January 24, 2011

Welcome to the Kissing Zone

It all started on January 12, 2011, at 4:00am for me, with a quick wake-up and into a taxi for the airport. My flight to Brussels was early, but comfortable as the plane wasn't full and I had my own row of seats. Once I landed, I was unsure about who was picking me up, so I sat by the exit for about 15 minutes. There were two men and a woman talking and who kept glancing at me, so I kept glancing at them, and finally one of the men approached me and asked, "Miss Swagerty?" in a French accent. The two men turned out to be the coach and manager, and the woman, Martina, was introduced as my potential roommate. We drove from the Brussels-Charleroi airport to get Martina's car and started driving to the apartment.

Martina (she is Czech and speaks pretty decent English) and I talked quite a bit, then went to lunch with our Coach Olivier. We ate at a Belgian cafe in Charleroi, and had a fun time trying to figure out what the "aubergine" on my panini was because neither of them knew the English word for it, and I didn't know what it was by eating it - turned out to be eggplant! The rest of the afternoon, Martina and I went shopping and I moved all my stuff into the closet at the apartment. At 7pm we left for training and arrived in Farciennes at 7:20. As soon as we walked in, the men and women players began greeting each other, and I realized we were in the kissing zone. The gym has a bar in the front hallway, and my coach and a photographer came out, gave me my uniform to wear, and wanted a picture of me in my uniform in the bar. I am the first American woman to join their club, so I am "the news."

Before training even started, Coach Olivier had debriefed the team in French for about 10 minutes, telling them I would be the starting setter before I had even touched a volleyball. My team only had a real setter for their first 2 games, then their opposites had been setting the whole time, so they were very excited to have me there. The women were all really great, and several of them at least knew the word "superb," so figuring out what sets they wanted was not too difficult.

After training, the manager wanted to speak with me, and they offered me a contract, which includes a car! Of course, now I not only get to learn French, but also how to drive a stick-shift! All the men, women, coaches, physical therapist, etc., hang out in the bar after training for at least an hour. We had some great laughs about maps, and nobody understands why I love drinking water so much. Martina and I went over to Coach Olivier's parents' house after this for dinner - it was already 11:30pm! His mom made us delicious spaghetti while we watched CSI: Miami in French. Tomorrow I meet with the press, have my first French lesson, and go to optional training with the boys' teams Coach Olivier also coaches. Saturday is our first match together, and we have a chance to do really well in league. It was a great first day, and I am excited to be the latest addition to Volley Club Oxyjeunes Farciennes!