Ladies and Gentelmen, Meet Your 2010… Moshi Ants!

Playing sports, be it competitive or the way the Pirates go about it, is a privilege we all take for granted. A Saturday morning in a softball beer league, a pick-up basketball game, a quick jog along the Bay in early April or a slow afternoon in Coliseum in late August. Your kids’ soccer league. Golf, bowling, hell, even Wii…

But, only – it’s not. For a huge number of  kids, to have the time, the resources and the circumstances to engage in any sports activity whatsoever is a dream as distant as hitting a walk-off home run in the Bigs is for their peers around here. Being deprived of possibility to play is by far not the biggest misfortune a child can face. Still, it is one, and a big one. So, no matter how insignificantly small a difference one little idea can make, when climbing Kilimanjaro brewed from an August thought and over September pub talk into October certainty, and when I realized that my hiking boots will take me to the place where a hard day’s wage would not even get you a soda in a MLB stadium, I decided to try to give something back. One of the many doors I knocked on looking for help was the AN one and the plea didn’t go unanswered. So, I’m holding my end of the bargain – this is the story of Moshi Ants.

From October to December, my friends and I baked more than 100 cakes. The jury is still out on what effects it had on average weight of a Central European, but there is no doubt that the effect it had on our little fundraiser was enormous. Add to it a used furniture sale, a poker and a basketball tournament, a kindergarten cookie sale and many direct donations and when it was all said and done (or baked and eaten), the bottom line was impressive – we had raised $11,441.44 for Amani Children’s Home in Moshi.

Raising money was just one part of it. Trying to stretch the allowed luggage* to the very extreme, we calculated that we could bring close to 150 lbs of items with us. With minor exceptions, we went out and collected two groups of things – medical items and sports stuff. People responded and made my living room look like this:

* I contacted the KLM / Air France group, asking them if they could allow a couple of pounds of extra luggage free of charge. They said, no, they regret it, but that would not be possible. Their policies have fixed weights in them and no exceptions or free add-ons can be made. Well, almost none. When flying in their “One bag, 20kg” flights, such as Atlantic crossing ones, you get another bag for free if, and only if, it contains your golfing equipment. This is not a joke, just a horrible sign of times in which human decency has long disappeared from any company policy.   

Neatly packed in what I call Balkan Samsonite bags, a cheap plastic, boxy but good, no-own-weight luggage containers, and smartly reinforced with some tension belts, this is what we looked like at Stuttgart Airport:

After some eighteen hours of flight and five tense minutes of customs clearing in which these bags of course caught everyone’s attention, we were finally at the outside of Kilimanjaro Airport. But, not before we had to open one bag (strategically chose one with Leo’s mountaineering stuff on top; my two extra t-shirts were on top of the second one, from that point on, it would have been quite disastrous to have to open any more), then said that all of them contain nothing but typical tourist stuff and were let go. Leo didn’t realize why I was pushing him hard to get out of there and not to chit-chat customs officer any more, but as soon as we cleared, I showed him the reason:

Our bags turned out to be much more Balkan than Samsonite and the medical stuff was just about to fall out at the feet of the inquiring officer. But, it didn’t. And we got through, bags broken and all. Just to get an idea, this is what Amani office looked like on the next morning:

So far, this action, and for the matter of fact this article, have the same quality Aunt Edna’s thick wool socks have as a Christmas present to a six-year old. Yes it is a nice thing, yes the mother is happy and the present useful, but it is just no fun at all. So, we packed the soccer cleats out, packed out the Ronaldinho and Figo jerseys and in a moment we transformed from being boring Aunt Edna to being that wonderful and eccentric Uncle Hubert. And then we packed out another bag, the one that deserves a few words itself.

There were a few really heartwarming stories on raising funds. A retired mother of an old friend donating 50 Euro and than waiting for her pension to be able to donate 50 more. Kids in kindergarten baking cookies. And the one of AN’s very own Doug who donated baseball stuff. Now, Doug, if you are reading, I hope you don’t mind me putting you in a spotlight like this, but I just found it amazing how a complete stranger not only gave couple of his old gloves, but also hit the thrift stores, bought more gloves and bats and then, when my Army shipment plan failed me, paid for the shipping to Germany. So, I guess for every KLM policy, there is a personal antipode somewhere out there.

Doug’s donation that enabled first ever pepper game in the town of Moshi, Tanzania.

With gloves, balls and bats on the way, we only needed a name. And that was an easy one, Athletics Nation made it possible to play some baseball in Tanzania, so Athletics Nation Tanzania seemed appropriate. Or Ants, for short. So my illustrator wife and our graphic designer best friend teamed up and made some shirts. So, without further ado (ha, after 347845 words), here are your 2010 Moshi Ants:

in what was actually a magnificent effort to get as many as eight of them to stand still.

There were gloves on a wrong hand…

wrong grips on the bat

catches attempted Cust way

mistakes being corrected

and nice catches being made

all while a mean drummer team gave the rhythm

and then, there were just smiles, plain and simple smiles, smiles, smiles…

We spent four days with the kids, then climbed the mountain and roamed around the national parks some. The money we have raised will fund Amani’s own sports program for two full years, including paying for a position of a physical education teacher / soccer coach for a local citizen whose family is yet another appreciative puzzle piece of how a little effort can make a significant difference in a stranger’s life. It will also enable Amani kids to participate in local soccer tournaments, which they by all means should do. I witnessed another one of the kids versus staff plus visitors matches and there is no doubt whatsoever the staff was trying hard, pushing the kids over, using their size and all. Again, it didn’t help. The celebration after the kids scored their winning goal, with all the other children running into the field, jumping on each other, singing and dancing, topped any World Cup one I ever saw. And showed yet again, how this luxury we call sport should not be taken for granted and should be enjoyed every step of the way, no matter what the score box says in the end.

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