What it means to Listen

I apologize for the length of this post straight away, but I felt this post needed some real explaining…

 

Growing up my mom used to read to my younger brother and I every night before we went to bed. We would read great stories like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Hatchet, Holes and countless other books that held great adventure stories. I remember being so excited to be transposed into another world, a world that wasn’t mine, and become immersed in the story of someone else’s life. As my mom was reading, even though it appeared I was just blankly staring at my ceiling my eyes were actually the projectors to the movie I was watching in my mind.

 

I am sure that those nights shaped a lot of who I am now. Not only was my imagination developed every night, it was stretched… made to wander to far off lands with other great adventurers, my ears were trained to actively listen and my brain coached to attentively participate. And I still carry that mindset to most conversations that I have today.

 

Here in the Mahogany Lounge, we have a running joke about how often I get myself into intense conversations with people. To say it bluntly I ask a lot of questions. I thoroughly enjoy sitting and listening to people, mostly listening to their answers to questions I ask. Whether it is with perfect strangers, acquaintances or my best friends, I love it. I make friends with people I have no business getting to know personally and I ask questions I probably have no business asking. But I will be the blunt of their jokes pride-fully because I see a great value in listening to people’s stories. Getting people to talk about things that no one genuinely asks about. Somewhere in our language history we developed the question “How are you?” and just as quickly we threw the meaning of it away… and since then it has become something robotic, with a robotic response. Essentially it is just another way of saying hello… like heaven forbid you tell me anything other than “good” or “fine”. But when I ask that question, I genuinely want to know the answer. Tell me the truth. We are not “good” every day. And I want to know why today is any different than yesterday.

 

I want to know the good, the bad, the insignificant, the normal, the beautiful and the ugly about people and I care to hear their stories. Because the truth is that we all have our story and it all happened one day… and maybe that day was yesterday, or today. I want to know the albatrosses we wear upon our chest, the rocks that sit in the rivers of our minds… the ones we usually keep guarded and don’t tell many people. Sometimes we don’t even tell those who are closest to us for fear of judgment or signs of weakness or something…. I am not entirely sure, I mean, you tell me… why do you keep your secrets hidden from people you are close to? Usually those details are shared with only one or two people. And this is where and why my imposing questions come as quite a shock to most people… and yet I find most people actually want and are willing to answer them…

 

Let me explain…Besides the fact that my legs swell up like sausages in airplanes, traveling is my favorite thing to do. I obviously love seeing the world and exploring new cultures, but in this particular instance, when I say “traveling” I literally mean the time I spend on an airplane, in a seat that is uncomfortable, breathing in recycled air and drinking canned mineral water. OK, obviously I don’t love all those things buttttt, what I love is that strangers are forced to invade each other’s personal space. We have all of these personal bubbles, spatial boundaries that we walk around in and we only let certain people into those bubbles. But, when we are traveling and on a plane (in particular) those boundaries become null. We are all uncomfortably shoved into a machine that is defying gravity and for some ironic reason that perfect alignment of uncomfortable factors creates an atmosphere to converse deeply with a complete stranger.

 

What I have found is that if you start a conversation with someone, ask simple questions like how he or she is, ask about their family, their friends, about their job they almost always tell you something personal that they want you to delve into deeper so that they may elaborate. To the inattentive or unobtrusive listener, that comment will be left there for wonder and remain untouched because almost always it is some subject that is touchy and will be hard to talk about. But I ask. I pry. I don’t know why… I just do. And by the end of the plane ride, without intending, I know personal, deep and heavy things about strangers that probably the majority of the people in their lives don’t know.

 

I have found that most people actually want to talk about their albatrosses, that they want someone to ask those questions and they want to be able to answer completely unbiased and unemotional. When I ask questions to people they don’t have to filter what comes out of their mouth because I know absolutely nothing about how they lead their lives daily and they will probably never see or talk to me ever again. We can both go our separate ways when the plane lands and what was said was said and that is that. And I leave with the lessons I learned from hearing their stories and they leave feeling free from some demon that has been festering in their minds for some time.

 

The inspiration to this writing is coming from a few different places, all of which have lead me to a life lesson that I will get to by the end of this post….

