Dami Awojobi

Oluwadamilola Awojobi — Dami for short — is a rising senior at Howard University in Washington, D.C We asked Howard coach Shaun Kupferburg if one of his players would chronicle their team’s trip May 16-27 to Botswana and Zimbabwe. Luckily for us, Dami, a 6-foot-1 pin hitter from Hempstead, New York, took it on:




My team and I were blessed with an incredible opportunity to be part of an 11-day trip to the continent of Africa! We went to Botswana as sports diplomats, coaching volleyball clinics and playing in an international tournament. We also met with members of the U.S. Embassy, went on four safaris, and visited Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe! I’m honored to be able to share the details of our recent adventure.

After a year of, planning, uncertainty, fundraising, and more planning, our trip finally became a reality. 

What does one take to Africa? Well, bug spray for sure. 

On Thursday morning, May 16, we made our way to Dulles International Airport to embark on a journey we’d never forget. The plane ride was, well, let’s just say long. Really long. Did I mention long? After 20 hours of movies, crying children, sleeping, a sunset, and a sunrise, we landed in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. 

As we walked down the plane’s stairs, the air was hot, and the sun was beaming. I even caught some heat waves on camera. Inside, after getting a Botswana stamp in our passports, we were welcomed with a surprise greeting from the Botswana senior national volleyball team. The whole interaction was being filmed on TV. Cameras caught the many hugs and smiles that filled the area. Excited squeals could be heard throughout the entire airport. Before heading out, we took a group photo in front of their symbolic ivory sculpture of a life-sized elephant. That’s when it hit me, I was going to see actual elephants in the wild!

Outside of Sir Seretse Khama International airport, there was a blue and white bus, resembling Botswana’s flag colors, already waiting for us. As we loaded our bags into trailers, we heard the loud roar of four motorcycles. On them were men in blue attire and sunglasses. We would be escorted by the police to our first hotel of the trip. On our way, with motorcycles in front and behind us, we caught our first glimpse of the city. As we weaved through traffic, our bus got wonderous stares from men driving in cars to women walking with children on their back, trying to figure out who these police were escorting. 

Were we celebrities? 


Hardly, because once we got to the hotel and settled it was a quick turnaround, because we had to go to practice.

We arrived at an outdoor venue which had restaurants and shopping areas around the court. Walking off the bus, it smelled of smoke from a fire burning, we saw men playing soccer across the parking lot, and a huge see-through wire sculpture of a bird near the court. Before seeing the court, we heard the balls bouncing and loud talk from around the corner. Then we walked onto the turquoise and red court lit by bright red and white strobe lights shining onto it. An outdoor court is lot different than what we’re used to. Luckily, we only played during the evening, so we enjoyed the warm breeze while we played. This would be the same court we’d play our tournament on for the next three days. The Botswana team practiced with us too. After warming up separately, for the rest of the practice we mixed in together and played a variation of queen of the court. It was a friendly and competitive environment. We could tell how excited they were to be playing with us through their genuine smiles and laughter, and we were excited too.

The next day would be the start of our first international volleyball tournament! 

Three matches in three nights

We played at 6 o’clock every evening, and each night brought more excitement than the last. The outdoor court was beautiful at night. We almost always caught the sunset, when the scarlet glow of the sky would shine through the large wire bird. I think I might prefer outdoor courts now. Every time we walked into the venue heads turned, people couldn’t help but look with amazement, and, boy, were there a lot of people. The stands were full but there were only so many. Whoever wasn’t sitting made sure they had a spot standing. We gained supporters just from doing hitting lines during warmups. After every swing a loud roar erupted from the crowd; you would have thought the game started. 

In no time they knew us by name, screaming them from the stands. The real HU was representing! We played the Green Buffaloes from Zambia and won all three sets.

It was set up to be a friendly tournament, so at the end, we mingled with the other team and took lots of pictures. People from the stands crowded the court and everyone wanted a picture with us. It was like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. Usually after a “friendly match” we shake hands and go about our day, but here we were showered with love from little kids, to people our ages, to adults, it was so heartwarming. This was consistent throughout the three days of the tournament.

