“The writing was on the wall. My services were no longer required.”
We have all heard this once or multiple times in life. It has happened to us or those close to us. Whether in the informal employment, white collar jobs or in the sports world where club owners and coaches move to terminate players’ contracts.
But the story of Dorcas ‘The Destroyer’ Ndasaba and her final days in the national women’s volleyball team is one for the movies.
One of Kenya’s most decorated players, the poster girl of the team and the undisputed leader was unceremoniously axed from the team days to the 2007 FIVB World Cup in Japan.
Ndasaba, who took over the captaincy from the late Doris ‘Scud’ Wefwafwa after she relocated to the United States of America in 2002, had served Kenya diligently until a few days to the team’s departure to Japan for the global showpiece when hell broke loose.
Then 37, she was controversially dropped from the team, sparking a massive uproar from Kenyans.
“Age wouldn’t have counted because at 37, I was still performing well. Everyone could see the results,” Ndasaba recounts.
“I, however, later learned that my firm stand with the playing unit on our allowances rubbed Kenya Volleyball Federation (KVF) officials the wrong way leading to my dismissal from the team.”
“Players were demanding higher pay, and as the captain, I had to be part of them. Besides, it is a team sport. I was at a crossroad but I chose the long route.”
“In our last week of training at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, my teammates were invited to State House to meet former President Mwai Kibaki. For reasons best known to officials, I was not part of the team. Later, I was informed by some players that I had been axed from the Japan-bound team. Catherine ‘Shiro’ Wanjiru was named captain.”
That was a slap in the face.
“I picked my bags, wished my teammates who had returned from State House well and left. Upcoming players among them Jane Wacu and Brackcides Agala were in tears as I walked away.”
“I boarded a matatu to my place in Embakasi, but I told myself I had to travel upcountry where I knew there was real love, support and comfort,” said the former Sirakaru Secondary School alumnus.
“I travelled home that night and my mother, Elicah Ndasaba, gladly received me with open arms. She was aware of what had happened after my story featured prominently in all media stations. Later that evening, Paul Bitok arrived home on a mission to convince me to go back to the team.”
“I had mixed feelings. We had a good working relationship with Bitok having played professional volleyball together in Croatia. Out of respect for him, I decided to travel back to Nairobi the next day, though half-heartedly,” she recalls.
Bitok, now the women’s national team coach, said Ndasaba felt unappreciated.
“It took a lot of convincing to make her change her mind. I told her that the country needed her the most at the time and thanks to the respect we had for each other, she agreed though unwillingly,” remembers Bitok, who together with Ndasaba played for Croatian outfit Rijeka Club in the 2005/2006 season.
Other players in the Japan team were Janet Wanja, Mercy Moim, the late Doris Palang’a, Diana Khisa, Lydia Maiyo, Judith Tarus, Jackline Barasa and Edinah Rotich.
Ndasaba, a mother of one daughter, Cynthia Namulanda, said a visit by former Sports Commissioner Gordon Oluoch’s visit to her house in Embakasi made all the difference.
“The visit was humbling and one of a kind. I felt wanted. I agreed to travel knowing very well that I was going to play not for myself but for the government, media and fans who had showed me a lot of support,” she said.
Olouch, who served as a Sports Commissioner for 14 years before retiring late last year, said there was no way Ndasaba would have remained behind. Age, notwithstanding, the team was built around her, he said.
“She was and still is a player I hold in high esteem. One of the greatest players this country will ever produced. Her discipline, hard work, and charisma was top- notch. She deserved a spot in the team,” he said.
“After a lot of consultation among the Ministry of Sports officials, we saw it fit for Ndasaba to be recalled. I drove to Embakasi where she lived and we had a heart to heart talk. She agreed to travel to Japan and to me that was a sign of leadership and humility.”
Olouch said that no player should suffer the ordeal Ndasaba went through on grounds of age.
As the team boarded the plane to Japan at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Ndasaba cut a desolate figure.
“I sat at the far end and it looked like I was not part of the team. But I had one mission, go play and prove a point,” said Ndasaba.
Kenya, under head coach Abdul Muge, David Lung’aho and Sammy Kirongo, faced hosts Japan, the US, Peru, Cuba, Thailand, Brazil, Serbia, South Korea, Peru, Dominican Republic, and eventual winners Italy. Kenya lost all its games.
It was the match against Thailand that Ndasaba showed class and character. She was named Player of the Match.
Although Kenya lost to Thailand 2-3 (15-25, 25-23, 25-22, 13-25, 10-15), Ndasaba starred. She was ranked 20th in the best player category at the end of the World Cup.
“Ndasaba was a player that every coach would want to be in his team. She was an all-rounder and a proper leader,” Lung’aho, who was the then assistant coach, said of the retired star.
On their way back to Kenya, Ndasaba once again found herself on a seat far from the rest of the team. The then Minister for Trade and Industry Mukhisa Kituyi - probably aware of what had befallen her in the run up to the event - asked her to join him in the first class.
“It was a blessing in disguise. Maybe I would never have travelled in first class again,” joked Ndasaba, who was a big fan of retired Cuban star Miyera Luis.
As the other members of the team waited for the touchdown to meet their loved ones, Ndasaba had other plans.
