When you’re not on the main road there are very few signs and everywhere looks the same at night, especially when you’re driving with 10ft high sugar cane either side and no street lighting. Don’t even bother turning to a map for inspiration either. The last 3 that I’ve looked at show about half the roads and apparently Bridgetown, the capital, doesn’t exist! The good part, however, is that if you keep driving for long enough, you’ll soon come across somewhere you recognise being such a small place.

As I mentioned earlier, and I’m sure you were aware, the island is very small. This doesn’t stop the fact that there are major culture differences between the North and the South. The majority of the South and West coasts are developed because of the impact of tourism with hotels, shops and bars lining the beaches and surrounding streets.  There is little influence from tourism in the North and parts of the East so it feels much more ‘local’ and I think I was the first person from  the western world many people had seen for a long time. Hire cars over here are made obvious by the number plate and we usually get some odd looks driving through some parts, from locals, as if we’re lost holiday makers. When visiting St Lucy (north) I discovered that some residents had never even explored the South of the Island or been to the capital Bridgetown which amazed me for a country that is so enclosed.

Now for some football related culture – I’ve now watched a lot of grass roots football especially from the younger age groups. One thing that has stood out is the stereotypical Brazilian football culture that has been adopted. Everyone is a ‘dribbler’. A player would rather attempt to take on ten players than make a simple pass and everything MUST be played forward even if it means forcing it. Obviously this is contrast to the passing style played across most of Europe. When working with the older age groups and more advanced players, to try and get them to think differently we’ve been playing a lot of three-touch football and encouraging them not to force play. A lot of the coaches on the island want to abolish this ‘dribbling’ style and although I like players, especially kids, to express themselves, it’s good for players to have another option.

Right, time to Lime

(I’ll explain later)

Working Bajan Style

Weather Update: A cool 28 degrees today… in February. Lovely.

Work in Schools has started now and is in full flow.  Split into two teams we cover around 20 secondary schools on the island working with ages from 11-20. Most days we will visit 3 different schools across the island to deliver sessions, whether it just be football or Arsenal’s Double Club and then work on Saturday morning with a local team. The schools in Barbados are certainly different to those back home. It’s the athletics season in Barbados, so in the first few weeks many sessions have been disrupted as long jump, throwing and running events take priority. Track and Field is taken very seriously! The quality of the facilities in schools can vary from very good to poor, however whatever the conditions the enthusiasm shown by all is infectious. Some schools are very organised, some, not so much, which can be challenging when you turn up to take a session and no one has prepared a class for you.  In general, though, most of the kids are enthusiastic for football, especially the younger ones and are great work with. They all love the premier league over here so we’re always having discussions about who’s the best player at what!

Although cricket is commonly associated as the ‘main’ sport in Barbados, I’m amazed by the passion to play football, but more so the number of people willing to give up their free time to help work or coach football and promote the sport on the island. In every school I have come across numerous people who either work with the school teams or a local club with varying age groups.

Now to something slightly off topic. Whilst in Barbados I’m trying to embrace the culture to the full but there are a few things that I still can’t get used to. The latest one is the radio. Radio seems to consist of adverts for the latest mobile phone deals more than music. After a week of searching through every radio station to find some tunes to listen to when travelling between schools we settled on one that actually played music (more difficult to find than it sounds). However this moment of joy was short lived when we discovered that most recognisable songs had been remixed over some heavy beat or when there was a short instrumental they throw on an advert in the middle of the song! Not an issue, but certainly something that made me laugh. Just imagine listening to Radio 1 – the latest number 1 hit is played for the first time – halfway through an advert for Vodaphone interrupts – Not happening!

 

Anyway, many weeks ahead – many more experiences to share.

 

First week

It’s been a while since the last post but I literally have not had the chance to write as well as the fact that I’m cream crackered. We touched down Saturday afternoon in Barbados and apart from dropping a load of bags from the overhead locker on some mans head, the journey was pleasant. Straight from the airport we were given our hire cars and introduced to driving Bajan style. There are a few key things to know when driving in Barbados. Firstly there is no fast or slow lane. People just drive where they want at whatever speed they want. Useful, I know. Secondly after every round about there is Zebra crossing. And by after I mean about 3 yards after the turn off. This usually leads to everybody suddenly braking as they turn off and leaving a pile up of cars blocking everyone. Don’t forget in Barbados that your horn is not just to warn people of your presence. It is also your tool to say hello, goodbye and just make general noise. There are also gutters, in various parts, running alongside the road over a foot wide and with a similar depth. An easy way to crash your car if you don’t pay attention. Oh and how could I forget – Driving with full beam on is a standard thing over here, so you end up being blinded by every car approaching you during the night.

Once I had arrived safely in the north I was introduced to home for next 3 months. I couldn’t have been made to have feel more welcome by my host family.

An early start was upon us on the Monday as we had to get to the ‘Coaching coaches’ course but thankfully due to the heat and dawn sun, I was waking up early naturally. The course over the 3 days was thoroughly enjoyable.  I got to meet some lovely people and was reunited with a few old friends too! On the Wednesday we were hit by the rain.  In the hope that the rain was going to pass after a few minutes I braved it, but half an hour later I was soaked like never before with sun cream running off my skin. Not pleasant. To support how cold I was, I drove home with the heater on full blast in the car in the 20 degree heat. 

Ahh and you all thought Barbados was wall to wall sunshine.

School work is starting soon and I’ll keep you posted when I can.

 

Welcome

A big welcome to my blog. Now, I’m going to try and avoid the whole cliché introduction of ‘I don’t know how these work so bear with me’ (even though that is the case), and get straight to it, so here it goes. For those of you who don’t know me allow me to introduce myself. My name is Fluff. A name which I acquired on day one of this course due to the nature of my hair.

It’s July 16th 2012. Im up early ready to travel up to the big city for, what potentially, could shape the next 12 months of my life, an interview with Arsenal.

The following day I was accepted onto the programme and on August 5th I moved to London. It really happened that quickly. The 3 weeks between being accepted and moving to London were frantic, desperately trying to find somewhere to live and more importantly somewhere that I could afford! Soon all was resolved and I spent the last 5 months in London, developing as a coach the Arsenal way. It’s been fun, iv’e been involved in some great activities and met some memorable people to say the least.

Now to the fun part. As i’m sure you’re aware by now i’m off to Barbados! But i’m not there yet. It’s the week prior to our flight and to say I find flying stressful is an understatement.

Now i’m not one to plan, so to add to the stress my family are already nagging me to start packing and preparing more than a week in advance.  The suitcase has been taken down from the loft and cermonously dumped in my bedroom along with other items my mother considers essential (first aid kit, insect repellent, sun cream …….. The list goes on and on).

Snow is also predicted this week across the country and being the last group to fly to their destination, the last thing I want is to be delayed further.

Right then, best get packing.

See you on there!