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March 16, 2023

Chickens in the Kitchen

By Heidi Klingenberg with Steven Ablondi


The chickens and ducks had a field day on the pickleball court last night. With acres of grass and gardens, why do they go there? If we inadvertently leave the gate open at our newly renovated court in the village, the grazing cows and horses go there. Why? Because everybody loves pickleball.


I’m a librarian who manages the four libraries Memel.Global has developed in our village schools. I don’t play sports, which doesn’t mean I haven’t learned through the grapevine about pickleball. No matter where I go in this rural community of 7,000, people are talking about the new distraction the Americans have introduced.


At our veterinary practice the receptionist was chatting to me about her feelings toward pickleball when the vet interjected, “Heidi, it’s not just a sport, it’s a way of life!”


That was food for thought. This wasn’t the first rumble on the topic—the kids at Memel Primary were playing it, the construction workers at the Memel Organics cohousing community play it constantly in their leisure time, and a friend’s entire family plays it regularly on their Sunday get-togethers. The challenge was, what exactly was it that grabbed these new and avid converts?


Ina, a local resident, says, “It allows for social interaction and enjoyment as there’s no great competitiveness.” The Memel Organics workers might disagree, as games get pretty heated over there. Tsepho, 35, is an assistant carpenter. Ordinarily shy and reticent, he transforms the moment he steps onto the court. Competitive soccer no longer being an option for him, he appreciates pickleball to stay in shape.


Melinda, the mother of the Sunday game family, says, “l love the fact that we play it together as a family. Even though l’m not a sporty person, l participate without being super-fit or having special skills.”


Danelle, her daughter, has a different take: “It’s fast and intense, and you need to work hard for each point. It’s good for my concentration, and hand/eye coordination. At university in Pretoria, I played several sports but little Memel, out in the countryside, doesn’t have many so it’s great to be able to stay active in such a fun game.”


Steven Ablondi, Memel’s original pickleball guru and a regular player, applauds the merits of the game, noting, “It’s a new sport, and thus doesn’t hold a racial precedent to it. It is accessible to all, and new champions are waiting to be discovered.”


Themba, 37, is a welder. Apart from some karate lessons, he’d never attempted sports before. Themba loves the challenge of pickleball and is working hard at being one of its first African stars. He is a fierce advocate for bringing the sport to his fellow black residents, and to the children in the town.


So come on, the rest of you in Memel, what are you waiting for?! Let’s meet up at the old tennis courts, and I’ll cut up some oranges for halftime, and bring a few books.  •

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