“I called it quits in full glare of the media. There is no way I would have stayed any longer. They wanted me out the first time, and I was not going to give them the satisfaction of kicking me out again. Besides, it is always good to leave at your peak,” noted the left attacker.
Ndasaba said Kenyans would never have enjoyed her talent were it not for her secondary school teacher, Paul Wanyama. The coach was impressed by her height and jump when she was taking part in the school’s high jump competitions.
“He asked me to switch sports, and I gladly obliged. Although our school was not doing well in volleyball, my love for the sport grew after participating in local events. The sport attracted crowds. I later dropped high jump and embraced volleyball,” she recalls.
The ninth born in a family of 10, six girls and four boys, Ndasaba joined Nzoia Sugar Company team after clearing school in 1992 when her journey to stardom began.
Born 47-years-ago to the late Jared and Elicah Ndasaba in Naitiri village, Bungoma County, Ndasaba met Kenya Railways libero Mercy Wesutila during an event in Bungoma.
Wesutila saw her potential and advised her to join Nairobi Railways Club that was looking for players.
“I moved to Nairobi later that year. I knew no one, but the urge to make the next step was the motivation and push I needed. Luckily, the team had a club house in Makongeni Estate and that made me settle in pretty fast. I shared the house with two other players,” said Ndasaba.
“I played for Railways Club under Japanese coach Desmond Onishi before the then national team coach the deceased Gilbert ‘Fabisch’ Ohanya instigated my move to Kenya Posta and Telecommunication Company Club in 1993.”
“Posta dominated the local league, winning titles and a couple of African Clubs Championships gongs. My career was on the rise, thanks to my powerful attacks and good blocks. I received a call up to the national team a year later for the World Championships in Japan but I was overlooked in the final squad.”
TRAINED WITH MEN
Ndasaba said Violet Barasa (deceased), Esther Ouna, Nancy Sikobe, Margaret Indakala, Mary Ayuma (deceased), Nancy Lusanji, Roselinda Obunaga, Hellen Elele and Esther Barno made the cut.
“I used to train with men and I guess that’s how I mastered the hard hitting attacks. I finally made a debut in the national team during the Africa Games in Abuja, Nigeria in 1995. Although I was not the first choice attacker, the few games I played in made the difference. I believe I left a lasting impression on the coach and I became a regular,” she said.
Ndasaba boasts of two World Cup appearances (1995, 2007), two Olympic Games (2000, 2004), four World Championships (1994, 1998, 2002, 2006), two All Africa Games (1995, 1999) and four African Championships (1993, 1995, 1997, 2005 and 2007).
Japanese instructor, Sadatoshi Sugawara, who was then attached to KCB women’s volleyball team and was part of national team technical bench saw something special in Ndasaba and crafted her move alongside the late Barasa to Japanese side IshikawaJima Harima Club where they played from 1995 to 2002.
In between, they would come back home for national team duties. Ndasaba, who has lost count of her personal accolades, then played for Dubai side Al-Wasal in 2004, Rijeka Club in Croatia 2005/2006 and in Turkey with Club Yalova 2007/2008.
In 2008, she retired as a clerical officer at Posta and moved to Kenya Commercial Banck (KCB) under coach Bitok where she played for the bankers for two seasons before moving to Rwanda.
“We had a good working relationship with Bitok at KCB and after he moved to Rwanda, I linked up with him and played for Rwanda Patrotic Army (APR) for one season and Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) for two years,” she said.
In 2011, beach volleyball was introduced in the Africa Games rooster in Mozambique. Kenya didn’t have a team and Ndasaba partnered with Indakala, although they had never played the sport before.
“Surprisingly, we won bronze. Therefore, it goes without saying that we were the pioneers of the sport in the country, “ said Ndasaba.
Indakala, a former middle blocker and former Kenya Pipeline coach, said Ndasaba loved hard work.
“She was never pushed to do something. She was a winner. She was disciplined and one player who was ready to listen. I enjoyed playing with her and I hold those memories close,” noted Indakala.
Ndasaba was drafted in the Bungoma County women’s volleyball team technical bench that featured in the Kenya Volleyball Federation (KVF) National League in 2015.
After two seasons with the outfit, she returned to Rwanda for some “unfinished business.” She was appointed the head coach at RRA where she led them to a fifth place in their first ever Africa Clubs Championship appearance in Egypt. Hosts Al Ahly won the title.
Thereafter, Ndasaba was named the assistant coach to then Malkia Strikers head coach Japheth Munala during the 2017 World Championships qualifiers held in Cameroon.
BURIED THE HATCHET
She said that her inclusion in the Malkia Strikers technical showed the hatchet had been buried.
“There is no bad blood and we are at a good place with the federation. I was humbled after being appointed the assistant coach. I look forward to working with them in future,” said Ndasaba, now a farmer in Naitiri.
KVF first vice chairman Charles Nyaberi said the 2007 “confusion” was water under the bridge.
“Ndasaba is a legend. A player we encourage the upcoming ones to borrow a leaf from. She served the country with dignity and we will forever remain grateful for her services,” said the official.
Ndasaba challenged current players to invest with an eye on life after their active time on the courts.
“In this era, players are being paid a lot of money, and in a way, it has made the majority of them lazy. Some don’t like training and want the easy way out,” she said.