Hats off to Matthew Bach-Lombardo, footballeur extraordinaire, serious and accomplished student, world traveler, and all around great kid. While this blog is largely devoted to my work as a Fulbright Scholar this year, I couldn’t do it day in and day out without Matthew’s support. It was his permission I sought before applying over a year ago, knowing that it would throw a serious curveball at his freshman year of high school – and that while I enjoy juggling all my different roles in life, job #1 is being his (and Jordan’s) mom.
The transition to life in a big city and the high heat and humidity of the tropics was hard on all of us, but Matthew has come through it with aplomb. He received a stellar first trimester report card last week, after doing more homework in the last 2 months than he did most of last year. (Check out this edition of the school newsletter, The Jaguar Journal, where Matthew appears in a first-page picture and in the fourth-page honor roll list.) Our parent-teacher conference – with all of his teachers – was filled with comments like “he’s fit in so easily,” “he’s a great kid to have in class,” and my favorite, “I love seeing his smile every day.”
Matthew has told us since arriving how much he likes the academic challenge of this year, and we’re proud of how he’s risen to it. Same too with sports. Matthew just made ISD’s varsity basketball team, and has worked it out to juggle this commitment with his soccer academy. The latter is with mostly Senegalese players who are older and bigger than he is, so he’s working hard to keep up. And, of course, I’m delighted that he’s playing soccer in French, the common language between him and his coaches and most of his teammates. A few weeks ago, he helped ISD’s middle school team (because he’s young for high school, he made the age cut-off) win the league championship, moving the ball around and logging several assists, as well as a few stunning goals. Oh, and did I mention that he’s going local? It’s one thing to hang out at ISD with other privileged kids, albeit ones from all over the world. (Matthew’s principal calls his class a mini-U.N.) Last weekend in St. Louis, he mixed it up with some local kids on a sandlot soccer field, getting past those memories from Rwanda of being the blonde-haired, blue-eyed 7 year-old muzungo that everyone wanted to touch. Talk about being self-conscious!
The next day, he sat in a village on a mat under an awning, after a day of birding in a national park, surrounded by the guide’s family, admiring his soccer trophy, and enjoying the long process (at least an hour) of making and drinking ataayi and then joining the communal family meal. He’s now hot to learn this tea-making hand-eye extravaganza. When I wrote an essay to persuade the Fulbright Commission to send me to Senegal, I told them that picking me meant getting three for the price of one (ok, not literally, given the family stipend supplement). Almost three months in, Matthew’s citizen diplomacy is hitting its stride and leaving just as much an impression as mine and Brian’s. Watch out, world.