The second night we played Lepreng Olymafrica, from a country within South Africa named Lesotho. A small country with a volleyball team with a big heart. The team and I watched them play before our game the previous day. We loved watching them celebrate after they scored points. They would make a loud stomp after sprinting to the end line with excitement, and all jumping in unison shouting “BOOM” as their braids flipped from one side to the other.  My team couldn’t help but smile as we sat together watching them. In fact, I wanted to join in too. They even had us trying some new cheers during our games. It was fun playing them because they were scrappy and played with a lot of energy. But we won all three sets again.

Outdoor volleyball at night

The final day of the tournament was against the Botswana senior national team. This was what everyone was waiting for. From the first day we met there was friendly banter about who was going to win. Word of mouth brought lots more people to this match than the others. The environment felt a lot more intense and was the most fun. We were playing hard, while laughing and joking with the crowd. We won in three again and after we did item swaps. We exchanged our warmups, t-shirts, and jackets for some Botswana volleyball gear that mirrored the colors of their flag. It felt good representing a foreign country.

We had a farewell dinner with the Botswana team and the Botswana Volleyball Federation. Here I was introduced to malva pudding which tasted like delicious, sweet pound cake. I know at some point I’ll be craving it again. As we ate, we really got get to know the ladies of the team there. It took a bit to warm up to each other but eventually the conversations flowed naturally. There was a lot of curiosity on both teams which made the conversations fruitful. They had questions about our culture, and we had just as many about theirs. Looking around the table, I saw people leaned in engaged in deep conversation, eyes widened, and jaws unhinged after hearing how affordable it is to get your hair braided, unlike the U.S. I enjoyed dissecting the beauty of their language, Setswana, and African names with one of the girls as well. At the end of the dinner, we received some beautiful bright blue jackets with blends of yellow, red, and turquoise stitched with “Botswana” on the back. A sweet gift from the Botswana Volleyball Federation. Nice!

Amari Patterson, Sydnei Jones, Amanda Ifeanyichukwu at one of the clinics

Conducting volleyball clinics 

The volleyball clinics impacted everyone who participated. It was undeniable in everyone’s eyes that spirits were full of joy. The team and I coached four volleyball clinics at four  different schools throughout the country, working with kids ages 4-19.

The first clinic was at Bakamoso Junior Secondary School near our hotel. Here we coached 13-to-16-year olds, who had never played volleyball before. 

We had the honor of introducing our sport to the kids, and they got the honor of being taught by the best, Howard volleyball. We showed up, in the morning around 8:30 where the sun was already hard at work. It was hot, really hot! We were greeted with shy smiles; they would barely look at us but that all flipped by the end. We got a quick tour of their school before starting. The coolest part to me was their big green field of agriculture. We watched as children tilted watering cans, tending to their big leafy spinach and onion plants, placed so neatly in the ground. That’s a class I wish I could have taken in school. 

The school grounds were made of sand, so for the clinic we gathered in the biggest open area we could find and taught them all the basics of volleyball. Passing, setting, hitting, and serving. Extreme focus was plastered across their all faces. They were attentive, hanging on to every word, patient, and caught on quickly too. By the end of the clinic, they loved us! Everywhere you turned someone was taking a selfie or making a TikTok!

Kaitlynn Robinson at a clinic

I’m confident I don’t stand alone when I say the second clinic was my favorite. This one was at Tshiamo Primary School. The national team joined us and there were a thousand kids there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many children in one place in my life. They were ages 4 through 13 and absolutely adorable. It was outdoors in this huge open sandy field. When we got off the buses, they were all sitting in chairs escaping the heat under some trees waving at us. Cuteness overload. Their happiness and excitement radiated off them so much it was contagious. Some of my teammates were even brought to tears. We walked up with high fives for everybody, well maybe not everybody. Did I mention there were a thousand kids? I’ve never been surrounded by so many happy kids or given so many hugs, but I was so happy to. I was smiling so much I felt goofy. 

