On June 1st, I boarded a plane headed to Sao Paulo, Brazil at 9:30pm. The 9 hour 50 minute flight was miserable but little did I know I was embarking upon one of the greatest weeks of my life! Going into the trip I had never met any of my teammates, coaches, or other members of the trip, but I have made friendships with everyone that will last a lifetime.
The mission trip was put together by an organization called Sports Reach. Sports Reach is Christian sports program that reaches out to other countries, such as Brazil, using basketball and other sports. Our team consisted of two girls from Long Island University, two from Austin Peay State University, one from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, two from Brazil, and me. We were coached by Lisa Pace who is an assistant coach at Long Island University currently.
From Sao Paulo, we flew to Fortaleza which is in the state of Ceara in Brazil. Fortaleza is right on the coast, and we stayed just a few blocks from the beach! As soon as we landed in Fortaleza, we had about 20 minutes to get to the gym for our first game. Little did we know, Brazilians are not as punctual as Americans. Our game that was supposed to start at 9:00 didn't start until about 9:45. The tournament we played in consisted of four teams and was a celebration of the 40 years the arena we played in had been standing. It was so hot and humid there we all automatically started sweating as soon as we walked in. There was no difference between the outdoors and inside the arena. By the end of the 1st ten minute quarter, we looked like we had just jumped into a swimming pool. We lost our first game, but used it as a learning experience as their style of play was so different than what we are all used to. Also, our bodies didn't respond to the heat and humidity as well. We would later have a chance to replay them again!!
The next day we visited a teen recreation center in Fortaleza. The purpose of the facility was to give kids activities to do outside of school to help keep them out of trouble. We got to talk to the kids in a question and answer setting with a translator. Most everyone we came into contact with only knew Portuguese, but luckily we had a few bilingual people an apart of the trip. The kids were so happy to hang out with us, and were very interested in hearing about the US and how we got involved with basketball. We got an opportunity to incorporate each of our relationships with God and the importance of education to the kids. After that we played some games and took pictures with them. They thought we were real superstars! I got to hand out some UNC Asheville Frisbees, pencils, and silly bands, among other things. The kids especially appreciated that! They loved anything from the US.
For the next couple days we continued to play basketball games in the tournament, and won our next two games to earn a spot in the championship against the team that beat us the first night. We went on to win the championship! All the girls we played against were so friendly, and it was fun trying to use the few words we knew in Portuguese to communicate with them.
The next day we spent most of the afternoon at a local beach. We got to experience their culture a lot by making deals with the vendors that walked around and eating new foods. All I can say is that Brazilians love eating meat! One of our favorite drinks we had was called Guarana. It is one of their favorite sodas that tastes a lot like a fruity ginger ale. It was really good, and I brought back two liters needless to say!
That night we got to visit a small community in Fortaleza that was about an hour away. The people who live there have no air conditioning in their houses and many of them barely had doors. We played some games with some of the kids there, and once again, they were thrilled to see us. We walked through the neighborhood to get to their church for a Sunday night service that was outside. Most people were just sitting outside with their families. That night at church they had lawn chairs set up for seating and had one guy playing the guitar for a few songs. Two girls from our team along with me got to share our testimony at church that night. It was awesome! We really didn't want to leave them that night because we all got so attached quickly.
The last day we were there we got to go to a really nice beach that was over an hour away. While we were there we went on a dune buggy tour that was about two and a half hours long. We definitely had the best driver in our buggy! As part of the tour, we walked through these huge sand canyons. Right before we started walking through the canyon, a Cobra snake slithered by. That definitely kept us all on our toes for the remainder of the tour! The beaches there were absolutely beautiful. It seemed like we were on a tropical island! After the tour, we layed out on the beach for the rest of the day and soaked up our last evening in Brazil.
I made so many great friendships with everyone involved with the trip! It was an amazing opportunity for God to use me to reach out to the people of Brazil while playing basketball. I learned so much about their culture, and it opened my eyes to how the "rest of the world" lives, as this was my first time out of the country. It was great being able to represent UNC Asheville in a completely different country, and I definitely left my mark. I look forward to participating in many more trips like this one, and even going back to Brazil again someday!