Salaaaaam

Nearly two weeks ago, I touched down in South Africa for a 6-week field school (alternately known as a way to do some international research on my graduate institution’s dime). Most of the time thus far has been spent in a tour bus, seeing various parts of Cape Town and the surrounding Cape Flats. Today, however, was different. We pulled up at 7:30 am to a high school in a township notorious for its high incidence of gang violence, dropout, and teen pregnancy. We were there to speak with some students about their thoughts on the school, their community, and what might inspire their peers to stop showing up (which approximately 75% of them will do by the time they reach Grade 12). My final set of interviews was with two 13 year old girls, who happened to still be on campus because they had softball practice. For the next 30 minutes, they told me about their experience of growing up in the surrounding community and at the school. Their stories were heartbreaking, but more importantly, their attitudes were inspiring. They distinguished themselves from their surroundings, aspiring to graduate, enroll in university, and pursue careers (of bank teller/author and fashion designer, respectively). Throughout their narratives, they continuously returned to the roll that softball had in their day-to-day life. For them, it was way more than a sport, but a safe place, a collective of like-minded peers, and a way to be young and have fun, something that is not often acknowledged as a luxury.

Upon reflection, their stories correlated with that told by David Fine’s documentary debut Salaam Dunk. I must admit on the front end that the director was one of my college roommates, so perhaps I’m biased. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, if it comes to your city, you’ve got to see it. The film spotlights the women’s basketball team at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani and their American coach. While it could very well have documented the strife of growing up a young woman in northern Iraq during a time of national unrest, it instead focuses on the resilience of the young women. The surrounding context is exceptional, but in many ways, the girls’ experience on the team is similar to that of anyone who played (and truly loved) a sport at any time in his or her life. Of course, I blubbered (both with pride and at the story line) at multiple points. However, I walked away feeling great.

If you live in New York City, please go catch this film this weekend at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. It’s just so good. I flew to San Francisco for a showing in March, and it was just phenomenal (if you don’t believe me, ask friend of ALDland, Alice Wheat and various other unaffiliated sources, such as Variety, ESPN, etc.). And while you’re there, give Buddy David a big ole hug for me.

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