My roommate and I have been able to visit a couple of schools this past week. Just like at any institution, when the students are attending their classes they see the same faces and have the same daily routine. When they notice us new people walking in the halls, the kids and teachers observe with unfamiliarity and curiosity, because they know that they might get a break or change in their schedule. At one school, we spoke on stage at an assembly to about 300 seventh grade girls. When speaking to them, I try to stay away from just talking about basketball. My biggest goal is to have fun with them and have a message that they won't forget involved in the experience. This involves bringing kids on stage, having them show us their talents, being interactive and expressing lots of energy, which if you know me at all, I have an abundance with lots to spare lol. At this particular school, a few girls came up and sang on the microphone. Once they got to the chorus, the entire auditorium erupted in sync (and ironically it was an American song by Ed Sheeran lol). We brought lots of kids up to the stage one by one and talked to them about their goals and hobbies. As an administrator was walking around the students with a mic, we were having them tell us what they wanted to be when they grew up. One wanted to be a pilot, another a doctor, another a lawyer and another an astronaut. These girls were well articulated and goal-driven. As we finished, we had everyone stand up to jump around in a dance party; we joined them in the chaos of moves that I am getting way too old to do lol. In the end, as the principal was closing the program, she said the biggest lesson that the girls learned was, 'Dream Big, Smile Always'. They wanted to pursue a career that allowed them to reach beyond their limitations and yet that they enjoyed. They knew it would take lots of work, but to never forget to keep smiling through the process. It made my day and I hope it made their day as well.
Tryouts for many of the cities have begun. They are for the top twenty boys and girls in that area that have been chosen from the skills challenges and tournaments. With only ten spots available for each, the athletes are competing to try and secure a spot to compete in nationals at the NBA Academy in Noida, India. It is exceptional to see their energy when they arrive and how they carry themselves throughout the event. They are working so hard to retain a position, but you also see the excitement on their faces just to be there. The jubilant reactions of the players when we announce that they have made it is so emotionally satisfying. Even though there are kids that do not make it, we reiterate that they are the best players in the city. Just the opportunity to participate against the top athletes in this selection process is something they will never forget. As one of the tryouts had ended, I passed by the swimming pool while I was leaving the hotel. I saw every kid out there playing in the water. They were having a great time conversing and splashing each other. I know it had to be a lot of pressure during the day to make the team, so I was extremely happy to see them having such a great time being able to relax and enjoy themselves.
Being in Mumbai for the last two weeks has been relaxing and chaotic all in one. We had a record-breaking skills challenge of 1800+ kids followed by a six-day tournament, with a two-day tryout right after. In between all the basketball, I have been able to go to church, find a CrossFit gym, eat at some good restaurants, meet a lot of new people, do lots of walking and acquire the best farmers tan you have ever seen!
One of my favorite new friends is a guy who is only a couple of blocks away from my apartment. He has special needs and is in a wheelchair. His caretaker puts him on the same street corner almost every day from dusk until dawn with a tip jar connected to his chair. Every so often the guardian comes to collect the money that has been accumulated and presses it into his pocket. The man in the chair seems so happy sitting, smiling big, and swinging his arms uncontrollably at all the people passing by. Most people walk by and try not to see him, but he sees everyone with excitement and even lets out a squeal at times. The first time I saw him I was uncertain of what to do, not knowing if I should give him money, feel bad for his situation or be happy with him. I decided every time I pass by, I was going to acknowledge him and try to have a small goodie for him. A couple of days ago I brought him a candy bar and he let out the biggest yelp of joy while clapping his hands together. He spotted me yesterday and had a huge smile on his face as usual, and started waving eagerly. I went up to him to say hello and gave him an animated high five. I hope that when I see him I give him love, cheer, and good company. What he gives me is so much more and makes my heart smile. Every day I pray that I let God's light shine through me and for people to be encouraged by it. I see him and I can physically see what I am praying for. Each time I walk up to that busy corner, he gives me love, joy, and inspiration.
There are lots of young street kids around that ask for money, for food or for you to buy the product they have in their hand. I had just finished my dinner at one of my usual places and two ran up asking for me to buy the small packages of tissues they held in their hands. I said no thank you, but they were insanely persistent. I am sure it can get exhausting always getting rejected, ignored or yelled at for peddling their things to others. I tend to think, as much as I do not like to be bothered by someone selling me goods, it has to be just as bothersome having a job that entails you to constantly be told no and shooed away. Instead of buying their merchandise, I started a conversation with them. At first, they were confused as to why I was talking to them, but I just kept chatting. They were about 10 years old and we began speaking in broken English about where we were on the street, what they liked, how old they were and so on. This lasted for about 15 minutes until my ride pulled up. A couple of days later I was at the same restaurant and one of the boys saw me. He ran up to me and instead of asking me to buy the tightly gripped tissues, he eagerly reached his hand out to shake mine with a playful grin. I squeezed him with a strong hug, told him he was one of the coolest kids I knew, made small talk and asked if I could take a selfie with him. He nodded his head with the most enthusiasm. It was so great to see him act his age rather than a laboring salesman on the street.
No matter who we are, we all need someone. We need to be acknowledged, smiled at, encouraged or just have some love shown towards us. I urge everyone to selflessly be this person. Make a goal of showing an act of kindness towards someone every day. The best part about it is that when we think that we are reaching out to someone else, usually they are blessing us 🙂.