This is the second half of a series on Chilliwack Huskers rookie Buomkuoth Samuel, a 19-year-old with a tremendous story to tell.Find part one in the Aug. 2 issue of the Chilliwack Progress or check online at www.theprogress.com.
It would be easy to leave it behind, build a life in Canada and forget about Kenya.
The Hagadera refugee camp.
Just a bad dream, with memories of hyenas and hunger getting fuzzier by the day.
A place where education was gained and childhood lost — where he woke up every day at sunrise, not knowing whether he’d live to see the sunset.
He’s 19 now.
He’s almost spent more time here than there.
On some days, Buomkuoth Samuel must sit on a comfy couch in Chilliwack, playing Madden 2011 on the Xbox 360 and wonder, ‘Did it really happen? Was I really there?’
But it doesn’t work that way.
Buomkuoth is filled with memories that won’t fade, no matter how much time passes. Even now, nine years after coming to Canada, he can speak of Kenya with vivid detail, the sights and sounds of the place etched into his mind like letters chiselled into granite.
And the most curious thing of all is this pull he feels, this strange urge to go back.
But why would he?
Why on earth would Buomkuoth return to a place his family fought so desperately to escape?
Mostly, it is because Kenya is not the same country as the one he left in 2000.
Another decade of turmoil and bloodshed resulted in a democratically elected government in 2008 and a revised constitution in 2010, including a bill of rights for the Kenyan people.
Slowly, the country is transitioning from lawlessness and anarchy to a functional democracy, and Buomkuoth believes he has a role to play.
“I know I could bring a lot of change to Kenya, because I came here and went to school. I think a lot of us will go back,” he explained. “I could be a teacher or a nurse, doing what I can so that one day our country can be like Canada.”
And that is why football is so much more than a game to Buomkuoth.
It is an avenue.
If he gives his heart and soul to every play with the Chilliwack Huskers, if he listens to his coaches and gives 110 per cent at every practice, maybe it will be noticed by a CIS school.
Maybe football will pay for an education, and a better education will help him make a bigger difference when he finally returns to his homeland.
If you talk to him, Boumkouth will tell you he thought football was boring and stupid when he first came to Canada.
He was practically dragged onto the field in Grade 10 by a gym teacher, had to be cajoled by teammates to stay and spent most of that first season as a fish far, far away from water.
He didn’t know where to go or what to do, and truthfully, he didn’t make much effort to find out.
His Ernest Manning (Calgary) Griffins lost to the Crescent Heights Cowboy in the 2007 championship game. Buomkuoth wasn’t a factor, and he was surprised to find that it bothered him.
“After we lost that game, I sat there and thought, ‘If I really knew the game well enough, I could have done something.”
With a fire lit under his butt, Buomkuoth joined the Calgary Wildcats midget team and dedicated himself to learning the nuances of football.
And suddenly, things started making sense. There was order behind the chaos, method behind the madness. Buomkuoth started to appreciate the structure of football.
“I grew up with soccer, where it was just me and the ball and doing what I wanted to do,” he said. “But in football, it’s all about working together. If one person messes up, everything goes wrong.”
He came back to the Griffins in Grade 11 determined to not be that one person. His new attitude impressed the coaches so much that they made him a captain, the youngest on the team.
“We went 8-0 that year and won a championship,” he said, bursting with pride.
Hobbled by an ankle injury, Boumkouth was relegated to spectator status as a senior, spending most of his time on the bench as his team advanced to another title game, and lost.
“I was able to play two of the six regular season games, mostly on special teams,” he said. “But it was a really tough year.”
Boumkouth took a full year off after graduation, uncertain of his football future until one day he found himself on the phone with Huskers head coach Luke Acheson.
“BK, we would like you to be a Chilliwack Husker.”
Early in the third quarter of last Sunday’s season opener at Exhibition Stadium, Boumkouth came into the game on defence.
You might have heard him.
People in Abbotsford might have heard him.
“Not in our house!”
“Fire it up!”
Pacing around behind the line of scrimmage, glaring at the Westshore Rebels offence and waving his hands in the air, Buomkuoth was a one-man pep rally.
When he dedicated himself to learning the game, he did so by watching NFL games, particularly those of the Baltimore Ravens. It was Ray Lewis he watched and whom he now emulates, the uber-intense all-pro who is regarded as one of the top five linebackers of all time.
Boumkouth looked good out there, flying sideline to sideline just like Ray Ray.
Some plays he made.
Some plays he didn’t.
But at no time could any of his Husker teammates question his effort.
“Football is about leadership, and that’s what I want to be. The younger guys need to see veterans showing they care about the game,” he said. “But if you tell a guy to do something, and he sees you taking the next play off, he won’t respect you as much. He’ll be, ‘OK, if he’s not going to do it then I don’t need to do it.’ So I need to be going to hard every single play.”
That’s why Acheson recruited him, because Boumkouth is the type of player you win with.
And that’s why football has been such a blessing for Boumkouth.
He has learned many lessons from a sport he never wanted to play. Years from now, it won’t matter that he knew the difference between zone and man-to-man. Counters and trap plays will be inconsequential in whatever he is doing.
But the intangibles — things like leadership, accountability and work ethic — those are the lifelong skills that will transfer to any walk of life.
His parents came to Canada 11 years ago because they wanted their children to have opportunities.
Their hard work and sacrifice has resulted in a young man who is ready to take on the world.
“I can’t thank my parents enough for the opportunity they gave me, but the best thing I can do is take them back and go build them a house and make them feel free.”
And along the way, he might just change the fortunes of an entire country.