Kazakhstan Blog Post # 4

Drive Girl’s Camp

IMG_0476

This week was very special for both Chris and I. We helped Drive with one of, if not the first all girls basketball camp in the country of Kazakhstan. 22 girls camp for the 5 day camp and it was an awesome experience.  We started camp on Tuesday, July 15th and went through Saturday, July 19th, 9am to 5:30pm each day. By the end of the week, we were all exhausted but both Chris and I agree it was one of the most rewarding experiences we have had as coaches.

American coaches here for the summer - Cal, Meg, Chris, & Rico

American coaches here for the summer – Cal, Meg, Chris, & Rico

Stretching in the morning

Stretching in the morning with Coach Rico

IMG_0530

Coach Meg with some impressive ups

Coach Meg with some impressive ups

Each day of camp, we had a theme that we would discuss and emphasize with the girls: team, discipline, responsibility, sacrifice, and integrity. We used the ideas behind each word to run drills and teach the girls how to shoot, rebound, pass, and dribble. This is a signature of the Drive camps and each participant gets a notebook to take notes and reflect on things he or she has learned. We also give them time throughout the day to sit and ask questions and write in the notebooks. They love it. It is a great way to communicate with girls and teach them a little English as well. For example, we give them a phrase (in English) to recite or act out to go long with each phrase, such as “together everyone achieves more” or “giving my everything for the good of the team”.

Below is a link of the girls doing some “Coach Says” with Coach D.

“Coach Says…”

Reflection time and getting tshirts!

Reflection time and getting tshirts!

Lunch time!

Lunch time!

Some girls spoke only Russian. Some spoke only Kazakh. Some spoke both, while others spoke English as well. We had 2 American girls tool, who are here with their families whom are working in Kazakhstan. It was a small but very diverse group of young ladies. Their skill levels were impressive as well. Even those girls that may not have been very athletic or lacked basketball knowledge, put in 100% of their effort and listened to EVERYTHING we said, even if they didn’t understand.

Coach Chris with his dribble goggles

Coach Chris with his dribble goggles

Girls with their dribble goggles

Girls with their dribble goggles

IMG_0465

Below is a link to a quick video of Chris doing some dribble drills with the dribble goggles. The girls thought they were great.

Dribbling with Coach Chris

As you can imagine, but the end of the week, we had all become very close with these girls. They wanted picture, after picture, after picture with us. Saturday was just a giant selfie party. They even got all of your “autographs”. It was great.

I wasn't lying...so many pictures

I wasn’t lying…so many pictures

The last day was really special and it was obvious that we all felt very connected. A few coaches also came to the camp with their girls and they were awesome as well. One of the teams brought all the coaches chocolate and they even brought us a cake! I got 22 hugs and if that doesn’t make your day brighter, I don’t know what does. The love and enthusiasm for us was overwhelming and very humbling.

003

 

10419534_1459458180973916_7575257945774337339_n

 

The back of our super cool pink tshirts

The back of our super cool pink tshirts

Both Chris and I agreed on one of our favorite and touching moments of camp. There was a girl who we all nicknamed “Allen Iverson”. Malika was the shortest and the youngest girl at camp, but was a little burt of energy. She also spoke no Russian and no English. She spoke only Kazakh, which none of us speak or understand. This girl set some of the hardest screens I’ve seen for a girl her size and was just fearless on the basketball court. She was always smiling and even though she didn’t understand us and we didn’t understand her, she tried harder than anyone. We spent our last few minutes together giving each other words of encouragement. Basically the coaches and players can thank certain individuals or point moments when certain people did something above and beyond. So this little girl raised her hand and stood up to speak to the entire group. We all listened very intently as she spoke softly in Kazakh and one of the older girls translated for all of us. She started to cry. She had stood up to tell us that before coming to camp, she told her coach she was quitting basketball. It wasn’t fun for her anymore and she didn’t think she was any good. Her coach encouraged her to come to camp and she was glad she did because now she loved basketball and felt like she could be good at something and she wanted to thank all of us for helping her love basketball. Many of us were teary eyed. It was a great moment. Malika proves that our time here is well spent.