Claire Simpson signing autographs

Somehow our coaches ended up splitting some of the kids into groups. My teammates Leah Reeves and Maddie Siegel and I had a group of about 12 to 15 kids. We put them through simple passing and setting drills, then played a passing game in a big circle. If the ball went too far behind us, the rest of the kids behind us would wrestle to get the ball and bring it back to one of us. It was clear this clinic was more about interaction. They were so playful. When it was time for us to leave the kids surrounded us with large group hugs. I mean they almost took me down. They asked for our autographs in their notebooks, and eventually a trend started where they’d ask for money and our jewelry. They had us feeling like celebrities. I gave one of the little girls my necklace when she asked, but I learned later that it can lead to resentment when one person gets something and everyone else doesn’t. That was one of many lessons I learned on this trip. As we drove off in our buses the kids didn’t want us to go. They kept up with our buses running and waving and smiling and yelling until their legs couldn’t keep up anymore. Amazing!

The third clinic was at CSE Secondary School. There was a cool breeze outside that morning. We finally caught a break from the hot sun. When we arrived, the students were already warming up. They circled round the five courts moving and counting in unison, it looked like a dance routine. These students were more experienced and closer to our age (16-19). The court I was on taught blocking movements. Each group of students that rotated onto our court gave their all. Their hard work was evident from the sweat gleaming on their faces. They meant business. At the end of the clinic my teammates and I came out of temporary retirement to scrimmage with the students (it had only been two days since our last game)!

Teaching the game

The last clinic was in Kasane, Botswana at Plateau Primary School. This was my second favorite clinic. We got to the school and the kids were in matching light blue track suits ready to play some volleyball. They already had experience playing and they made sure we knew it. When we showed them how to hold their platform, they were like “thanks but we got this.” OK then!

After a few passing and hitting drills, we ended up playing more games which really lit up the faces of the kids. We played freeze tag, hot potato, and the “head, shoulders, ball” partner game. Volleyball people know what I’m talking about.

At the end of this clinic the teachers and principal of the school voiced their gratitude for us being there and the impact it had. I got the opportunity commemorate our experience in a journal that holds the memories of impactful moments at the school. What an honor!

The Bison wiith the Botswana national team

A special U.S. Embassy morning

One morning during our trip we had the opportunity to be hosted at the home of the ambassador of the U.S. Embassy of Botswana’s home. It was a big beautiful white house. The backyard was nicely set up with wooden benches, a pool, and beautiful blooming flowers. They sat us as a large wooden table, where we indulged in fluffy croissants, teas, coffee, sweet fruits, and other finger foods. We were joined by the Botswana senior national team and the volleyball federation as well. We mingled and laughed with the national team, learning more about their culture, and a few members of the embassy spoke on the importance of our trip and the impact it would leave. It was also a great opportunity to network with the members of the U.S. embassy in Botswana and we did exactly that. A few of my teammates and I had a long insightful conversation with a chief of mission and a regional security officer. We got cool stories about the dangers, struggles, and benefits of their job. We gained interest in career paths we didn’t know existed or it could be an option.

Enjoying non-volleyball time, too

Throughout the trip, when we weren’t traveling from city to city, we usually had some downtime before matches, meals, clinics or safaris. I loved the trip in its entirety, but I will say, we had a very full itinerary, so the downtime was rewarding and one of my favorite parts of the trip. Honestly that’s when I think the real team bonding came into play.

You have to shop on a road trip

After the clinic on the first day, we had some downtime before our match, so we went to a shopping mall. I got to exchange my U.S. dollars for some multicolored Botswanan pula. It was exciting, getting some new dollar bills! The shopping mall was different than any I’d ever been in. It wasn’t a building exactly but more of an open area that had stores, souvenir stands, and a movie theater within it. I liked that structure, and that’s how majority of the shopping centers were. All the souvenir markets had some beautiful handmade clothing, jewelry, statues, bowls, etc.

