Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Working on My Golfing Handicap at SUSI 2011

By Isaac Mutunga (Kenya)

My view of golf has been like Mark Twain's; a good walk spoilt by occasional golf shots. Other than that, in Kenya we view it as an elite game. Golf club membership fees and other incidentals like bending elbows at the 10th or 19th holes can bankrupt one.

This was the word on the street and I never tried to prove its authenticity. My reasoning was simple. Why waste good pasture or farming land with grass that no herds of cattle grazes on and tuffs of mini-forests with no wild animals to attract tourist?

My perception of the game took a 360 degrees turn on Sunday 10th July 2011 morning when I joined Dr. Yusuf Kalyango, the Director of IIJ, and two SUSI scholars, Dr. Vajaya Laksmini, from India and Dr. Olga Gresko from Ukrain for a game of Golf. For the three SUSI scholars it was our first time in a golf course.

The nearest I have ever come to playing golf was using a slasher back home in Kenya to trim the lawn. But it looked easy. Place the golf ball on a knoll (sorry a tee) and whack it hard. Good eye to hand coordination. This is what I thought. The other two had their own perceptions about the game.

Perceptions without practical experiences can be deceiving. Most of the information we have about other cultures and people is through 'words' on the street without any proof or personal experiences. Like my perception about golf.

I learnt that golf is not a good walk spoilt the hard way. It's not only use of imagination, shot making skills, unlearning previous practices and beliefs but also interpersonal communication skills. Getting personal and professional information without intruding.

To start the game one has to tee. Simply put placing the golf ball on raised platform (tee) and hitting it as near as possible to a hole on the ground marked by a flag. May be the flag is supposed to elicit discovery of new experiences. I am yet to ask Dr. Kalyango why a flag and may be not post with faces of the player.

I bit my lower lip and wielded my wedge (the one that looks like an angry cobra) like a Maasai 'rungu.' Another of my colleague gripped it like a hockey stick. All from our previous experiencves.

Dr. Kalyango took time to show us how to grip not wield the golf club.I struggled between adapting the standard way and retaining my maasai rungu swing.Change is good but old ways seems more comfortable.

I managed to unlearn the maasai rungu grip and adapted the correct way but hitting the golf ball was a different story. It looked easy when Dr. Kalyango hit the ball but my efforts turned the driving range into a garden.Instead of hitting the ball I hoed the ground. My two other colleagues were not faring any better.

This humbled me. I Learnt that before criticizing anybody I had to try to walk in their shoes. I am who I am because of my past experiences, socialization and culture. I have to accept to unlearn somethings in order to learn new and efficient ways.

Lesson number two from Dr. Kalyango. Keep your eyes on the ball and not where it is going. With eyes on the ball I hit it into a beautiful lop and I was elated. At least I managed to put the ball on the air.

To me this was a metaphor of life in general. Life is like a game of golf, Our challnges are the golf balls we want to hit. We must keep our eyes on the challenges and not look at where we will be if we overcome the challenges. One has to hit the ball before it flies where he/she wants. Keep eyes on the ball.

I am not hoping to compete in Masters any time soon but I experienced something that I have never thought of in my life.

I found the discussions in the golf course spontaneous which allowed for diversity of topics about our own countries punctuated by pauses to allow for golf shots and ruminate on the discussion threads. It made us know more about each other than it would have been possible in other circumstances.

As I left the half hoed golf course and the driving range courtesy of the different golf clubs I wielded, I found a parallel between a game of golf with international collaboration and scholarship.

It is not a competition. We all know our handicap and are working hard to improve on it. Colleagues advice us on how to improve our handicap, not because they are better than us but because that is not their handicap.

I now know my handicap not only in the golf course but also academically. I am working hard to improve on it and with the SUSI program I am sure I will improve it. I am joining Dr. Kalyango for another round of game not because I want to finish hoeing the driving range with my wedge but to learn and unlearn my past experiences, beliefs and practices that are causing my handicap

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