 

The previous blog post, I am well aware, was annoyingly positive but I had to share because moments of that kind of happiness are not always found and when they are they are not often shared. The past few days I felt like I was living in a state of elation, like I had no cares in the world and I couldn’t keep my smile from emerging! You know…. Like days that I will actually remember as significant days in my life, and for no particular reason. And to confirm that feeling, yesterday I was standing in the kitchen with Keelin and we were not saying much, you know just hanging out and she said, “I feel so content right now. Like, I just had a moment where I am completely content.” I looked at her, the way she was just simply standing in the kitchen, our house was quiet, the sun was shining and I knew exactly what she was feeling…Like the truest, purest form of innocent and simple happiness. I was happy I shared it with her.

 

That moment was then compounded by a conversation I had a few mornings ago when I went to a coffee shop by myself and purposefully sat down at the biggest table so that people were forced to sit around me. A group of, I would say, 60+ year old’s sat down beside me and obviously we started talking. They helped me with the cross word, we talked about the weather, they told me about their weekend plans and their grand kids and I told them about the Seattle Reign and professional women’s soccer…and then we went our separate ways. But, at the end of the conversation when I got up to leave I put out my hand to shake theirs and say my goodbyes, and one of the women held my hand a little longer, looked me in the eyes and said, “thank you for talking with us, it was really lovely chatting with you.” And I smiled and felt the same feeling I get when I say good bye to someone I just listened to for an entire plane ride and know I will never meet again.

 

And the last place I drew this inspiration from was from a piece of writing that I read just this morning when I was watching the sun rise over Lake Washington. I stumbled across a post about why the author of that particular post smiles so often. It delved into her story, the secrets she so desperately wants to tell people but holds back because of her fear of the way people would react upon hearing her story. I was so moved by the piece that by the end I had both tears rolling down my cheeks and a smile stretched across my lips. It was beautiful and heart wrenching and happy all in one. And as I sat there taking in what I had just read, I felt a surge of all of the emotions of the last few days hit me.

 

And I promised myself that I would keep asking these questions of people to seek sharing an innocent human moment with people and I would keep listening to people’s stories and more importantly I would keep telling my own. Because even if you have a hard time hearing something about someone because it might make you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean that everyone feels that way. Maybe they want to share a piece of themselves, maybe someone else needs to hear that there are other people who have lived through the tough time they are going through. Or maybe, it simply brings the meaning back to the question “How are you?”

 

And so my the lesson that I wish to share with you all in this long winded post is simple…

 

Ask genuinely.

Listen actively.

Respond attentively.

 

That is all for now!

 

Love!

D

April 1st

Its the first of April and it is only appropriate that the weather up here in the Emerald City is perfect! The sun is out, the air is warm and fresh, the birds are singing and to top it off… we got the last two days off! After a hard three weeks of two-a-days during this preseason my legs needed a good few days of rest. So I took the days to explore with my friends (my new teammates and my bike)!

 

It would be appropriate for me to pull some sort of April fools joke on you… but the truth is that I cant stand this day. April 1 should be a day of celebrating the beauty of spring time and lovely things and people made it into this really mean day where they make you feel really stupid for falling for things… and usually they are really intense things that arent prank worthy. Thats not funny. Excpet after the fact they make me laugh because every time I have been April Fools’d I have taken it so seriously and been genuinely concerned and then made to feel so dumb! And I hate that… but it makes me laugh at myself for being so serious! Even though the prankster was really kind of mean for doing such a thing! Its like when you are in a dodge ball game… and someone throws one ball straight up in the air getting your eyes to look up and then another pegs you right in the face… I literally fall for that stupid trick EVERY TIME and I cant stop myself… thats what April Fools is to me… people know I fall for it and so they peg me in the face! So I will not subject you all to any sort of nonsense and I hope none of you got April Fools’d, but if you did I hope it was a good one!

 

Anyways…Yesterday morning Keelin and I went for a lovely trail run/walk. We drove to St Ed’s Park on Lake Washington to a system of trails and just got lost! We ran for a bit, stretched, then walked and jogged here and there until we found our way down to the lake edge and took in the beautiful peaceful view. Then we hiked this giant hill back up until we found our car! It was so fun to be in the woods, with the trees and the trails just running. It was perfect. And the way I know Kee and Elli and I are best friends is that we can go for a run and not say a word the entire time and leave feeling fulfilled by each other’s company. Best friends are just…. the BEST!

