Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pediatorkope: Kickball and Sardines

I was reluctant to leave my friends after the fun we had in the rain, but we knew our families were waiting for us. A mild sense of homesickness and anxiety had settled over me during the day. I was mostly dreading another sleepless night alone in the heat of the hut.
I made the two-mile trek back to the village and found the boys playing with a partially-deflated soccer ball. We kicked the ball around for awhile and the thought crossed my mind that I should try teaching them kickball. My Dangbe was still extremely limited: I knew how to say "ball", but we gave it a go. I marked out three palm trees as the bases and stuck a stick in the ground for home plate.
After some work I got them to line up and showed them the process of kicking the ball and rounding the bases. They giggled when they learned that you could tag someone with the ball and send them back to the dugout. We started playing and it quickly turned into a game of tag: one boy would kick the ball and start running as fast as he could, straight past first base, into the outfield, and out of the village, usually trailing the pitcher behind him.
I taught them that when you touch the base, you are safe and can't be tagged out. This was good for them, because a few of them were nursing headaches from being tagged out rather forcefully. We started the game again and the kids were running from one tree to the next, regardless of which base was which. Sometimes one of them would scurry up the palm tree and sit there taunting the pitcher. That was an interesting new element to the game.
In between uncontrollable laughing fits, I would teach them a new rule. Eventually we had a rather orderly game: the first kid in line would kick the ball, round the bases, and run home, giving hi-fives all around.
I quickly found that the kids didn't like waiting in line. After rounding the bases, instead of going to the back of the line, they'd try to see how far up the line they could cut. This led to arguing and a little crying almost every round. In the morning I had seen turkeys fighting in the yard. They puffed out their chests, stuck their heads up high, and bounced into each other like teenage boys. It was quite hilarious. I'd tell the boys "kapui klakumi." "Don't be turkeys." and they'd all laugh. Then we'd have a group hug, everyone would say "I love you, I love you, I love you" and we'd try to make a line again. They were doing better by the end of the game.
We never kept score, and the only player on the field was the pitcher. We had so much fun, though. After awhile they started to really get it, and they'd steal bases, play chicken with the pitcher, and kick the ball where they thought would minimize the likelihood of any of their teammates getting tagged out.
It was starting to get dark, so we broke up the game. I realized that my camera batteries were dead, and someone told me that there was a generator on the island, back up by the school. They turn it on every night from six to nine-thirty. Ray was staying with the schoolteachers in a brick house by the school, and he said that the lights would suddenly come on at night and the electrical outlets would work for a few hours. I wanted to charge my batteries for the next day, so I set out for Ray's house.
Every time I made the trek to the village I remembered how long it was. The time is also compounded by the fact that every villager you meet stops to talk to you, ask you where you are going, and give you directions. They eventually sent one of the village boys to accompany me. My feet were starting to get tired. I have high arches, and when I walk in my sandals for very long my feet start to ache.
We eventually got to Ray's house, said a quick hello. He was learning how to pound fufu. It looked like a big ball of yellow taffy. One person would pound it with a five-foot long stick that was fatter at one end, and the other person would shape the ball of dough in the bowl, holding their hand precariously close to the stomping going on. We left them to their dinner preparation and started back for the village. My feet and back were aching from all the walking. My friend started calling me "kawi" (crab), because I was hunched over and shuffling my feet. When we finally got back to the village we had been walking for almost two hours, just to charge some batteries. Yes, everything in Africa takes longer to do than back home.
We sat down to dinner, and I noticed that I didn't mind the banku as much as I did yesterday. I was a few bites into a big ball of dough, when they set a dish of fish stew on rice in front of me. I was honored that they would give me rice, as it is a luxury. At the time it was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten. I found out that the fish were tinned sardines, served in that pepper, tomato, onion sauce I ate the night before. I hadn't eaten much in two days, so I was very grateful for the food.
We joked around for a little while after dinner, and by bed time (about 8:30 pm) I was so exhausted that I shuffled into the hut, rolled under the mosquito net, and fell promptly asleep. The air was deliciously cool from the rain, and the animals were sheltering somewhere else in the village. It was a wonderful night.

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