Are we going hunting?" --Rachel Starnes upon entering a game reserve where a lion park was located.

GALLERIES

Day-by-Day Photos of the Trip

The Trip
The Team
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The End and A Beginning

By Jessica Cates-Bristol

(Editor's Note: Jessica Cates-Bristol, who grew up in the Washington area, played soccer from the age of five through college. She was an HIV/AIDS educator in Zambia and currently works in Maryland for an agency that serves at-risk youth. This is the final blog for Worlds United. The D.C. Blast team returns to Washington Monday July 9. A wrap-up of the girls' experiences, as well as a photo gallery, are coming July 17 in the Health section of The Washington Post and at www.washingtonpost.com.)

Wow, this trip has come and gone too quickly. Here we are, getting ready to board a plane tomorrow morning, and it feels like we were just selling umbrellas in Dupont Circle and pleading for money from friends and family.

I remember feeling slightly intimidated when meeting the D.C. Blast for the first time. I wondered, "Teenage girls, what will they think of me? Will I be chill enough for them? Will I succeed as a cool chaperone?" Six months later, I chuckle to myself at those thoughts. Our daily discussions now include things like, "Whose starred underwear are these?" I guess I've passed the test

I've traveled to Africa before and each time with a different agenda, once with Grassroot Soccer as an intern for nearly a year, once for vacation, and another time for a semester in college. Each time I've come home with a rebirth of energy and motivation to keep myself in the human service field, and this will be no exception.

We have experienced most of the memorable things that many of the sub-Saharan countries offer: the big-five animals (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo), song and dance, the power of soccer, the bumpy roads, the poverty, "African time," cold showers, mystery meat, extra sweet juice, bargaining at a market, eating food with your hands, learning local phrases, and direct experiences with HIV.

Days were exhausting, whether it was running a camp or doing a township tour. Well outside their comfort zones, the girls handled themselves with grace. They came in with open minds and maturity levels and we saw them grow further; everyone from our little Tasmanian Devil, the youngest on the trip, to our self-identified "awkward" whom I've nicknamed Napoleona (from the movie "Napoleon Dynamite.")

I asked a couple of girls yesterday how they were feeling about leaving. One of them responded by saying, "I'm in a deep depression." That's about how I feel right now, on different levels. An exercise I've had the girls do several times after debriefing sessions is to answer two questions: What have you been doing well? and, How do you feel right now? Last night I told them that I was feeling privileged. I explained I felt honored to be sitting there in South Africa with them. As individuals and as a group, they have proven to be extraordinary.

The answers from most of the girls to my second question last week were,"I feel tired" and "I feel full." Last night, however, the responses were quite different. "Overwhelmed" was the prevailing feeling, and "I can't put it in words." One young lady, who later told me,"I never cry," was so choked up that she couldn't muster a sound during the session.

Discussions with friends, families, teachers and coaches in the days ahead will add to their experience. This is, in fact, only the beginning for them.

By Laura Sessions Stepp
Previous: A Confidence Shared, Two Lives Changed |

Comments

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I've been out of town since I read the story about your trip in the Post on 6/26. I just now read all the blog postings from beginning to end and I feel like I went with you on the trip! What a great experience for you, and for all the rest of us through what you wrote. Thanks for the great blogging. Can't wait to read the wrap-up next week.

Posted by: Laurie | July 13, 2007 05:08 PM

I am writing this note with tears in my eyes - moved by this story - the struggles of the South African girls and the candid remarks of the US girls - each moved me so much. Thank you for bringing this story to us and showing the power of caring. May you all be blessed for this experience.

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