Former Water Polo Player Steps From Pool to Desert

Patrick Xu

Instead of returning to Cambridge for senior fall, Nathan Clement and Alex Velez-Green made the decision to trek across an entire continent.

“I have to say that we’ve both been pretty lucky,” said Alex Velez-Green, a Harvard College senior. “We know a guy in Nairobi who had to spend two weeks in a hospital because someone beat him up.”

On the diverse and lengthy list of Harvard students’ worries, getting assaulted in Kenya generally doesn’t rank very high. But not many students also worry about how they’re going to traverse a continent in the span of a semester. Velez-Green and fellow senior Nathan Clement, formerly of the men’s water polo team, had to do just that, as they decided the summer before their senior year to put off their last fall semester to travel from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa.

Velez-Green had past experience abroad and was always interested in other countries. The same could not be said for his roommate, however. In his freshman year, an undaunted Nathan Clement decided to walk on to the Harvard water polo team. Despite contributing only lightly to the squad during his first two years, by his junior season Clement began to get some playing time and eventually even earned a “Major H” award.

But near the end of his junior year, Clement dislocated his shoulder. Full recovery, if possible, would have taken months of therapy, so he made the difficult decision to leave the team.

With increased time at his hands, Clement decided to travel with Velez-Green during the fall semester, embarking on a journey across an entire continent.



The idea to make this trek was first born while Velez-Green was recovering from a tonsillectomy.

“By the end of the year, I wanted to get abroad again,” Velez-Green said. “It’s a completely different experience, and I saw all my friends going abroad for junior spring, and I was so jealous.… I wanted to take the opportunity because especially after you graduate, traveling would become a lot more difficult.”

With the itch to travel, Velez-Green eventually resolved to go from Cairo, a location with which he had familiarity, to Cape Town. The vast majority of the journey would be a completely new experience for the Harvard student.

Before Velez-Green took off, Clement decided to join in on the expedition.

“I’ve never done any travel except for Canada and Mexico, so when Alex said he was planning a trip, I said, ‘Hey, why not,’” Clement said. “Especially since I will probably not have an opportunity to travel once I get a job, it just felt like the perfect time, and there wasn’t anything really stopping me.”

Velez-Green and Clement officially touched down in Cairo on Aug. 22, and they were quickly reminded that Egypt remained in a state of revolution.

From their ride from the airport to their hostel, the roommates were stopped at checkpoints by soldiers bearing AK-47s, and they explored the city with cautious and curious eyes.

Velez-Green and Clement proceeded to travel from Cairo to Alexandria, where through a group of friends Velez-Green was able to experience a dream of his: riding a customized motorcycle, complete with blaring speakers and flashing, multi-color lights, throughout the streets of Alexandria.



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