Getting gear to these hockey enthusiasts in Uganda is another challenge during the global pandemic, From left, here, are: Paul Mukhwana, Emmanuel Kisakye, Matthew Amon Ssekaana, Daniel Nabande and Joseph Kato.
Thomas Froese Photo

(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, January 23, 2021)

When I die, I want my obituary to read as follows: “Thomas Froese is dead. Mr. Froese’s biggest accomplishment was bringing hockey to Africa, where it’s now enjoyed by pretty well everyone.”

Today, here’s my progress report. In short, I can’t die any time soon. Not that this was the original plan for my life. The original plan was that I’d become wealthy in real estate. Very wealthy. Instead, I fell into (hah-hah) journalism.

In either case, let’s get some fresh air and let me tell you what’s up with this photo and these gentlemen and hockey in East Africa, a place I know. This, in fact, is the first January in 20 years that I’m in Canada. (More on this next time.)

Yes, if it wasn’t for the global you-know-what, I’d now be in Africa at my former Uganda university home teaching American literature, OK, and also getting a personal update on progress, if that’s the right word, on this dubious project.

My friend Matthew, who likes to be called Captain Amon, is the real hope and flame for this undertaking. The young man in the middle of the photo, he was previously noted in this column as someone who, when you’re visiting Uganda, will pound on your guest house door, wake you from a perfectly good sleep, and tell you his many and varied needs for both hockey and life.

Captain has already made the clear point to one Ugandan newspaper that, despite the ridiculous obstacles, he’ll get Uganda’s national team (there’s no team) to the (far away) 2021 International Ball Hockey Championships. He just needs Mister Thom to bring new sticks.

Now, in my sleep, here in wintery Canada, all I hear is “Hey, man, where are the hockey sticks? The sticks. The sticks! Mister Thom!” (More on the sticks in a minute.)

At far left, also previously introduced in this space, is Paul, a fine player who likes to head the hockey ball whenever opportunity presents. More so, you may recall Paul calls me in Canada to ensure certain Ugandan children have food, if not school fees. They’re pandemic issues not immediately congruent with hockey training.

And on the far right, in the FC Barcelona jersey, there’s Joseph, who not only has the blazingly-intense look of Rocket Richard, but the playing manners.

There are other photos elsewhere, of African children playing wherever Captain may find a half-smooth playing surface. And, when a world pandemic isn’t shutting it down, young men like these gentlemen might still gather to play at the above-noted university, where the original centre for hockey in Uganda was behind my former family home.

That project began with a pickaxe and wheelbarrow, and ended years later with Yours Truly learning to make asphalt. This, when Captain Amon was a young boy, is apparently when the seeds were sown for his vision to grow the game in hopelessly unexpected places.

But about the sticks. I’m sorry, Uganda, you have neither Canadian Tire nor Ugandan Tire, leaving Matthew to now try to make his own. (“I’ve told you, they need a wider heel.”) Like the entire continent, he’s left managing, somehow, his disappointment.

No, Africa, you’re not at the front of the pandemic vaccine line, not in this world. The 1.5 billion doses you need will take time — likely a couple years — just to gather. And time, as it does, will take lives. And livelihoods.

But about the sticks. There’s the cargo option. I mean, even if you’re not a hockey stick, cargo is now the way to fly, all those unused seats removed from our passenger jets. And I do have dozens of sticks here in my Canadian garage, collected (thank you Dick Price and London Ball Hockey Association) with other donated gear.

But the odds of said gear reaching intended destination without on-the-ground complications are about the same as a Ugandan vote reaching its intended purpose on election day. Yes, recently, Uganda’s Museveni government, after 35 years in power, was — surprise! — re-elected.

So, Captain, when I can, I’ll bring everything personally. In the meantime, you know. Even the Stanley Cup was shelved for a year during the last global pandemic. And in the 101 years since, I’m afraid we still haven’t found much control over these things.