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Later in the day I went and had coffee with one of my new favorite people and teammates, Beverly. Let me just interrupt myself here and say that anyone who is a Seattle Reign fan needs to buy her jersey NOW! She is one of the best players I have ever played with and will be a huge part of this team! Not to mention she is just a great person! She has a lot of experience playing in the previous league in the WPS and spent the last two years playing for a top team in Japan. I watch the way she plays with the eyes of a student watching and emulating an expert. I am so excited to have the opportunity to play with her this season, so go buy her jersey… NOW! Anyways, we had coffee and just talked and laughed about nothing really! Thats what meeting new people and making new friends is all about! Old best friends and new great friends… this is what I love about being a professional athlete! Always meeting new people and always keeping in touch with the old ones!

 

Then to top such a wonderful day off… Carm invited me to join her in a meditation class with her. I willingly went thinking that it was going to be an hour long class. As I was driving up I was following my google maps and as I was driving by the place where I thought the little pin was pointing… I looked up to see a big church. I did a circle just to see if the mediation place was somewhere behind the church… but sure enough, the pin was pointing right to the church. So I thought… hmmm, thats peculiar… but what ever! I parked and went in. I walked through the chapel and the pews and met Carm in the back of the church in a little room with a dome ceiling. We grabbed our mats and laughed and shrugged our shoulders at each other… dont know what we are getting ourselves into but here we go!!!

 

The meditation yogi looked like a hippie santa claus. He had a scraggly gray beard, shimmering blue eyes, a button nose and a little jelly belly that shook when he laughed. It made me smile and feel comfortable with what ever the heck was going to happen in the next hour. Turns out… it was a two long hour class, SURPRISE! And we did all sorts of crazy things. He had us standing, sitting, standing, sitting, stretching, standing, laying on our stomachs, our backs, standing… then he turned on music and we did hippie dancing, flailing our arms around, moving all of our body parts, jumping, dancing… and then he had us make sounds… saying LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA at the top of our lungs, really high pitched as fast as we could. I was literally in tears laughing. It was such a joyful laugh, like I was a little kid having so much fun and not giving a care in the world. To be honest I dont even know what Carm was doing the whole time! She was probably laughing at me… but I was in my own world and I was having an absolute BALL!!!

 

I have never experienced a mediation class like that… but I LOVED IT! Made me laugh and I truly believe that laughter is the greatest remedy for clarity and happiness in life.  Then today, we again woke up to beautiful weather and I decided I wanted to take my other best friend out for some exploration, my bike! I packed my bag and went down to the path around Lake Washington and rode down to the U District. I was having so much fun riding my bike and being in the sun. I challenged myself to ride the whole way without using my hands… I didnt make it though. I hit a few hairy spots with huge root bumps (you know how those huge tree roots make the pavement bump up with a big crack down it… and on a rode bike, those mini bumps are the worst!) I almost got bucked off my seat a few times… had to catch myself before I flew off the path! But I was laughing and smiling the whole time… Passerby’s probably though I was crazy or on something. But I was just having fun in the sun! I explored the area, had some lunch and rode my bike home with the same cheesy smile on my face.

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There is no point to this blog post except to try to make you laugh at the silly things that I subject myself to…  and to tell you that as our home opener approaches, my hope is that you all are getting ready to come support us at Memorial Stadium. I cant say enough wonderful things about this team and the people on it and it would just break my heart if you missed out on the journey we are about to begin… SOOOO, get your tickets ASAP so that you wont be a band-wagoner at the end of the season when everyone else is talking about it!

 

Stay tuned for more insightful posts but for now… I hope I provided you with a smile!

 

Love,

Dani

 

Here’s to Starting Again

I am starting again, turing over a new leaf, writing a new chapter in my life… Although it began privately a couple months ago, it is starting publicly, TODAY!

Many of you have followed my journey around the world. And I thank you for that. Every time I come home and people tell me that they have kept up with my world adventures vicariously through my blog I pat myself on the back for having written and posted things for you to see. So, thank you for following. But my downfall has always been returning home and forgetting that every day back here holds just as many stories and just as much intrigue as my stories abroad. And since I changed courses in my life a few months ago, I feel as though I would like to get this going again…

Let me take you back to a few months ago to India when I wrote my last blog…

When I departed to India I was was in a place of feeling perfect liberation and absolute confusion. Like the only thing that would keep me from having a break down sometimes was being around people who had no idea what was going on in my life… perfect time for a trip across the pond.