Malika in the bottom right

Malika in the bottom right

IMG_0527

The girls and some of the coaches

 

The last week of July is our Drive open camp, which is mostly guys. We can only hope that it is as awesome as it was to work this lovely group of young ladies.

086

Kazakhstan Blog Post # 3


Summer Jam 

Our 3v3 tournament advertisement

Our 3v3 tournament advertisement

The highlight of Drive’s year cultivates over a four day period, from Thursday to Sunday and it involves over 300 participants. Summer Jam is Almaty’s signature 3 v 3 tournament, and we are the primary sponsor as well as organizers. Planning for this event started long before Meg and I arrived, but from Day 1 we’ve had a hand in putting it together. To save money on shipping, Damian asked Meg to bring over a bag full of T-shirts, which will be handed out to every participant in Summer Jam. Using a massive duffle bag, Meg carried 70lbs of shirts, along with all her personal belongings, across the Atlantic. With all the preparation and work that went into this event, it is needless to say that us Drivers are excited for it to get under way.

Getting the shirts ready!

Getting the shirts ready!

IMG_0086

Yellow shirts for the winners

Lots of folding going on

Lots of folding going on


 

Thursday and Friday, 10-11 July

 

Drive logo painted on the court

Drive logo painted on the court

Putting up banners

Putting up banners

We arrive at Gorky Park, home of the Summer Jam tournament, at 8AM. The games for the junior girls and boys are set to start at 10AM. Gorky Park is a public park with many hundreds of vendors renting space. It looks more like an pseudo amusement park, and in fact, they have water park and some rides.

IMG_0138 IMG_0163

IMG_0143

IMG_0178

Last year, Drive made an agreement with the park to redo the court and gained permission to add logos and advertisement on and around the court. Damian has had a hand in organizing the tournament for nearly a decade now, and as the motto goes, Summer Jam is “a 3v3 tournament for basketball players by basketball players.”

IMG_0151

Two tents go up, tables are set, chairs are put in their place, scoreboards are taken out, extra courts are painted (actually done Tuesday), 500lb Spaulding frames are dragged out from storage and painstakingly put together, the court is power washed, and our Drive banners are hung all over. We start a bit late (as with everything that happens here!) but excitement is in the air and kids are having a blast, and that’s all we could ask for. Red Bull came to the kid’s portion of the tournament to DJ and play music for the games. We all had fun getting inside the car.

The Red Bull car

The Red Bull car

Calvin, Aidyn, and Rico

Calvin, Aidyn, and Rico

The first two days are for 3 divisions: 11-13 boys, 13-17 boys, and 13-17 girls. It’s hot out, but the nice thing about this tournament compared to the one at ADK is its not in the middle of a parking lot. There are trees everywhere and other things to do than just watch games. We have one Drive boys team entered, in the 11-13 division, but the three kids are ages 11, 10, and 9. Unforunately due to puberty and an opposing player who was arguably the Danny Almante of Summer Jam, they didn’t fair too well.

Chris filling out the brackets

Chris filling out the brackets

IMG_0260

 

After the first day, I gave Chris a hair cut. Needless to say, it took about an hour to buzz his head with the first pair of clippers every made. Just kidding, but really, it took forever.

IMG_0228

IMG_0235


 

Saturday and Sunday, 12-13 July

 It’s Day 3, and after spending two straight days at park watching game after game, I readily admit that I’m beat. However, it’s time for the Men’s and Women’s divisions to start so once games got going, it was easy to find energy and excitement for the weekend ahead.

It’s probably best to leave the pictures and videos do the talking, but by the end of Sunday, our women’s team made the semifinals and our guy’s team, which consisted of Damian, Rico, Zhomart, and Chris, won the tournament! Below, please see the link if you’re interested seeing pictures and videos from the day.

Meg's 3rd place team

Meg’s 3rd place team

Chris's 1st place team

Chris’s 1st place team

IMG_0325

IMG_0286

IMG_9260

IMG_6992

Below is a link for a short clip of one of Chris’s games.

