When I was checking my bag at JfK in New York, I was showing my passport to the person working for Air France, and he noticed my visa for Chad. I’m not 100% sure, but when he noticed the visa and the area where it said “humanitarian” his eyes seemed to light up and he smiled when he handed back my passport. That was the first moment of my trip that it dawned on me that we were doing something real big. The only time I used the word humanitarian was when I was teaching about people helping out and spreading awareness about the genocide in Darfur. I guess now I’m considered one of them.

24 hours worth of airports and flights and we made it to Chad’s capital, N’ Djamena. Thoughts running through my mind?

Excited. I’ve been teaching about the people of Darfur for three years now, and never did I think I would make it out here to help make a difference. My platform? Soccer. Soccer has always been the stage where I’ve created and experienced some of life’s greatest moments. Being out here and after speaking with Gabriel, it’s the least we can do considering the many difficulties faced by the people of Darfur. But to be able to be a part of the coaching staff who selects Darfur United and in essence gives the team a chance to experience life outside the outskirts of the Sahara Desert, is something I will never forget. One of my only hopes is that I can make as much of an impact on someone during this trip that they will have on me.

Grateful. I found out about this project less than a month ago. There were many strings that needed to be pulled to allow me to get out here and play my part. I am forever thankful to Gabriel for taking me on as part of the team on such short notice, and for all the work he and his organization do for the refugees in Eastern Chad. To be able to converse with someone so educated on the subject is different than being back home. I’m usually the one filling someone else in on what has happened over here. In every sense of the saying, so far this has been a breath a fresh air, besides the fact that it’s about 100 degrees and hazy.

Lucky. Aside from my thoughts and the conditions here in the capital, I am in good company. I think anyone who has traveled has made a trip with people that just make it “tough”. I consider myself lucky to be traveling with such a great team. Gabriel, James, our media journalist, and Mark, the head coach, are a great group to be traveling with, and I look forward to getting to know them further. Mark and I have had some conversation about soccer, and we’ll be able to work together just fine once we hit the field, or “pitch” as he would call it.

We fly out to Eastern Chad early tomorrow morning. For how different things are in N’ Djemena, I still don’t feel like I’m “there” yet. Once we get to the camp, we’ll be “there”, and I cannot wait.

Brian Cleveland
Darfur United Assistant Coach