And that turned out to be the best thing I could have ever done. Spending three weeks with the girls in Goals for Girls in India was life changing. Although we were different ages, in different situations, from different states and held different interests… we were all at the same cross roads in our lives. We were all about to embark on a new adventure and that held great uncertainty… an exciting fear of the future. The girls I was there with were seniors or juniors in high school who were trying to figure out what college they were going to go to, trying to figure out what they wanted to study, were scared about moving away from home, and a long list of other questions like that. For many of them this trip was the first stamp in their passport. So, basically what I am saying is that everyone was uncomfortable and yet we were all comforted by the fact that we were all uncomfortable together.

And by the end of that trip all of the puzzle pieces to my life that had been scattered were picked up, organized, and flipped over so the colors were all showing… I even had the four corners laid out! Coming back to the US was a second chance at life for me. And I was excited to live it to the fullest with all of the people I should be giving my love and friendship to, I count myself in this group!

Fast forward two months to March 1, I moved from my home of Portland, OR after 6 years and headed North up i5 to the Emerald City to Seattle WA. I joined my two best friends from college, Keelin Winters and Elli Reed in a beautiful house with my two best friends on Lake Washington. Its wild how all three of us have been around the world in some of the worst soccer situations, lived to tell crazy stories and are now playing on the same team again and living in a home together again. I would never have guessed that such a perfect muck of stories could have ran together to write this tale right here.

So, as you can see, things have changed a lot. And its been AMAZING! These last few years have been a real exciting ride, and I thank God that I have been able to live ever day of it. So now… here I am comfortably in our home in Seattle on the couch (in our living room which is suitably named the Mahogany Lounge) able to write again and give you all a first hand account of this season with the Seattle Reign.

We are about two weeks into preseason and have about another two before our season home opener against Boston on April 13. Our legs are a bit heavy but the training sessions have been some of the best sessions I have ever been a part of. The staff is absolutely amazing… professional, personable, fun, and dedicated. I have never seen such a perfect balance of staff and team chemistry at a professional level. The team is full of big personalities, both on and off the field and yet, the atmosphere around the team is something that I think is so rare and so special… it is made up of good people.

There is true excitement in the locker room before training… that just doesnt happen. I know what youre thinking… You play soccer for two hours a day, and you guys aren’t stoked to play every day?? Well break that ignorant thought… do YOU love going to your work every day… do you wake up and say YES! Today I get to work! No, you probably dont… and its the same with many of us… a lot of athletes dont wake up and say YES!…. BUTTTTT, this team is special. I can honestly say that aside from the morning we did the beep test, I have woken up and said YES! Today I get to go play soccer. I have not said that in a longggggg time. Its a really wonderful thing to feel again.

Needless to say, this team is special and I have completely bought into this team and this organization already. So, I am excited to get the season going!

Life has had some big changes for me… and I feel like I am exactly in the place I am supposed to be right now…

Stay tuned for stories and posts please!!

Love!

Goals for Girls

Goals for Girls used this post as well, but I wanted to give you all my final thoughts on the trip to India. I am now back in the states and back up in Portland back to the routine of training, coaching, and coffee drinking, so here are my final thoughts on the trip… enjoy! I have also put together a short video of our first week spent with Rising Star Outreach program. Please watch here… http://vimeo.com/83688794

 

Months ago when I was first asked to be the “professional player” representative for the 2013 Goals for Girls trip to India I was really only interested because India has been at the top of my bucket list since I can remember. But that exclamation point was quickly followed by a lot of question marks because I didnt know if I wanted to be a chaperone to a group of 17 year old girls (most of whom have never travelled out of the US) in a country that even some of the most travelled people struggle to be in. The decision took me a few weeks of debating to come to the conclusion that I did in fact want to go to India as a part of Goals for Girls.
 
As this trip was approaching I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I was fresh off a two month trip doing similar nonprofit work in Africa. The difference was that in Africa I only had to watch out for myself. But I was now responsible for all of these girls who had no idea how to travel. We were all nervous, unfamiliar with each other and completely out of our comfort zones. And now that the trip is over, the loud noises of India have left my ears and I have had some time to reflect I have found many things that I appreciated from the trip. And when I say appreciated, I mean, I have found some things that have truly become a part of me and have changed me. 
 
