COLUMBIA — The Kibera slum region of Nairobi, Kenya, and the Columbia region of Missouri are about as opposite as two places can get.
In Columbia, $1,500 is what it takes to play a season of lacrosse for the University of Missouri club team, without including equipment costs. In Kenya, $1,500 goes a long way toward a year’s supply of food and shelter.
In Columbia, national news is made when a university’s club lacrosse team fires its coach, who happened to be gay. In Kenya, national news is made when post-election violence erupts to the point of near civil war
In Kenya, one can dine on a steady diet of ugali (a maize product), Tusker beer, and the occasional goat’s blood. In Columbia, there is an endless supply of food and beverage options available.
For one Columbia resident, consider the lessons learned.
MU junior and club lacrosse player John Roman took the season and semester off last year to spend five months in Kenya. For the first few months he lived with an aid organization, but later spent time with friends of his family who maintain a home in Kenya. His work included teaching and playing with kids living in rural Kenya and in the slums of Nairobi, many of whom had no parents and were living with AIDS.
For the lanky, pale-skinned Roman, a semester in Kenya was a life-changing look at how the need for the most basic resources can cause a world of struggle.
“We are fortunate to live in a society where all you have to do is work hard,” Roman said, “and you can move up and make as much money as you need in life.”
Roman had a variety of reasons for giving up school and lacrosse for a five-month period, but the main reason was overseas experience. The military is his likely destination after college and he also wants to work for an international aid organization somewhere down the line. He considered this the first-step in his worldly travels.
Not everything went swimmingly while in Kenya. Roman had to deal with underpaid cops and an expiring visa. The cops would stop to give him an ‘on-the-spot’ fine, and, to avoid complications, money talked. Homesickness and the lack of communication with family and friends in America also bothered him.
“The one thing I missed most about being in Kenya was not being with my lacrosse boys,” Roman said, “but if I had to choose between a season of lacrosse and service in Africa, I would choose Africa every time.”
The Kenyans Roman stayed with had never heard of lacrosse. Playing soccer and running helped keep him in shape, but Roman was unable to play any lacrosse for the duration of his stay.
This season, Roman is trying to get back into lacrosse shape and sharpen the skills that dwindled away while in Kenya. The lacrosse season has begun again this semester and will continue through May, with Roman back on the team.
Roman rarely communicates with the Kenyans he taught and spent time with because they do not have phones and their letters are illegible. However, he plans on going back as soon as he is done with school.