Summer Jam Game Clip

The atmosphere of the men’s championship game was very cool. The women’s championship was similar, but not as many people.

IMG_1040

IMG_8616


 

Sunday Night, 13 July

While the tournament was a blast and was a wild success, the event following Summer Jam almost trumped the four-day extravaganza. As an organization, all Drivers went to Club Karaoke. With a four-hour reservation, we spent the night in a private room with a giant screen and speakers for karaoke, along with about a dozen pizzas. I’ll let the pictures give you a visual.

 

IMG_1266

Click the link below for some video of Chris flexing the golden pipes.

Karaoke Clip


 

Other Observations and Notes

  • Saw two motorcycles on the highway the other day, one behind the other. No big deal right? Until you realize the guy in back had a rope tied around the guy in front and was getting pulled while his bike was off. Presumably, he had some mechanical difficulties.
  • Got a free taxi ride the other day – guy instantly called his friend, and most likely the only that could speak English, so he could talk to us. Put him on speaker, when our friend Calvin yells into the phone, “MINYA ZAVUT CALVIN! (My name is Calvin!).” Our new friend’s friend responds softly and quietly, “Hi Calvin”. Maybe it was a you-had-to-be-there moment, but I’ll sum it up this way: The conversation didn’t exactly break the stereotype that Americans are loud and attention-seeking extroverts.
  • Hosting literally the first girls only camp ever in Kazakhstan this week. Revolutionary and should be a tremendous experience. We have kids coming from all over and even as far as Astana (a 20 hour bus ride). More to come on this!

IMG_1617More to come soon!

Kazakhstan Blog Post #2

We have been here in Kazakhstan now for about three weeks. Both Chris and I are feeling more comfortable getting around and although our Russian is minimal and down right terrible, we’re both jumping right in and trying our best to communicate with people. The kids at camp love when we try to speak with them in Russian. They laugh at us when we try but are always so helpful in correcting our mistakes. As June comes to an end, the Drive spring camp is ending and we have just about a week before things get crazy with daily basketball camp all day, everyday. July is going to be a crazy busy month, so it is been nice to have a little free time this week. The calm before the storm.


 

Tuesday, June 22, 2014

For the next two Tuesdays and Thursdays we will be going to work with kids at a summer English camp. It is an all day, 1-month camp, focused on teaching the kids how to speak English. We will be running our own English camp at the end of July called English in Action. Our participation in the camp this week was an advertisement for our own camp and another way for us to connect with the community. We played games with the kids, such as kickball, freeze tag, basketball, soccer, all while encouraging them to speak English while playing. Using games and sport is a great way for us to connect with kids and teach them easy phrases that they can hold on to.

For example, we discussed the word “team” with the kids, the words definition, what it meant while playing sports, and gave them easy ways to remember the word like, “Together Every Achieves More” and “Together Every Athlete Matters”. They are all like little sponges and just are full of questions for us about America. The kids also love to teach us Russian words and phrases.


 

Thursday, June 24, 2014

Today at practice, a boy brought a kitten he happened to find on the street. Lots of stray cats and dogs here. The Russian for cat is “koshka”. Anyone who knows Chris knows how he feels about kittens. The little thing stole his attention for sure.

IMG_0257    IMG_0258


 

Saturday, June 26, 2014

Today was the last day of Drive Street, the spring camp for kids that we have been doing three days a week. It was a game and competition day, so we played basketball games like dribble tag, knock out, and hot shot. Chris and I, as well as the other coaches jumped in a played too so that was a lot of fun. Basketball is not on the level that it is in the United States here in Kazakhstan but the kids that come to camp just love it and you can tell how much they just want to play. There are some gym rats here for sure. It has been pretty awesome to share in our love of this sport with kids in a place where basketball is just developing and become a tool for reaching kids and communities in a positive, fun environment. They are all so thankful to have us here and it is very humbling.

Doing ladder drills at practice

Doing ladder drills at practice

It has been cool for me as well to get a chance to play with the girls that come to camp. On average, there are about 25-30 kids that show up each day for camp and of those kids, there are usually 1-3 girls. Having been one of the only girls playing pick up with the boys when I was growing up, it’s been great for me to play and talk with these girls (they happen to speak English!) and encourage them to keep doing what they are going, as it will only make them better basketball players.


