As you may or may not know, I played for the Bowdoin Men’s Rugby Football Club all four years of my time at Bowdoin. The team was really my only steadfast activity in my time at Bowdoin. I participated in a multitude of other interesting and stimulating activities, but the BRFC was the only group that kept its hold on me all four years. A lot of that had to do with the guys on the team and the coaching staff. I cannot imagine a more supportive, enthusiastic and fun group of guys. Coach Scala and Coach Dave were important figures in my time in Brunswick and will forever be remembered as BRFC legends. From day one of practice freshman year all the way until the last inter-squad scrimmage my senior year, I was, and still am, proud to call my self a member of the BRFC.
I consider myself to be a relatively quick player, but strength was never my strong point. My speed helped me flourish on the B-side, scoring prolifically in my Freshman year, but, due to high school disillusionment, I never spent much time in the gym and therefore never really got stronger. My skill level definitely improved over time but my role on A-side remained relatively unchanged throughout my four years with the club, largely my own doing. I also went abroad during the fall season my Junior year and missed a great opportunity to work my way into the squad, but getting experience in Africa seemed a more pressing calling. Also, with Connor Gallagher, the Rhino-like Center, David Bruce, the effeminate fly-half with boyish good looks, and Bobby Shaw, our relentless but injury-prone captain, all having lockdowns on the positions I was angling for, I became a super-sub, and loved it. It meant I got to play with the Killer-B’s and have a damn good time every time while also sometimes getting to play with the A-side, not a bad deal.
Upon graduating, I assumed my rugby career had reached its end. I didn’t know if rugby was a big deal in Kenya, but I brought my cleats and shorts anyway, just in case. Two weeks ago, I was talking with Amal, a math teacher at school. Amal is a fascinating character, a true man’s man. He plays rugby. We got to talking and he mentioned he had been playing with a local team at the Mombasa Sports club, a mere five minutes from AKAM campus. He asked if I’d like to come along, and, of course, I said yes.
The club itself is a fascinating place, racially and socio-economically that is. The club is located in south central Mombasa. It is a private club that charges very high membership fees, especially for Kenya, somewhere around $400 a month; that’s most of my monthly paycheck. The club is enclosed in its entirety by a ten foot tall concrete wall topped by barbed wire. It’s not a welcoming place from the outside. The British colonial roots are never far from the surface around here and it doesn’t take much imagination to envision Khaki-clad Englishmen tromping around the grounds of the club discussing the state of the Empire whilst sipping scotch and enjoying a nice cricket match. Today, the members of the club are predominantly men of Indian descent who make up part of the wealthy upper crust of Mombasa.
The rugby team however is a different story. The rugby team is composed entirely of black Swahili Kenyans. None of them could ever afford a membership to the club… so why are they here? Why are they allowed in?
The answer lies, unsurprisingly, with money. None of the aged Indian men want to play rugby, yet they have beautiful facilities. A bunch of these Kenyan men want to play rugby, but they have no pitch to play on. And so a partnership is formed. The club grants the team access to its facilities and bestows upon them its name, and when the team has a match, the club reaps the benefits as people pay admission to watch quality rugby and then imbibe at the bar further adding money to the clubs coffers. Win win?
The team used to be professional, meaning, obviously, that the players were paid to play. Unfortunately, most of the other teams are in Nairobi, an eight-hour bus ride away. The Nairobi teams grew tired of the expenses and travel time they had to devote to playing the team from Mombasa and, from what I understand, in a somewhat nefarious way, the league conspired to dump the Mombasa team.
But the team still lives on. The current season is Sevens season. For the uninitiated, standard rugby is played with fifteen men a side, it’s a very physical game with lots of rucks and scrums and contact. Sometimes the ball moves down the field very slowly. Sevens is a whole other beast. On the same size pitch as standard rugby, you now only have seven men a side which opens up the field. Basically what it boils down to is that Sevens requires a lot more running. And where am I? Oh right, Kenya. What do they do well? Oh, right, run!
On my first outing I performed admirably well (I think). I generally held my own, but after the first half of our scrimmage I was sucking wind, struggling to catch a breath. I hate to add credence to stereotypes, but Swahili men, at least these guys, are FAST.
Most of the guys are between twenty and thirty years old and I have to admit I don’t know what their professions are. I am going to keep going back for sure and I hope to get to know some of the guys well. They were all incredibly welcoming and happy to have some new players on the team. Most of the have a hard time with English, but anytime any one started talking in Swahili, they would shout him down and demand he speak in English because Amal and I couldn’t understand. Nice of them, but I think in this situation it is I that should learn Swahili, and not them who have to work on their English.
It made for an entertaining scene to see a bunch of paunchy Indian men, clad in their country club whites, power walking around the compound while they either ignored or cast nervous glances towards the Kenyan men darting around the pitch.
Below I have included some pictures of a recent visit to Ft. Joseph, a costal park area that has stunning ocean views and some gorgeous rock formations. A great place to go with a book and simultaneously appreciate nature and a good read. I’m currently reading “Out of Africa,” a jarringly western memoir from a Danish woman who lived in Kenya during the colonial era. Interesting to read but it sometimes brings me to a standstill with comparisons of Africans to animals and as people that need civilizing and guidance. An interesting read nonetheless to get a sense of how the country used to be.
Descent into a really cool cave that gets completely inundated by the tide
Down the rabbit hole
-Mzungu currently rekindling his passion for Rugby in scenic Mombasa