The next day the matches were posted: First round, boys 12 and under,
v Mali . Perfect, as I watch my guy maybe that kid will be watching his older brother play and I can ask him a few questions. The two kids from Mauritania playing in the 12 and unders were a couple of the smallest kids in the draw; that is until I was wrong about the kid from Mali being someone’s little brother. Mauritania
Ok, where are we going with this?
Fast forward to the end of the tournament. The director of the ITF (International Tennis Federation) for
West Africa was handing out a few teaching materials to all of the coaches and I stepped into his room to say goodbye as the coach from was coming in. Mauritania
Our paths were about to cross and we started that uncomfortable ‘who’s going which way’ dance, only I realize that he’s trying to get in my way. The Mauritanian coach is about a foot shorter than me and was extremely soft spoken and modest throughout the tournament so this human roadblock move was very unexpected. He tells me in French that he wants Peace Corps to send a tennis coach to
. I try to tell him that the Peace Corps has recently suspended their program in Mauritania due to some security concerns (in broken French). I tell him that I will talk to my office in Mauritania and let them know of his request. Bamako
I step aside as he makes his way to the ITF director and before I take my first step to the door this tiny man grabs me firmly just above my elbow and pulls me towards the director seated across the room. The roadblock move was a shock, the grab and pull is like an out of body experience. He demands that the director translate to make sure that I understand. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t understand him rather I welcomed our language barrier because my French isn’t good enough to explain how unlikely it is that if/when the Peace Corps reopens their program in
that they’ll have another tennis coach ready to go. Mauritania
The Moroccan ITF director kindly explained that I understood and that I’ll do whatever I can. I smiled awkwardly, as I often do in uncomfortable situations, but there was something troublesome with how the interaction concluded. The coach had a look on his face like that of a child who has received one too many empty promises. He knows not to get his hopes up. He has a player with all the potential in the world and he knows that without some outside help this kid will only go so far. There’s nothing else I can do. I walk away.