 

Sunday, June 29 2014

Today, Chris and four other Drive coaches were invited to play flag football at nearby school. It was about 20 minutes outside the city of Almaty. It rained on us a bit but the view was beautiful. It was nice to get out of the city and see more of Kazakhstan and see a different view of the mountains.

IMG_0280

Chris playing flag football

IMG_0284

Mountains and rain in the distinct

 


 

Monday, June 30

Another American joined us this weekend for the summer. Rico played basketball at the University of South Carolina Aiken and this is actually his second trip to Kazakhstan. He is a great player and coach and it’s been great to add another young person to our group. Rico, Chris, and a few other guy coaches started Drive Pro this week. This camp is a 3-week camp, 3 days a week, for guys who want personal coaching and training. It’s targeted at high school/college-age guys. It is more focused and intense than the camps for the young kids. Unfortunately, there is not a strong enough interest to have girls involved, but hopefully that will change.

image

Chris & Rico at Drive Pro

IMG_0321

Chris coaching at Drive Pro

 


 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

 

 We had our second to last day of English camp today. The last 20 minutes of our time with the kids are free play. We give them the choice of playing basketball or soccer. A small group of girls asked if they could play with me on one of the side hoops. They wanted to just shoot and talk with me. One of the girls who is 11 years old recently visited Texas. I asked her what she thought about the United States. She thought for a moment and then said, “Everyone is so happy there. They don’t fight and have nothing to worry about.” It surprised me and I didn’t expect her to say something like that. It made really stop and think about not only where I come from, but also the girl’s perspective. There is always something to be thankful for.

Putting kids in group at English camp

Putting kids in group at English camp


 

Thursday, July 2, 2014

I have been staying with a lovely family outside the city, but this week I was able to move into an apartment right in Almaty with one of the female coaches. Her name is Luda and she Drive Chief Administrator. She played basketball at the both the university and professional level in Kazakhstan and has worked with underprivileged kids in orphanages and villages throughout Almaty. We are the same age and it has been awesome to get to know her. And she speaks better English than I do, so that is very helpful!

Luda and I

Luda and I

IMG_0356

Night time view from my room

IMG_0313

Day time view from the kitchen

 


 

Bathroom Talk 

As most people know, I am a nurse. It takes a lot to bother me when it comes to bodily functions and as anyone who has a nurse in their lives knows, I am not afraid to talk about it. I thought I would share some differences in bathroom etiquette here in Kazakhstan. Here it goes.

This is a “squatty potty”. Not all public places have public bathroom here. In some cases, you may even have to pay not only to use the potty, but for some toilet paper. It is not always provide. Just because there may be a toilet or a squatty potty, does not mean there is toilet paper. Also, no flushing that paper! It goes in the trash.

Squatty Potty

Squatty Potty

This squatty potty is at the gym where we have had practices for the last two weeks. Some of us found out the bathroom differences the hard way. I won’t name names, but we all carry some TP in our bags now.

 

More to come soon!

 

Kazakhstan Blog Post #1

I wake up and can hardly believe we’ve already been here for two weeks. It’s been one ridiculous whirlwind of an experience so far – yet I think every day we are not only finding more of a groove but are finding ourselves more and more grateful for the opportunity to come here in the first place. Nine months ago I was presented with the opportunity to come out here and immediately refused. I had moved to England just two months before and because the original idea was to come to Kazakhstan for an entire year, I had considerable reservations, primarily because that it probably meant being away from my girlfriend for another year (whom I’d just left to study and get my Master’s in England). The doubters thought it wouldn’t work, and we can honestly both attest to the strain it put on the relationship. But after months of deliberating and considering our options for this summer and beyond, we were able to work out an arrangement where both of could come here. The yearlong internship was cut to a two-month stint and we managed to go together. Meg left her job as a nurse in New Hampshire to join me in England and now that we’re here, we couldn’t be happier that we were convinced to give it a go.

