On July 3, 2018, Rohobot Debele arrived at Jomo Kenyata International Airport, in Nairobi, Kenya. It was his first time on an airplane, as well as his first experience traveling to another country, from his native Ethiopia – a neighbour of Kenya to the north. It also marks, as far as available recorded history can show, the first time an Ethiopian has travelled abroad for the purposes of baseball. In other words, Rohobot made history.
We spent a couple nights in a local apartment, via AirBnB*, allowing Rohobot a chance to experience life in Nairobi like a local for a few days. We visited a local shopping mall, bought groceries at the nearby supermarket, and spent a day exploring the Nairobi National Museum and Snake Park – a popular destination for school field trips, which were abundant on the day of our visit.
The museum was a great opportunity for Rohobot to learn more about Kenya, Africa as a whole, and various aspects of general human history and evolution. Visitors follow the path of early humans, from the cradle of humanity that spans this region of the world, along with detailed dioramas of the vast biodiversity of flora and fauna found in Kenya, before experiencing a vivid account of the Kenyan struggle for independence and observing markers of Kenyan culture and traditions, both past and present.
Of course, the Snake Garden sort of speaks for itself…
The next day, we met Jim and Cheryl upon their arrival at the airport and it was off to Acacia Camp, a 20,000 acre swath of wild savanna grasslands where Jim has made base for several years during baseball training visits. We sorted through 300 pounds of baseball equipment, donated by Pitch in for Baseball and transported by Jim and Cheryl, setting aside one full kit for Ethiopia and the rest for distribution among the Baseball 4 Africa network in Kenya.
Afterward, we went out to the plain to take in a sunset where we were greeted by a family of giraffes. It was Rohobot’s first encounter with wildlife in Kenya, and first time ever seeing giraffes. It would not be the last of either!
The following morning, it was finally time for baseball. We paid a visit to a community team in southern Kenya, in the shadows of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is generally supported by the Gear for Goals organization. We spent a few hours with the boys, teaching a few new skills and drills. Rohobot helped lead the “pickle” drill, which has long been a favorite of the guys in Ethiopia.
A mix of wildlife and baseball would ensue throughout the week. Rohobot was able to interact with five different clubs in total, and network with a number of administrators, planting seeds of Ethiopian/Kenyan friendship all along.
We also were able to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where Rohobot had up-close encounters with orphaned baby elephants, as well as tour Nairobi National Park in a safari vehicle. We were lucky enough to spot both black and white rhinos, and even more lucky to have an up-close encounter with three lionesses and their five cubs.
Regarding the wildlife, Ro was treated to the wealth of knowledge offered by Jim, one of the world’s preeminent wildlife biologists and safari guides, and impromptu lessons from Cheryl on the wide variety of creatures we encountered. With each learning moment, Ro slowly began to realize what a special and unique opportunity this truly was. His appreciation of Jim and Cheryl’s experience, and especially their eagerness to share all that they know, became ever more palpable with each passing day of the journey.
Rohobot’s Kenya experience reached its crescendo at the 13th annual Baseball 4 Africa Tournament Showcase, held at the Lenana School in Nairobi, on 14 July. Thanks to Jim’s invaluable mentoring throughout the week, Rohobot was well-equipped to umpire a number of the junior games at the tournament. He also took in, to his amazement, some of the action at the 18+ field, where many of the players have competing for 10 years or more. Of course, he interacted with many of the new friends he made throughout the week, and even met the President of the Baseball Federation of Kenya, exchanging information for future cooperation in the interest of advancing the development of baseball in Ethiopia.
The day came to a close with Rohobot presenting Jim and Cheryl with scarfs bearing the colors and emblem of Oromia, his native region within Ethiopia. Ro also presented a scarf to the Elburgon team, as a symbol of friendship and a token of appreciation for their dedicated approach to baseball that resulted in their dramatic victory in the 14U division. Finally, Ro offered a bracelet and necklace bearing different Ethiopian crosses to George Kinuthia, president of Baseball 4 Africa, as a symbol of peace and friendship in baseball unity.
The safari vehicle carrying Jim and Cheryl disappeared into the night, Cheryl waving her Oromia scarf out the window all the way. Ro and I watched the tail-lights disappear, each fighting back tears. I put my hand over his shoulder.
“This is what it’s all about,” I whispered. “These are some really great people. I’m so happy you were able to come here and meet them – to see all this.”
Rohobot’s trip to Kenya was made possible by the generosity of so many people. To all of you who contributed, we offer our sincerest thanks.
Ro’s time in Kenya helped establish a blueprint for the kind of experience we hope to offer to more baseball students like him in the future – those who would otherwise not have the means to travel and be afforded these kinds of experiences.
If you would like to make a contribution, please visit www.gofundme.com/worldbaseballproject or send it directly, via PayPal, to firstname.lastname@example.org (which will help us avoid the 8.2% fee levied by Go Fund Me).
*If you do not already use AirBnB, sign up through our link - you'll get a booking credit and so will we!
*We also used Booking.com to book an apartment near the airport, at the end of our trip. If you book a stay through our Booking.com link, you will receive a discount, and we'll get a little kick-back.