The weather was beautiful the whole time we were there, and every hotel we went to had a pool. Tanning time! Every chance we got some of my teammates and I laid out on the pool chairs (with sunscreen on, of course) and soaked in the sun. We laughed, listened to music, I read my book, and journaled here and there. I remember one night some of my teammates and I even sat by the pool doing random accents and laughing about it. It felt like a mini vacation; especially after we finished the volleyball portion of the trip.

On safari

Four different safaris

The safaris were hands down one of the most exciting parts of the trip. We went on four different safaris and saw three different cities in Botswana.

The first safari was at the Mokolodi Game Reserve, where we were introduced to statuesque Kudu, skittish impala (members of the antelope family), towering giraffe, a retreating warthog, water-guzzling zebra, and shy orphaned cheetah hiding behind bushes. There were other animals that we didn’t get a chance to see, but the tire on the first safari truck we were in went flat, so that made it interesting. We thought we were going to have to switch to a walking safari. Some of my teammates and I were all for it, but most were opposed to the idea. When we heard there was a defensive mother rhino nearby with her one-month-old baby, we all agreed walking was not a good idea. At the end of this safari, we had lunch at a picnic site. It was a beautiful setup with delicious food and a breathtaking view of Lake Gwithian. I heard the bellows of hippopotamus across the lake, and some others saw a crocodile swim across. A beautiful experience.

Our second safari was in Palapye, Botswana, at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. This was a more informative safari. We learned about the difference between black and white rhinos, how to spot their footprints, and the strict security and poaching protection they have over the sanctuary. Botswana is very stern about preserving wildlife. Although we didn’t spot any black rhino, we did see three white rhino up close: So close that we almost ran into them in our safari truck. Scary! Right after we were back on our bus heading to our next city.

Our last two safaris were my absolute favorite of the four, and I’m sure my teammates would agree. Both were in Kasane, Botswana, in Chobe National Park. The first was a river safari. We were on a double-decker boat and spent three hours on the water. We saw some amazing things. The first few animals were scaly crocodiles basking in the sun and one little water monitor lizard with a blue tongue. Namibia was across the river, and we learned that the island in the middle, Sedudu Island, caused conflict at one point between the two countries but now it belongs to Botswana. On that island were African Buffalo, big hippopotamus, and a huge herd of elephants that we saw from afar. Not too long after we were able to witness a young elephant crossing the water to be with the rest of its herd. It was amazing! I prayed to see an elephant cross the water and I saw just that. It was so cute. Not too long after that our guide pulled us very close to some elephants that were on land, and we got to just stand and admire them. As we circled back to our starting point, we witnessed a beautiful sunset and the moon rising. Another beautiful experience.

The next morning, we were up bright and early for a six-hour land safari in Chobe National Park. Four safari trucks came to pick us up from our lodge so early it was still dark. Starting off with a full-circle moment we saw the sun rise after seeing it set the evening prior. Each truck got to experience, something amazing. We saw different species of birds, eagles, and even drove into the midst of a large family of defiant baboons. That part was a little nerve wracking, because our safari truck was very open so they could have easily jumped in and had us for breakfast. Yikes! Their babies, tiny red balls of cuteness, were hanging upside down from their mom’s belly. At our first rest stop we were visited by fluffy vervet monkeys, their black faces framed in white fur who were more interested in our food than us. They ambushed our snack bags and took some of our snacks. Honestly all we could do was laugh. By the end of the trip, I concluded that vervet monkeys we’re like our squirrels here in America.

