I'm writing from Zanzibar, an island on the East Coast of Africa, sitting on top of a rooftop bar overlooking the ocean. I can't see much because it's almost 10 o’clock at night, but the waves can be heard crashing into the sand bank below us. Elliot and I arrived in Zanzibar yesterday afternoon by boat and today spent the afternoon on Nungwi beach, the most northern point of the island. The colour of the water was beautiful; some sun would have been perfect but I'm not complaining.
I have spent a week in Dar Es Salaam, and the experience has made me feel more grounded. Learning more about the language has helped me connect with the local people. Here is a couple of things I have been able to pick up:
- Mambo: a greeting and asking how you are.
- Poa: the answer to mambo and means it's sweet or it's all good bro.
- Asante: thank you or asante sana: thank you very much.
- Karibu: welcome or you're welcome.
In Dar Es Salaam, the only thing worse than the ditches and potholes in the road is the traffic, which we have become well acquainted with. The people are very patient here and a common phrase is "pole pole", meaning both sorry, sorry, and slowly, slowly. Everywhere we visited, the people were extremely friendly and welcoming. The photo below was with Elliot on the rooftop of our accommodation after shooting the sunset over a slum for our documentary.
Diffabled is a word I heard over here, which I'm adopting. It means differently abled, I love it!
The three days following our arrival we visited three different schools, the first two were government schools with a mix of students aged 13 to 16, some had diffabilities and many without. Kids can attend government schools for free with an option to board, not every student boards but all the diffabled kids board because getting to and from school is very challenging as most live quite far away. The third school had students under 13, all diffabled and all boarding; I've never seen a happier group of kids, picture is below.
Many diffabled kids don't have the opportunity to go to school because transport is too challenging and there's no support network. The kids we visited are the lucky ones who live within range of the biggest city in Tanzania, Dar Es Salaam, and have access to education. Another reason kids don't go to school is because there are still superstitions in many parts of Africa. They believe that it's a curse on the whole family if you have a child with a diffability. Some families hide their children and never send them to school or let them out of the house. This is why changing the perspective and educating the general public about "disabled" people is so important because some people think that you can't do anything if you can't walk "normally".
It's time for a change, a new age: The Age Of Ability has begun.
Every day after visiting schools we went to the Gymkhana club which houses the tennis courts where the wheelchair tennis team trains. It's a great facility with many courts and the wheelchair tennis team gets free access when courts are available. On the first day when I turned up, a couple of the players were training and a couple were watching. There were many courts available so I asked them why the others weren't training - the answer I received opened my eyes to the reality of the players lives.
The answer was: They only had 2 good tennis chairs and their number 2 player broke his racket the week earlier and didn't have another one. So not only were they sharing wheelchairs but also sharing rackets. If you have ever watched a match at the Australian Open, you may have seen how many pros open up their bags and have anywhere from seven to 12 rackets. When I travel to compete I generally have three or four, for these guys to be sharing rackets - let's just say it was a big wake up call. They had a local competition the next day so I decided to surprise the Tanzanian number 1 and 2, Novatus Temba (left) and Juma Hamis (right). I gave them two rackets each, they were the ones I had been using for the last year. I believe in these guys and they deserve every opportunity that they can get.
On Saturday the Kenyan team came to town for a local competition, below is a picture of me and the Kenyans. They're a rowdy bunch, with a zest for life and they can't go five minutes without cracking a joke, except for when they're playing. Tanzanian Novatus Temba (picture above on the left) won the competition and everyone celebrated it.
After the competition, I spoke to all the players, spectators and organisers of the tournament. I shared my vision of spreading the sport that saved my life and finding a way to support the continual development and growth of wheelchair tennis in Africa. I see this as part of my mission in life and I'm very excited to pursue this path.
I have been so lucky in my life, I have received so much support and now I've found a way to give back. Below is a picture of me handing out equipment, rackets, clothes, strings, grips, hats and the list goes on. It felt amazing to give out the equipment that I had been collecting for years and it was also a huge release.
There's so much to tell but I don't want to make this email ridiculously long, so I'll end with a story from yesterday.
I was in the car driving back to Stone Town from Nungwi beach, as I looked out the window I was reminded of the poverty at every turn. Racking my brains thinking to myself what's the answer, how can I or how can we, solve this problem? How can we make a big difference to the people here that fight so hard for so little yet stay so positive through life? In one moment after going around in circles in my mind for an hour, we were driving slowly and I noticed a small group of school girls. They wouldn’t have been older than nine years old. I imagined their families and where they lived, what hardships had they endured? A second later, one of the girls looked right into my eyes, it was an instant connection, she broke out into the biggest smile that exuded radiant joy. It instantly changed how I was feeling, I felt inspired and at peace.
This isn't the little girl I was talking about but she had the same effect, this one stole my heart and I don't know if I'll ever get it back.
I don't have any answers, I don't know how I can best support these people but I think that by staying true to myself, living with an open heart and smiling with joy and love like that little girl did for me, I think this world will continue to unfold in a beautiful way and I'm completely loving this journey of inspiring and being inspired.
Peace and love,
Growing up in St. Ives on Sydney’s north, Adam Kellerman was a rowdy young boy with perfect health who loved tennis, swimming, running, skiing, ice hockey and soccer. After experiencing pain in his leg, it was discovered that he was affected by a form of bone cancer in his right hip called Ewings Sarcoma. Adam went through a series of chemo-therapy treatments as well as major surgery, he contracted an infection following the major surgery which needed another 19 unplanned surgeries as well as 2 years of IV antibiotics. He also fought off a serious case of depression over the whole time period. When Adam was introduced to wheelchair tennis in December 2006, he discovered a slice of happiness and found a space in which he could kickstart his life again. Adam competed in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio and his dream is to become World #1 for wheelchair tennis. Adam also delivers inspiring motivational talks on various topics derives from his life experience. Adam is sponsored by Goodman, EG Funds Management, Superfeast, Eclipse Organics and Head International. http://adamkellerman.com/