I am going to preface this with a bit about myself… growing up I was a part of the youth national teams. I was always on the brink of being on the roster and being cut. I was always so excited to be going into camp because I knew I could play with them, but when I thought about having to be a part of the team I was scared to death. I was so self conscience about who I was and felt so uncomfortable around all of these super confident girls. It was my biggest struggle and the reason why I probably didnt reach my goals with the youth national teams. Realizing this weakness and dealing with it through college has been a real ride and has paid great dividends to the person I am now. 
 
I tell you this about myself because meeting everyone at the airport and taking off to India brought me back to those national team camps. Only a few of the girls were familiar with each other, some were friends. We were coming from all over the country and we were completely unsure of what the next two weeks possessed for us. The first week I was in charge of the green team and in the room we were staying in it was almost silent. No one spoke, everyone was shy and pretty reserved. I knew exactly how all of them felt. I knew the uncomfortable feeling they were all experiencing, and although I tried to bring up the mood of the household, I knew it would take time to break through the walls we all had up. 
 
But the girls at Rising Star took over that role and broke down all of the walls that our American girls had up. By the end of the week our girls and the Indian girls were holding hands, hugging, playing soccer and laughing. The group of our American girls, east and west coast were a real team… a group of friends laughing, exchanging stories and making memories together. We did things none of us were comfortable doing before coming to India. But we were all in the uncomfortable situations together and that grew a huge bond. I know we all went to the India with the idea that we would be changing the lives of the Indian girls, bringing soccer to them… but what happened to our group of girls was equally as impacting, equally as amazing. 
 
Over the next week after leaving Rising Star Outreach program the group just continued to grow more and more comfortable with each other and with the uncomfortableness of India. The group was truly an incredible group. I dont say it lightly when I say it was the most pleasant and amazing group of girls that I have ever worked with. I got to talk to and know every single one of them and I cant say enough amazing things about all of them. This trip came at a pivotal moment in their lives because as they all go off to college they will have a new perspective about the world and how they can change it. And I cant wait to see what they will do in the future, because I know its going to be amazing. 
 
As I said going into this trip I was selfishly excited to go to India but I was nervous about taking care of these girls. I knew we were going to be changing the lives of a lot of Indians, but I had no idea the kind of changes I was going to be experiencing. Not only did the work we did with the Indians change both their lives and our lives, but I got to watch our American girls see how they were changing the Indians lives and in return were being changed. I was equally as affected by both the Indian girls and our American girls. We were all changed in drastic ways. We allowed ourselves to be open and experience India to the fullest and that gave us all new perspectives. That is the most positive influence you can ever make for someone.  
 
I cant express my gratitude and appreciation for Goals for Girls and everyone who was a part of it. It was truly one of the best and most life changing experiences of my life. One I will never forget. Image
 

New Delhi

Our last day in Bangalore was spent at a micro financing firm called Janalakshmi which means money for the masses. Basically they do micro lending for families or small businesses to help grow the developing classes of India. They were such an awesome firm that works with only women applicants. The company was so awesome, they arranged to have cars come take us in small groups out to the slums and go meet some of the families that janalakshmi finances. 

 

My group drove through Delhi to an urban slum where we wound through some very sketch neighborhoods and through a lot of small corridors and dingy places until we came to some stairs. We walked up them turned the tiny balcony corner and then came to a doorway with a sheet as the door. We stepped inside to a 6 ft by 8 ft room with a floor “mattress” a little desk stacked to the ceiling with cloth and a couch that you couldnt sit two comfortably on. THere was one more sheet that led into a kitchen that was just smaller than that room.

 

This was their home. 7 people lived in that room. The parents, their 3 daughters and their two sons. They had married their oldest daughter away about 4 months prior, she was 19. She had dropped out of school after grade 7 and their oldest son worked random jobs around town, he had dropped out of school after the 5 grade. THeir youngest daughters were still in school and were hoping to study through high school. The parents were tailors and made skirts to sell on the street for $1.00. It cost them $0.40 to make one skirt. Hell of a way to live…

 

They were a muslim family and they were extremely kind, welcoming and open. I had so many questions for the family about their lifestyle, about their attitude towards their daughters and sons, about their attitudes towards sports, marriage, education… everything. I asked about a million questions and had a million more when we had to leave an hour later. It was one of the coolest experiences i have ever had because I was allowed to ask so many of the questions I have had for so long!

