Friday, March 17, 2006

The next journey

I'm planning ahead for the next journey, this time from England back down to Cape Town through West Africa instead of East Africa. But I have a dilemma. Like the first journey, I want to do the next journey in a Beach Buggy. It's what I feel makes my writing special, and puts me in a niche to sell books other writers of my ability wouldn't be able to get away with. (This is a yet unproven theory.)
Perhaps, one day, when my writing is sought after and I'm famous, I'll be able to do the journey in a Land Rover and still sell a million copies, but until then, I'll rely on a combination of my limited skill and the funkiness of a Beach Buggy to hook a potential agent.
But my wife cringes at the idea of travelling in a Buggy. "I'm not riding through Africa in one of those things," she says.
So, what are my options? A Volkswage van comes to mind. Perhaps paint it bright yellow and do some funky mods to it. But are there lots of replacement parts for a VW van throughout Africa? I don't want to be stuck with a broken spring in the middle of the Congo and not be able to get a replacement without expensive and timely importing.
It's French West Africa, so any French car might be a great idea, except I hate French cars. For journeys like this, I'm a VW man. For the city, I'll settle for a Honda or a Toyota - definitely not a French car. But for the epics, it's VW or bust.
So, back to the Beach Buggy. I considered buying a Land Rover as well, inviting a few other paying travellers along and turning it into an epic journey, but I don't want to be in charge of an entire convoy all the way. Two cars, two expenses, two potential problems. Many people, many different ideas of travel, many different potential problems.
Me and my wife in a Beach Buggy - I have some more convincing to do...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Visitor

Since the wedding, when my family and a few friends came over to see Siham and me get married, I haven't had any visitors - except for Siham's family and friends. On Sunday, my cousin took a detour from his journey through Europe and stopped in.
I expected him to stay for a few days, perhaps even a week, but he's got a tight bus pass schedule through Europe and is travelling back to Madrid to catch a thirty-eight hour bus ride over to Rome.
I'm glad he's getting his money's worth out of his one-month, five-hundred dollar bus ticket. But krikey, for the same amount with easyjet, he could fly between cities.
I have a rugby tournament in Tangiers this Sunday - it should be a great game...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Softball woes

Here in Rabat, there is a softball league made up of mostly embassies and social groups. Last year, I was the coach of the Hash team. Hashers being people who gather each Saturday to go for a long run and drink beer, not necessarily in that order.

The softball team was a nightmare. Firstly, there was one player set on dominating things, let's call her Mary. Mary's thought she was very talented, when she has about as much talent as a pilon. She whined about not playing enough, when other players played the whole game. "Blah, blah, blah, Ive been part of this team for five years, waah, waah, waah."
In a team meeting after a practice, she brought up the fact that I played the best players more than the crap ones. To which I said, "I make sure everyone plays, usually at least half a game, that's the best I can do."
The conversation deteriorated from there. Another player brought up an extremely unsportsmanlike thing she had done the season before. (Throwing a tantrum and refuing to play when she didn't get the position she wanted.)
After being confronted with the fact we thought she was a bitch, she huffed and asked me who was better, her, or a twelve year old girl on the team. When I said the twelve year old girl was better, she threw another tantrum and quit the team.
After the meeting, she went around backbiting and turning other players against me. In particular the players who couldn't speak English therefore didn't understand the conversation.

The second problem, stemming from the first. We had a mix of great players, average ones and awful ones. Most of the average and terrible players were unreliable and I never knew when they were going to show up.
At the start of the season, I didn't even know if enough people would show up. The good players did, we pulled a team together and when we won a couple games, the crap players started showing up from out of the woodwork, wanting to be part of the team.
Now, instead of fretting about having a team, I had a list of fifteen to eighteen people who wanted to play each week. There are important positions and unimportant positions on the field, and as we only had a few really strong players, I tried to keep them in the important positions.
I also tried to make sure everyone played at least half a game. So I juggled the crap players in and out of the line up.
We began losing. And when you lose, it's suddenly the coaches fault. The good players resent the crap players. The crap players figure if we're going to lose anyway, they should be playing as much as the good players. So nobody's happy.
The season finishes, I quit! I'd had it with coaching, good riddance Hash team.
"I'm playing rugby on Sundays now," I said. "In fact, I never should have stopped playing rugby, I don't even like softball."

Because I quit, one of my best buddies, Roelof, who also plays rugby, he quits the softball team too. Along with his son and daughter. So four of us, three of which are really good players, have left. A fourth good player, Matt, was recruited by me in the first place, so he quits by default because nobody knows how to contact him.

A week after quitting, another friend, Luke, asks Roelof about the upcoming season. We're at a wedding and I'm sipping a beer when they come up and tap me on the shoulder.
"We want to start another team, the Rebels."

So I start doing the math. We have half a team already. I can probably recruit another couple. That makes five strong players and two decent ones. Next thing I know, a few students of the Fulbright program sign up and we have a team.

