Thursday, March 11, 2010

Waiting for Godunk: Greetings from Estonia

Shortly after landing his writing gig at SLAM Online, Kevin Owens signed a contract to play for BC Kalev Cramo (in SEB Korvpalli Meistriliiga, Baltic Basketball League and VTB United League), and up and moved to the city of Tallinn in Estonia. Below is a piece he wrote about adjusting to his new surroundings.

Growing up I always loved the winter. I imagined living my adult life in a cottage located somewhere in the American Northeast. I would have a warm fire and enough Siberian Huskies to race the Iditarod keeping me company. That to me was my dream of a peaceful life. Fortunately, life took me on a different path than that of a reclusive shut-in. I grew into a large man and was faced with two options...join the circus, or play professional basketball. I chose the latter.

After seven years and thousands of miles traveled, my journey has brought me here to Estonia. My first impressions when I walked off the plane were no doubt like those of Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV. I was excited, anxious and freezing all at the same time. I had left an enormous snowstorm back in Philadelphia, but it was nothing like this. As I quickly rooted through my bag trying to find my gloves, all my childhood dreams suddenly rushed back into my mind.

I was driven to my new home, deep down hoping that it would contain a fireplace and a plethora of dogs. Unfortunately, it was just a clean, spacious apartment…I know, bummer right? I began to unpack my bags, which contained a variety of clothing. Whenever I go to a new country, I try to figure out the climate before I pack my suitcase. Since I am only allowed to carry two suitcases and two carry-ons, correct wardrobe choices are essential.

I have become better over the years, but I still pack certain items I know I will never wear. For instance, this year I packed a pair of flip flops. I am not sure how they would handle the snow, but I am not about to find out. In reality all I need to pack are a few basic items. I end up wearing a similar outfit everyday. It consists of sweatpants, my boots, a sweatshirt and my winter jacket. If GQ was considering asking me to be a “style icon”, I think they may pass after seeing me saunter around Tallinn during the past three weeks. Once I finished unpacking and was officially moved in, I began to settle into my new life in Estonia.

My next order of business was food. I had just arrived from a half day's travel and was famished. I took my first trip to the Estonian grocery store - which I must say was a little intimidating. I think I spent about an hour and a half wandering the aisles like a lost puppy. I was picking up random items in hopes that I would suddenly be able to read Estonian. I relied heavily on my instincts. If it looked like chicken and felt like chicken…then I guess its chicken. Eventually I loaded up a cart full of groceries, paid the nice cashier and made it back home.

The trip to the grocery store was also my first experience with my new car. Although the driving in Estonia is the same as driving in the United States, I found some subtle differences. The traffic lights operate in a slightly different, and in my opinion more practical, way. I’ve found that the yellow light prior to green is quite convenient. It gives you a little head start, which I enjoy.

I have also learned a scientific fact during my time here. Apparently when the heat and moisture emulating from my body during a drive becomes trapped in the car, once I exit the vehicle, it freezes the inside of my windshield. I have never seen this phenomenon before in my life. The one day I scraped the ice from the outside of the windshield only to see more ice on the inside. I have now grown accustomed to scraping both the outside AND inside of my vehicle prior to departing.

Coldness aside, I am becoming more and more familiar with the city of Tallinn. The other day I sat in front of my computer and found many of the tourist attractions this city has to offer. Throughout my career, I have always tried to take advantage of my surroundings. When I was in Australia I snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef. When I went to South Korea, I visited the top of the famous Seoul Tower. In New Zealand my assistant coach took me on a day tour of some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. During my stay in Estonia, I want to walk away with similar memories.

I think the main reason I have become such a tourist is to counteract the loneliness. Now my day is fairly busy. We usually practice once in the morning and again in the evening. However, during my “down time”, I for the most part rest my body and watch one of my countless DVD’s. Currently my rotation consists of television shows. I have over twenty five T.V. shows on DVD. I find watching a full season of a show far more rewarding than a movie.

Let’s take for example my favorite show, The Wire. Each show is about an hour long. Each of the five seasons consists of between 10-13 episodes. That’s 50-65 hours of story. Compare that to a 2 hour movie and it’s an easy choice. This usually curtails my loneliness during the day until I can reunite with my teammates in the evening.

On the basketball court I am trying to find my way. As a basketball player sometimes adjustments take time. I’m in a new country with a new team and new players that have been together for several months. Figuring out a way to work together has been my main focus since arriving. As the season reaches its home stretch I’m excited about the possibilities here at BC Kalev Cramo.

Overall, during my first few weeks, I have a good feel for Estonia. I have adjusted to the different foods and am now comfortable at the grocery store. I have learned to wear gloves and a hat every time I step outside. I have learned how to drive in over a foot of snow. I have adjusted to a new style of play and a new team. I know I am no longer the ten year old boy, dreaming about my cabin in the snow, but twenty years ago if I could have imagined a place like this, it would have put a smile on my face. Now all I need is a Husky.

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Tauri said...

Yo had a nice game against Tallinn Kalev with 17 rbs. Is this your record or have you managed to get more rebounds?

Keep it going!

a guy you've never heard of said...

Do not forget to visit The Parliament building when wandering around in Old Town (next to the Russian Orthodox Church, one of the most popular attractions in Toompea). Good luck for the games in Latvia!
Basketball fan.

Commander Kody said...

You should get a real dog, like an Alaskan Malamute.

KO said...

Tauri, thanks for the kudos...I think my high is 22 rebs.

AGYNHO...I will definately visit all that Tallinn has to offer.

Commander...don't be jealous! How do u expect us to field a legit sled dog team with all Malamutes...No offense but ur just the big, strong mules...we need some speed up front.

GNOlds said...

Wish you all best here in Estonia and hope to see from you even better games in future in BC Kalev Cramo.
Hope you guys win tomorrow!

GNOlds said...

It was great game and as we hoped you guys won this Rock. Thanks for sign to t-shirt also :)

Lo said...

haaah. the translation was a bit off but eh..

and as for grocery shopping, just ask some Estonian girls in the store, i bet they would love to help you out :) we're friendlier than some people give us credit for.
welcome to Estonia:) good luck and hope you enjoy your time here.

Kevin Owens said... problem thanks for the support.
Lo...Any help in the grocery store would be greatly appreciated. Don't be afraid to come up to me when I am holding back tears trying to figure out if what i just put in my cart is ham or turkey. Thanks

markko said...

Kevin Do you hope to extend your contact for the next season with kalev/cramo?

markko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.