 

After that we headed to the airport and headed out of Bangalore to New Delhi. Our flight was delayed two hours and we didnt end up getting into Delhi until pretty late in the night. We went right to sleep because we had to wake up early for our first clinic in the New Delhi Stadium the next morning.

 

We were greeted in the morning by a bus full of 20 peppy, bright little indian girls from an organization called YUWA. They were a team from a city 40 hours from Delhi, they trained two days to come to our clinic! We swept the sleep out of our eyes and put on our best smiles to make them feel welcomed and excited about the day!

 

We arrived at the stadium as the sun was rising… there was fog on the field, the sun was shining through the stadium outside right onto the field and it was one of those moments where you are blown away by the beauty of something. Like breathtaking, and indescribable. There were girls playing soccer, being empowered, smiles, and perfect beauty. All was right in the world. It was amazing.

 

The day only got better as about 120 girls from all over and all different ages showed up to play with us! We ran them through a series of drills in groups of about 20 girls teaching them basic skills like passing, heading, shooting, dribbling etc. Then we ended the day with a huge tournament with any girls who stuck around after lunch. There was news from all over India, CNN, IndiTV, ESPN, it was amazing!!

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By the end of the day we were beyond exhausted. The YUWA girls fell asleep, like passed out on the bus within 5 minutes. But everyone had just played their hearts out and loved every second of it! It was such a special day. 

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The next day we again woke up early… but this time it was to get on a bus and drive 5 hours away to a city called Agar to visit…. the TAJ MAHAL!!!!! Cross that one off the bucket list!! It was so cool!!! What a beautiful structure and one of the girls said something after that I thought was really cool. She said that she thought it was really cool to see this huge imaculate building that was built for this king’s wife whom he loved so much… but now everyone says how the Indian culture has no respect for women and treats women so poorly. I found it awesome that she realized that, and I also found it fascinating to think about when and how that changed, did it change? Its interesting to think about and consider. 

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Anyways, the Taj was so cool! Today we attended a conference of some awesome people and organizations to discuss what the implications of female empowerment programs like Goals for Girls, YUWA, and so many others do. How can we make it better, how can we make each other better. It was an absolutely fascinating and empowering conference and I am so happy I got to meet and listen to some women who are making big changes in India and the world. 

 

Tomorrow we have a tournament in the morning with the girls who came out to the first clinic we put on in the stadium earlier in the week. We will spend one last day playing with them and encouraging them to play soccer and get their friends playing soccer. Then we will come back to the hotel, shower, pack up the last of our gifts and head to the airport to head back to the US. 

 

I cant believe this trip is coming to an end. I am literally blown away with how quickly the time flew by. It seems like we just got here yesterday, but with the amount of things we have done in two weeks it seems like we have been here for so much longer than 2 weeks. 

 

Thinking back about when I was asked to go on this trip I was really wondering, should I go, should I go? And I went back and forth a thousand times, but I am so glad that I did. I have learned so much about myself, I have faced a lot of things that I really needed to face while I was here and I did it on my own. I have seen so much beauty, I have literally fallen in love with India and the Indian people. I have fallen in love with myself and I am now so excited to come home and get back to my friends and family! 

 

Its incredible how things happen at the right time to challenge you to live your life, truly live your life. Its simple reminders that are always around us but often overlooked in the routine of our lives. Just as Russia, Europe, Africa have, India has given me new perspectives, new things to consider and new things to be happy about. Life, what a roller coaster. I am so happy to have the life I do and thank you to everyone who is a part of it. 

 

I look forward to seeing you all again in the US very soon!

 

Love,

Dani

 

 

Bangalore, India

The days here are flying by. I cant tell you all how much fun this trip has been. Not only was our time at Rising Star absolutely amazing because we got to work with 17 awesome Indian girls for a week, stay on an awesome campus, do medical work in a Leprosy colony, and play soccer… but selfishly, because I am serving as a mentor to these US girls I have been able to watch the transformation happening to them. Coming on this trip their mentality was “I am going to help empower these girls who don’t have the things I do, they live hard lives…” Things along those lines. But now seeing the huge transformation that they have had in just a week is incredible.

 

These 14 girls from different parts of North Carolina and Portland have changed, they have been affected and they will be going back to the US different girls. They have seen a new culture, had to accept things, had to be open to new things. They have been tired, hot, uncomfortable, hungry, disgusted… and yet they have had smiles the entire time! I am so proud of them for all of the hard work they have put in for the Indian girls but I am equally as proud of them for being so open, welcoming and embracing the strange things about this culture. They have let India affect them and that is a huge part about traveling, being open to what each culture has to offer to you.