 Aside from the simple decision to come, it took a great deal of financial support, which we are both forever indebted to the many who decided to contribute. And while their contributions deserve our many thanks, we want to show our appreciation to everyone who has supported us, not just on a financial basis, but on emotional grounds. While the reactions differed from a conservative “Wow, that’s adventurous!” to a more unmasked and honest “What are you nuts?!?”, we both feel blessed to have so many of you supporting our decision to go down this individual and relational path. Our hope is that you all understand how grateful we are, and although we could go on and on about our appreciation and the stories of people’s reactions, we really want to share our experiences with you!

As for the format, I have written a blog for St. Joe’s once before, when the basketball team ventured off to England in August of 2011. We plan to write and jot down our experiences on a weekly basis. We’ll do our best to keep it interesting. Meg and I will both give our perspectives on our experiences. Enjoy!


 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Arrived in Almaty, KZ after traveling from London and making a connection in Instanbul. Working on zero sleep, we meet the Drive team, which consists of founders Damian and Grace Long, employed staff members Lisa and Ravshan Uraimov and local contributors, Zhomart and Luda.

IMG_1124

View of the city from the mountains

One thing we noticed just from the drive from the airport: a lot of construction projects go unfinished. Kazakhstan is in this sort-of renovation process in which entire cities, namely Almaty and Astana, are being built back up as part of the Kazakhstan 2050 plan to join some of the world’s most economically stable countries. A new financial district with all-glass buildings, American-style malls that are treated almost like museums to some, and new apartment complexes seem to be springing up everywhere. However, money for a number of these projects end up falling short and throughout the city, buildings are half-constructed, left unmanned, leaving an ugly impression. It’s a strange mix and there is more to it, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

DSC_0313

View of mountains from the village


 

Monday, June 9, 2014

After sleeping straight for 8 hours, I wake up at 5:30AM to watch the NBA Finals, Game 2. Ten hours ahead, the timing is actually perfect. Ravshan has NBA League Pass so we watch the game there. Hey, the heart wants what it wants.


 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

First Drive practice. The language barrier is much harder than we thought, though the universal language of basketball helps a bit. Saying votak (“like this”) gives us the opportunity to demonstrate the action without needing to explain things verbally.

Later, I met up with a local Kazakh friend I originally met at Oxford Brookes. One of things that’s so great about the locals here is how friendly and excited they are to show off their national pride and home. He takes me with a couple of his friends up the nearby mountains that give us a gorgeous, yet foggy view of the city.[1] I could go on but I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

IMG_1127


 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Today Chris and I, along with other Drive staff, painted the lines on a basketball court in a local park. Drive has been working on fixing up the court all spring and it was great that we got to contribute. It was fun to get out in the community and kids were literally waiting for the paint to dry so they could play on the court! It should be noted that we had to basically follow Chris with a rag wiping up his mess (quite the sloppy painter). Apparently he never learned to color inside the lines.

IMG_1131

Meg and Calvin painting lines

IMG_0144

Chris painting lines

IMG_0141

 


 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Meg and I get some time to spend on our own, so we venture off to their newest mall, “Mega”. Decide to go out to eat at the one place where they have English menus. Afterwards, we have to find a way back to Lisa and Ravshan’s place, which is a bit outside the city. Here, if you need to get somewhere and don’t have a car, you take a taxi. By “taxi”, we really mean, “hitchhike”. You put your hand out by the side of the road and literally within 10 seconds, a car will pull over and pick you up. You tell them where you’re going, negotiate a price, and you’re on your way. Because most folks do not want to pay for gas, this is a viable way to offset the costs for them. The coolest part: you can basically get anywhere for no more than $4 or $5. And if the driver can speak any English at all, it is usually fun trying to get a conversation going and learn a bit about them. While some think of Americans as arrogant and want nothing to do with us, usually folks here will be really interested as to why we’re here and will be excited to practice their English with us.

