A holiday story

Last Monday evening I packed up the Mdantsane soccer equipment into the Goodlife duffel and three string bags. Hoisting the whole lot onto my back I made my unsteady way towards the door. As I staggered past the full-length mirror, I was startled into a spit-take: Father Christmas was staring back at me.

Now, I don’t observe Christmas. By the time I hit my mid-30s I was tired of waking up on January 2nd exhausted, emotional and penniless, so a few years back I announced to my loved ones that I was no longer going to celebrate. This doesn’t mean I’m a Scrooge. It means I am free to give gifts when the spirit moves me, even if that is in May or September or July. It means I have a bit of money in my pocket. It means I spend those final weeks of every year considering what has come before and what I will accomplish next.

In 2009 I made it halfway around the world, met amazing people doing critical work in their communities, and lent a hand. I learned that getting help is often as simple as asking. I saw the generosity of strangers and friends. And when I returned home I knew myself as part of a global community – a community of do-gooders, of soccer fans, of adventurers and storytellers. My world was both bigger and smaller, and I wanted nothing more than to reach across the ocean and connect these places.

The Mdantsane Village Soccer Kit Drive was one way to accomplish this. For me, the program was about more than providing equipment, though that was the ultimate result. I wanted to leverage the unifying spirit of soccer to do good by the teams I met in Africa and my own community. We have so much in the West. It’s scandalous, really – in my soccer league each player is outfitted with their own jersey and socks each and every season. And each and every September when the sun finally goes down on the pitch, these items become useless except as mementos. It’s wasteful and it’s a shame.

This is what I was thinking as I sat at the sideline of the dusty pitch watching the Mdantsane Mountain Birds kick their opponents’ asses in borrowed cleats. If, as we know, there are seasons worth of good, unused soccer equipment growing dusty in the closets of Toronto… and if, as we know, it is expensive to send goods from here to there and improbable that they will arrive intact if at all… then we must find another way. For me, this was not about sending money – it was about connecting two communities; it was about redistributing what is already available.

Then a remarkable thing happened: Craig told me that on his holiday trip home to Philadelphia he’d bring empty suitcases so he could fill them with cleats and jerseys. Philly is a lot closer than Mdantsane Village. A single conversation cut the task down by approximately 12,800 kilometres. Now we only had to get the goods to Philadelphia. And then another remarkable thing happened: my friends Tedd and Garry offered to drive the equipment to Philly during their holiday trip to New Jersey. Suddenly all I had to do was the collection. And then the remarkable things began to tumble over other remarkable things. My request was met with such enthusiasm that I was overwhelmed by the response. Players that I only see during the summer travelled out of their way to meet me. My entire summer team agreed to donate jerseys so I could ensure the Mountain Birds would receive a full matching kit for themselves. And even now I am receiving calls asking if it’s too late and when the next Drive will happen.

So when I saw myself in the mirror with a bag of presents on my back I snapped a picture. I felt “the joy of giving”, an emotion that’s been sullied for me by years of cynical exploitation. I also felt thankful and proud and connected – and ready to begin organizing the next Kit Drive.

That evening I met up with Tedd and handed over the parcels. And this morning my phone lit up with this message: The stuff made it over the border fine. So thank you to everyone to who participated in big and little ways. I just got confirmation that the equipment is passing through Scranton en route to Mdantsane Village. See how little this big world is (and vice versa)?

Toronto to Mdantsane Village via Scranton

Toronto to Scranton. Next stop Philadelphia, then Mdantsane Village, South Africa.

Happy holidays, everybody.



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3 responses to “A holiday story

  1. Your incredibly proud pappa Jack send me a link to your blog. I’m not much of a holiday celebrant either, but the tale of the soccer gear is a Christmas story that takes its place (on a very narrow shelf) alongside Fredrick Forsyth’s “The Shepherd” (a great old WWII aviation legend that, coincidentally enough, Jack also turned me on to several decades back. That fellow does get around.)

    Speaking of which, it’s wonderful (and more than a wee bit inspiring) to hear what you’ve been up to lately. You write of your adventures in such a compelling manner that I hope you’re at least considering adapting these dispatches into a book at some point. I’m appalled to read of your treatment by Paypal (a company we also deal with.) It sounds like you (and many others it would seem) have been flicked aside with no more consideration (if far greater long-term consequence) than a shoeless teen at MacDonalds. It’s hard to believe this is even legal, let alone sensible business practice. Please let me know if there’s any way either I or the vast Foolish Earthling conspiracy (yep, both of us) can help.

    Wherever you are, I hope you’re enjoying a warm and cozy year/decade changeover. Nothing makes my day more than discovering how newly proud I am of a longtime pal. Keep up the great work.
    (And the great dispatches!)


  2. Craiggers

    Just to follow up– the equipment is now safely in Keph’s bedroom in East London. I arrived last night safely with soccer gear in tow– it was just my Christmas gifts that were stolen out of the luggage. Ahhhh… gotta love Joburg airport. Who needed that Chanel cologne or Ed Hardy underwear anyway?
    Once I’ve settled in, I’ll make a plan with Sandile to deliver the goods and will provide shots for the blog.
    Thank you to everyone for working together to make this possible.
    XO Craig

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