by Marie Horgan

Friday, July 1st & Saturday, July 2nd

I left Ireland at 7:30pm on Friday night and arrived in Lilongwe City at 3:30pm on Saturday. Lilongwe is the capital of Malawi, primarily because of it population and not the size of the “City”. I say “City” because it is not like a city as you or I would know one to be! There is no High Street, there are no shopping streets. Lilongwe is a “City” that is spread out, with multiple suburbs containing a petrol station, bank, supermarket and restaurants in each.

Anyway, back to my initial arrival. I was greeted at Lilongwe airport by Hellen Chabunya who is Chairperson of Central Zone Basketball Malawi. I was taken to where I would stay for the duration of my visit, Area 12 Plot 246. Now if any of you have seen the movie “District 9” that was the image that instantly came to mind when I heard of my address!! If you have not seen it then you should, great movie ?

At the house I met a couple of Irish ex-pats, Seona from Mayo and Pat from Carlow. Bags were dropped and I was brought for lunch to a very nice Indian restaurant where we all got to know a little about each other. I couldn’t stay for long as the basketball games were starting in the ABC (African Bible College) Gym within the hour. This gym is the only indoor basketball court in the country! It is privately owned and has a lot of restrictions with its use.

There were two games scheduled, first up Ladies and then the Mens. The gym was full of spectators and there was a guy on the PA getting the crowd chanting and making noise for their respective teams.

As I sat down, away from the crowd and pulling out my iPad to record, the whole gym fell silent and the guy on the PA shouted, “if you’re from Ireland make some noise, if you’re from Ireland make some noise”. Suddenly, realising that he was referring to me, I dutifully stood up, made a few dance moves to the music and shouted!!! The entire gym applauded to welcome me and not for my sick dance moves!!

The referees on the night had some experience so only needed a little help with their mechanics. They were very interested and loved watching themselves on my iPad. At this stage I hadn’t slept since Thursday night so I was looking forward to my bed. Taxi back to Area 12 Plot 246 to find an there was no water and no electricity so I made my way to bed but had a very restless night.

Sunday, July 3rd

Come morning still no services working so all the ex-pats got together and a woman by the name of Columba, who is a fellow Kerry woman, heard of my plight made arrangements for me to go to hers for the remainder of my stay (as Seona and Pat were heading away for the week). A couple of hours later I arrive at the gated community near the Irish Ambassadors home, guards saluting me on my arrival and referring to as Ma’am!!

Columba’s house is amazing. And, for a person that’s not involved in basketball and only heard I was from Kerry, to offer her house to me for the next two weeks, even though she will be heading to Castlegregory in Kerry next Saturday, now that is an amazing act of kindness.

Got a call Sunday morning to say that I have being given a personal invitation from the Irish Ambassador of Malawi to attend her residence at 1pm for lunch. Columba is a personal friend of hers so we both went. There I met Áine Hearns, the Ambassador, and her husband Pat from Kildare. Every Sunday the Ambassador cooks an Irish roast dinner and invites her Irish friends around, today we had Irish smoked salmon starter, roast beef as main and choice of several homemade desserts, I went for the banoffi pie, my favourite. As the tournament games were starting at 3pm I couldn’t stay for long so rushed off after the lovely meal.

Arrived at CIVO Stadium, which is the main soccer stadium in Malawi. Hidden at the back of the stadium, down a very rough earth road, is a cool outdoor court. Again, I was spotted by the guy on the PA and with Irish music blasting from the amps I was duly greeted!! I guess it is very easy to spot the only white skinned redhead ?

There were four games today, one Ladies and three Mens games. Again, the place was absolutely full, huge crowds, great atmosphere, a real sense of a friendly, happy and welcoming community.

The standard of Basketball would be aligned with Division One National League at home. At the end of the second game, approx. 5:20pm, darkness fell and I mean total darkness, so on came the spotlights and the remainder of the two games were played. There are only spotlights on one side of the court but they’re obviously very used to playing in these conditions and took no notice whatsoever.

There were locals selling beer, oranges and snacks throughout the day, and after each game there were dancers entertaining the spectators. One thing the Malawians do very well they entertain the spectators and each and everyone of them stayed for the full duration of all the games which is something I never see at home. Basketball supporters here support all teams, they watch all the games, they stay till the bitter end.

9:33pm the final whistle was blown and everyone walked or cycled home, thankfully there was a referee from Texas officiating today so I got driven to the gate where the guard once again he opened the gate and saluted me as I drove passed.

"Recruiting, Developing & Retaining referees for current and future basketball needs in Ireland"

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