As we continued the safari it got even more mind-blowing. My truck’s guide ended up spotting some sleeping elephants behind a tree, and we got close to one standing on the bank of the river using its trunk as a straw. Majestic! Some of my teammates in other trucks got to see a whole family of elephants walking so close to their trucks it created a wide-eyed moment! My teammate said one even lifted its trunk to pose for a picture. We had yet to see a lion until our guide got a radio call saying a lioness had been spotted. When we got to that spot all our trucks were already there. We waited holding our breath. The suspense was intense. For a minute, there was silence. When she finally emerged, we let out our breath in a long “wow”. Amazing. Even more amazing, our guide decided to track her. Shout out to Chika. The next thing we knew she strutted out the bushes and stood right in front of our truck. We were silent. In that silence, she decided walk around the side of the truck. Where we were sitting. We froze. We were less than three feet away from a lioness in an open truck. Chika backed the truck up in sync with her stride so we could hold on to that visual. She gleamed in the sun. As she walked, her muscles rippled. No words! This safari made me realized I want more. I grew up watching National Geographic, Animal Planet, wildlife documentaries and still watch them, so these safaris were truly a full-circle moment for me.

Dami at Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

As we approached the end of our trip, we drove from Kasane, Botswana, to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. When we arrived at the falls, we were greeted by locals dancing in a market area. One of our coaches, Jaimeson Lee, got in on the action and my teammates Amari Patterson and Sydnei Jones and I jumped in, too. 

Then it was time to see one of the wonders of the world: The “Smoke that Thunders,” Victoria Falls. From the observation decks we marveled at the avalanche of water raining on us like a tropical storm. It was extraordinary, to say the least. I’ve never seen something so big and powerful in person like that. Now I’m motivated to see the other wonders of the world. My poncho was like wearing plastic wrap in a tsunami. I got soaked, but I couldn’t even be mad.

Takeaways, lessons, team bonding

As student athletes, this trip was so special. The time demands of playing a college sport don’t allow many travel opportunities apart from school-issued breaks. We can read and hear about other cultures as much as we want, but experiencing them for ourselves creates another level of understanding. A lot of us are oblivious to the lifestyles of people outside of the United States and what it entails, especially in countries with less resources than we’re used to. 

Every interaction I had with someone was a wholesome one, and I say that without exaggeration. It reminded me of “southern hospitality” turned up a few notches. It was refreshing to see that the people as a whole, made the best of their situations, found the fun in them, and were content/worked what they had. That’s not always evident in American culture.

Appreciate what you already have, get comfortable being uncomfortable, be patient and kind in all situations. These lessons presented themselves in many forms during our trip. A scenario that stood out to me was having to pay for pieces of toilet paper to use the bathroom in certain areas. This isn’t something you’ll typically see in the United States, but I’ve heard of this happening in other countries, so it was interesting to experience in person. At first it was a little vexing to have to pull out money just to use the bathroom. Then I realized that places may not have the money to restock rolls of toilet paper in all the stalls on a consistent basis. People often use way too much toilet paper anyway, and people have families to feed, so charging 2 pula (Botswanan) for each few sheets of toilet paper could potentially be helping to put food on the table and be a source of income.

Regardless of the reason, it was experiences like those that made the trip all that more important, my mind was opened, and ignorance was lifted. It forced even more humility in my lifestyle while living here in the United States. Hopefully that impact was felt by everyone on the trip. Situations like that can be uncomfortable and are easy to complain about because it’s not familiar. So, during this trip it was especially important for me to be where my feet were, absorbing every experience for what it was, consistently trying to make the choice to observe and find the lesson in them.

Since being a part of the Howard volleyball program, we’ve tried to come up with the best team bonding ideas to create more intimacy and trust between each other. This experience takes the lead as the best, most fun, and effective team bonding (at least in my eyes). We had the platform. We just needed the plan. 

We’d never spent that much time together outside of volleyball. The best part was realizing that it all happened on its own, in the small moments off camera. The tire bursting on our first safari is something I’m sure we’ll bring up and always laugh about. On top of that we have a new teammate that came along on this trip. We got to get to know her and make her feel like part of the team. These women are like the sisters I never had, and this experience brought us closer. 

And to think I almost didn’t go on this trip makes me even more grateful that I did. So, on behalf of myself and my team, I send out a huge thank you to the Howard University volleyball program, Bring It Promotions, and all those that were involved in making this trip what it was.

Howard coach Shaun Kupferburg with a fish that has some serious teeth


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