Tantrum woman takes over the Hash, which is now devoid of any talent. Not to mention another three or four players quitting because they refuse to play on a team coached by her. She says she has enough people to form a team. I know it's not nice, but I'm a vengful git, and I look forward to stomping the hash team, especially because she's coaching it. That's if they still have a team.

Our first practice is this Sunday.

The Circle is down

Critique Circle website is down today. Each time this happens, I have this sneaking fear that the owners went bankrupt and ditched it. As I rely on this website with my writing hopes and aspirations, and have put countless hours worth of work into it, should such a thing ever happen I would be devastated.
Of course, each time, I check back several hours later, or sometimes the next day, the website is back up running again. I heave a sigh of relief and get back to work.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I thought it had stopped...

Way back in November, 2005, over four months ago, they started to renovate the appartment next door. In Morocco this means smashing the hell out of it with a sledge hammer for as long as it takes. Morning until night.
They started like they were on a rampage, every morning, bang, bang, bang. My entire appartment shook. And this continued every day until I left on vacation two weeks later.
Three weeks at home in Canada, for Christmas, then I returned and again, the banging. Except it was intermittent now. It seemed as though they hammered especially on Monday and Tuesday, the days I do my big writing PUSH.
And for the last couple weeks it seems to have lulled completely. And now, today, Tuesday, my big push day.
Is someone up their laughing at my gradual loss of sanity?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Sanctity in Rugby

I'm thinking of subbing this piece to a newspaper as a short story. I know of a newspaper who takes stuff like this.
Let me know what you think...

Rugby Dreams

By Daniel Sturgis

The charity kicked off a year ago, after raising enough money to build a school and a rugby field in the midst of an extremely poor Moroccan village. The school takes in children who can’t afford education, some of them from off the street. They can only play rugby if they attain good enough grades, so it keeps them motivated - striving to achieve the cherry on top of the cake, school being the cake.

In Canada, many kids say they hate school, but for kids too poor to attend, I imagine they dream about it.

Sunday mornings, I meet up with some friends and we drive to a poor village just outside of Rabat. The field is surrounded by a ten-foot-high, red concrete wall and we can see the kicking posts jutting out from a kilometre away. Outside the wall, to the left, is a dirt field with scattered garbage and wind-blown plastic bags. On the right is the school, a two-storey building. In front and behind the terrain is the village; a cluster of three-storey concrete buildings with electric cables streaming down the sides.

We arrive to see more than one-hundred children on the dirt field. They are separated into four groups. Youngins, early teens, older kids and the fourth group are girls, some of them wear the headscarves; all of the girls are older than twelve.

Younger girls sit on the big steps next to the field and watch. As do several mothers. Most, if not all, wearing headscarves and watching their children play together.
The field is dirt - it costs about $40,000 Canadian dollars to put grass down and maintain it, which is a massive sum for a poor school. But the charity is raising money from the older local players, charity dinners, as well as from French and Moroccan businesses. Within a year they hope to have raised enough to put grass down. The main priority however is keeping the school running.

In the summer, when the weather is really dry, the terrain becomes hard, like pavement, and scrapes players up when they fall. Fortunately, it's been raining lately and the terrain is softer.

The practice starts lightly and we work our way up to a full contact scrimmage; the men against the older boys. A couple of the boys have a lot of potential and are fast and agile.

Afterwards, the young and old join in the rugby tradition of post competition handshakes and backslapping, but my favourite part comes last. The younger children, more than fifty of them, swarm the older players, lifting them up one at a time and shouting, "Woooooo, ahhhhhhh."

The kids have the look in their eyes of pure joy, and it’s a charity I'm proud to be even the smallest part of. For me, it’s wonderful because it is completely done by volunteers. People who love the game, here and in France, have donated time and money to give these kids a chance. The Moroccan government has donated the land.

I'm sceptical about most charities in developing countries. A large chunk of their multi-million dollar budgets seem to pay six-figure salaries to a few ex-pats. But this charity, it's about kids playing. It's about their wide-eyed wonder when new shoes are given to them by some rugby team in France or England. It's about pulling things together and giving the gift of education first, and the love of the game second. But for the adults, like me, who come to play rugby. The cherry on top is the smiling and laughing children.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Trying not to force work.

The first chapters are a nightmare. I want them to be perfect, but instead, they sometimes end up getting disjointed and confusing, each revision perhaps even worse than the last. At other times, I hit a writing stride. Everything is flowing perfectly and I hammer out three or four brilliant chapters in a row.
I'm working on a long chapter at the moment, and it's bad. It sounds like, I went here, then I went there, then I went here, and then there and ....
Well, you get the point.
I need to do some major editing. Tone down the road trip hotel after hotel description, simplify it into one or two strong descriptions, get to the destination and breathe a big sigh of relief that I didn't die.
Back to the drawing board.