IMG_1141

Sign outside the “Mega” mall

   

 

 

 

 

IMG_1139

Fountains and mountains


 

Saturday and Sunday, June 14 and 15, 2014

A 3 v 3 tournament took place outside one of the city’s major malls. We had four or five teams representing Drive in a number of different divisions. I played in the adult male division with Damian, Zhomart, an their friend and General Manager of a professional basketball club (BK Astana), Nikoli. In the adult female division, Meg played with Luda, her sister, and another friend of theirs. While Saturday was about 95 and muggy, Sunday it poured all morning. We played through the rain, and four of our teams ended up making it to the championship game. All four teams lost, coming in 2nd place. Regardless, each team was recognized on a massive stage and because Snickers sponsored the tournament, each team received an entire box full of their delicious candy bars. Not even a little mad about it.

DSC_0116 DSC_0232

DSC_0229 DSC_0117

 A lot of Drive kids were there for the championship and it was a joy playing in front of them and getting high fives and maladietz’s (“Good job!”) after the game. As I mentioned before, speaking through the universal language of basketball has allowed us to connect with these kids without actually verbally communicating with them. It’s a weird sensation being able to do so through such a simple game and a smile.

IMG_0212

Meg and her team

DSC_0138

Chris and his team

 

DSC_0240

All 2nd place finishers


 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

During our third Drive practice, Meg and I were tasked to run our own station on defensive positioning. Using Meg as key demonstrator, we taught basic English terms and proper footwork. Playing “Coach says”, we used our newly taught English vocabulary to test the kids’ listening skills. They fed off our energy, and even though we had very little Russian at our disposal, we were able to communicate again through our actions, which was both encouraging and enlightening. It’s amazing what not having a common language forces you to do in order to get a point across.


 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Along with Chris and I, a great guy named Calvin (he’s from Boston) is here for a short-term experience with Drive as well. Today, the three of us got to experience a Kazakhstan Bizarre. It’s an open market with basically everything you could possibly think of, from fruits, veggies, and meat to jewelry, shoes, and household goods. Prices are posted but negotiating is possible as well. The Drive team wanted to really throw us out there and get us speaking and interacting with locals. Although our Russian leaves something to be desired, it was so much fun. So many people and smells and food and kids running around. Definitely a lively place! Chris loves trying to barter with people, where I would probably give them just about anything they asked for (this drives Chris crazy). Food quality is significantly better at the Bizarre and so are the prices. It was fun, lively, and cheap! We will definitely be going back.


 

Differences and Observations

  • Traffic here is absurd. If you thought Massachusetts’s drivers were lunatics, please come visit Almaty. Traffic laws basically don’t exist. Many folks are colorblind to the lines that mark the roads, if there are lines at all, and passing people isn’t just for the highways – if there’s a will, there’s a way, and these folks take it to heart.
  • During the first practice, we set up the classic 3 v 2, 3 v 2 game which every kid loves. While one kid was on defense, his phone (which was in his pocket, nonetheless) rang and he had no qualms picking it up on the spot. He continued to play defense while talking away! He can’t be older than 12.
  • In the middle of a major intersection, a car had broken down, and the driver promptly got out and started doing maintenance on it right there and then. And I don’t mean he opened the hood and took a peak. He got his tools out and laid underneath the car to fix the problem. That didn’t slow traffic down at all.
  • Smog is a huge issue here. Everyone has a car (this is a major shift – a decade ago almost nobody did. Now, traffic is nearly unbearable. More on car transporation and traffic later). That, and there is no real concern for the environment. Every afternoon the air quality is less than ideal and many people wear masks to protect themselves.
  • Drove by a car completely flipped on its head. Seemed as if everyone was alright, but there were about 10-12 guys standing around it, clearly tossing ideas around as to how to get the thing flipped back properly on its wheel-side.
  • The mountains here are absolutely beautiful. They run parallel to the city and depending on the weather, can be seen from anywhere. Pictures just don’t do them justice.
  • Even though there is a very apparent language barrier, when we arrive at practice, all of the kids rush to shake Chris and I’s hands. They are so appreciative and happy to have us there. It is very humbling.

We can’t wait to share more of our time here with you soon. More to come for sure!

IMG_0193

Chris & Meg