 

After we left Rising Star we took a 7 or 8 hour bus ride to Bangalore which is a city a bit Northwest of Chennai. On the way we stopped and toured through a Hindu temple. It was so beautiful, the flamboyant colors, and Gods, the flavorful worshipping style and exaggerated architecture… it truly is such a beautiful culture.

 

Bangalore is the IT capital of India, many of the worlds biggest IT companies have world campuses in Bangalore. Needless to say it is a much bigger city than the little town we were staying in outside of Chennai. We pretty much went immediately to bed because we had an early morning the next day.

 

We woke up the next morning to eat breakfast by 730 AM so that we could jump on the bus and make it to the field in the city center by 9. We didn’t know what to expect from the day, we were just told that we would be running a coaching clininc in the morning for an organization that Goals for Girls works with. That would go from 10 until about 12. We would then have a lunch break and then we would be doing some sort of 6 v 6 tournament with girls from another partner organization called Dream a Dream. 

 

So, we pulled up to a dirt field in just about the middle of Bangalore. It was a public field… but in typical Indian flamboyant style the field was cut in half by what looked like circus curtains draped from huge wooden poles. The circus drapes surrounded the field we were running the clinic and tournament at. On one side of the field there was a section of cement stands that were covered by an Arabian circus tent as well as a stage on one end full with speakers and a sound system. Immediately all of our eyes opened like what are we getting ourselves into?

 

The day started off nicely with two players from the Indian national team attending the coaching clinic. After the session was over, the dirt field and the sun were already taking a toll on some of our American girls. Hiding out in the shade kids in school uniforms started slipping in through the circus curtains and filling the stands. By 1 PM the stands were literally packed from the ground to the ceiling of the circus tent with screaming Indian children… all eyes and questions and dirty hands on our American girls.

 

But our girls rallied so well. I am not exaggerating one bit when I say that I sat back and watch our girls (exhausted and hot) rally… put on smiles and give huge hugs to all the little girls hanging off them like they were super stars! The day only got more fun from there. There was a DJ and a host with a whole opening ceremony, a politician speaking and music. Dream a Dream organization brought out students from 8 different schools they work in through Bangalore and made teams of about eight girls from each school. They then assigned two American girls to each team and played a tournament on the field. All of the other students watched and cheered on their school team on to a hopeful championship. The team names were things like the Mighty Lions, the Thunderbolts, the Sparkling Rainbows, and the Pink Panthers… I cant remember the other ones.

 

Anyways the day was so overwhelming and completely overstimulating for about 8 hours straight. But all of our girls had huge smiles, brought energy and made the day an absolutely unforgettable day for all of the students that were there to watch the tournament. None of the girls that were there had ever played soccer before and by the end of the day the girls were not talking about anything except how they wanted to play more soccer. And not only the girls that played in the tournament but the girls that were in the stands watching wanted to be a part of it! I have no doubt that they all went home and told their families and classmates that they wanted to play soccer!

 

The closing ceremony lasted about an hour and a half and everyone had to have some sort of last remark… about 50 times. And by the time we were packed up and ready to go the field that looked so elegant at the beginning of the day looked like the tigers had gotten loose, chased after the elephants who scared the monkeys, who tore down the circus tents and then trashed their cages and let all of the other animals loose… by that I mean that I felt terrible for the people who had to stick around and clean up the mess our fun little tournament left behind. WOW, it was overwhelming! But so much fun!

 

Needless to say we were so tired and that evening we walked to dinner, ate and returned to the hotel to get in bed. We then had the day off today. So we slept in a bit and had a later breakfast before packing our cameras and making a stop at the ATM to do a full tourist day! We boarded the bus and took off on about a 3 hour bus ride to a place called Mysore. Mysore is the palace of the Indian Royal family. The palace was everything you would ever imagine an Indian Palace to be. Extremely extravagant, completely overwhelming, a little broken down, but so colorful and over the top. Half of the Indian population decided today was a good day to visit the Mysore palace because our group had to walk in a single file line through this tour. We were pushed, our feet stepped on, breathed on, surrounded and lost in thousands and thousands of Indian people all filing through these palace halls. But my lord, it was beautiful. The architecture, the history, the culture that was built in every tiny detail of the entire palace was mind blowing. There is no craftsmanship like that in the US… it was absolutely incredible.

 

We then visited a couple little shops for some souvenirs and then boarded the bus to head the 3 hours back to Bangalore. It will be another night of hard sleep I can tell… I am writing this sitting next to three sleeping girls.

 

And I am just going to take this moment right here to say that this group of girls is so special. I am not sure if they value my friendship, but I feel like a little bit of a mentor to them and I am just so absolutely proud of all of them. I have talked to every single one and each one of them has such a beautiful outlook on life, they have such potential to do so many great things with their lives and in this world. I am not sure if I will keep in touch with them, I am not sure if I have had any affect on them, but they have changed my life. They have reminded me of the simple beauty in life, of the importance of friends, of the importance in staying young and honest. They are all such beautiful girls and I am so lucky to be on this trip with them. They have changed my life and have made this trip to India so special for me. I will never forget it or them or the experiences we have shared here.

 

We have one more day here in Bangalore and then we head to the third and final part of this trip in New Delhi. Thank you for reading and I will see you soon!!

 

Love 

D

Rising Star Champions of India!!!

Day four here at Rising Star Outreach of India was our last day of work. Green, Green Evergreen was on service duty, we had to dig trenches in the garden to plant banana plants and eggplants. We also had to spend time helping the construction crew here pour cement onto a pathway that is being named Goals For Girls Avenue. Basically it was a day of sweat, dirt and heat. But boyyyyy, did we make it fun! We had music playing in the background and we took some dancing breaks, and we worked really hard. We found some coconuts that had fallen from the surrounding trees and took a good 20-minute break trying to crack them open… and let me tell you it was worth it! There is just nothing like a fresh coconut.

 

Then later in the day a boys team from a program very close to Rising Star campus called Pathways came to play us on the Rising Star field. We played 6 v 6 on a small field and let me just say… this was the game of a life time. The boys had only played soccer for one week, literally one week ago they had only ever played cricket, so today was their first game ever.

 

The game was prefaced by an Indian style ceremony, where the director of the school announced the game, gave thanks, an Indian song was sung, and children were brought from the school to watch, they even had announcers (not to mention the girls we had been working with all week were there suited up and ready to play). We started the game with six American girls on the field and within 5 minutes we were up 2-0. I passed up a few sitters to turn around and pass, you know keep the game level…

 

The boys, you could tell were very timid in their play, very shy (to be expected as it is only their 7th day of playing soccer ever). But then we got a little bored… and they scored one… oops. So we were still playing a little easy, pass, pass, pass….. then boom, they score again… oops! Haha tied 2-2. Okkkkk okkkk. Then just before half… this boy is dribbling at me… dribbling, I am half way defending him (serious if he tries to shoot or dribble me, but he has the go ahead) and he winds up, I lunge to block it… miss and he rockets it

 

So then we start to sub in some of the Rising Star girls that we have been working with all week (keep in mind, they are going on only 3 days of soccer ever). We put in 2 of them and 3 of our American girls… and bam, bam, bam… we go down three goals. The score is now 5-2 Pathway boys lead.

 

We made a strategic substitution and took out the Rising Star girls, put in a full squad and got our game faces on… we had to win for our Rising Star girls! Within 10 minutes we were back to level at 5-5… and then pulled ahead to 7-5! Our girls were going crazy! The crowd was going wild, the announcers were bringing the game to life! We again made a tactical substitution and I was put in goal (by default) and they had one last shot in the closing moments of the game that went upper ninety to bring the game to a 7-6 final score. What a match it was!!

 

After the game our girls were so excited! They were chanting and cheering and couldn’t stop talking about how awesome the game was and how awesome we were! They were asking if we were now having soccer practice, and telling us that they wanted to play like us, and they wanted to play soccer! I stood back and watched the American girls embrace and hug the Indian girls like they just won a national championship.

 

We then had a trophy ceremony… we awarded the Pathway boys with trophies and certificates, we then awarded our Rising Star girls with certificates as well, and then we got trophies too! A trophy I will be putting on the top shelf of my trophy wall at home!  

 

That was our amazing day today… and now tomorrow we are heading out to Bangalore to start on the second part of this journey. Saying goodbye to these girls will be tough tomorrow but we are all excited to see some new parts of India.

 

I love you all and miss you! I hope 2014 has been amazing for you so far!

 

Love

D