Little Things

13 Feb

Today, we finished work at 4 PM in order for Justin to go play football with the boys who go to school here in Gahini. We got there just after 4, only to sit under the tree by the side of the pitch and wait for another 45 minutes until the rest of the boys started trickling in. We met Derek, who conversed with us effortlessly in English, telling us he thought America was a beautiful country, that in his biggest dreams he wants to play for a European football team, and that Africans don’t have the physical energy that Americans do to play soccer.

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Derek is in front of the frame with the blue and red striped jersey, running away from the scary muzungu, Justin.

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I was so proud of my husband. He was so brave! Situations like this paralyze me– you are the only one different in a whole crowd of “others” and you all want to do something together so you just have to jump in. And he did. We sat under the tree for a bit, as I said, until he finally got up to “stretch”– which basically means comparing break-dance poses for a while– with some younger boys. Then he was off across the pitch to play.

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I don’t know why I was so touched by his courage. It is just something I could never do. Not in a million years. A) I don’t play soccer and B) I am terrified of putting myself out there like that. But he just went. And I took pictures!

…which is why there were suddenly (I kid you not) 200 small children crowding around me jumping into my pictures.

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They poured out of the primary school and I said hello to one and before I knew it, familiar cries of “Muzungu!!!” carried across the school yard. 200 kids. 200. 400 eyes staring at me like huge full moons.

I was so terrified.

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Not that they would do anything to me. They were scared of me, after all– some running out of the way when I swung the camera towards them, others jostling everyone else out of the way to get a “Foto! foto!” And at the end, one little guy put his hand out towards me so I put mine out, palm up, and as he gingerly lowered his hand towards mine I GRABBED his with my fingers. He shrieked and fell back into the crowd. Another mistake, because then every 200 of them wanted to touch my hand. 400 little hands.

Then one of them sneezed on me. Which she continued to do a few more times during the remainder of J’s game. And coughed on me. I thanked God silently for the bazillion antibiotics and acidophilous I am taking.

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I can’t describe it. It was just insane. I can’t imagine seeing someone and finding them so odd and interesting that I would just sit and stare– that is what living in a diverse city for the past 23 years of my life has done. Justin and I were trying to think of someone we had never seen before, only heard of, that we would stare at if we finally got to see them. The closest we could think of is a Maori warrior from New Zealand.

Just the sheer number of them. Packed in like sardines to within six inches of my legs. And then one boy would shove everyone from the back and suddenly they were all falling down and the tiny girls were getting trampled and there was a mob. A mob of little people all around me. I wondered if one could be killed by a stampede of children.

But they just kept crowding. Jostling each other for a picture, to see the LCD screen on the back of the camera with their faces on it, to grab my hair or pinch my arm and then run away. I had the zoom lens on to take pictures of Justin out on the field so I couldn’t get all of them in, but trust me. I felt overwhelmed.

A teacher (I assume) in a white lab coat came out. “Please,” he said. “The children have to do community cleanup, now.”

As if I wanted all 200 of the ankle biters surrounding me, dude. Give me a break.

“Sorry!” I stammered. “I just had my camera out and they all came over to see the pictures.” At this point, I recognized that vacant look in his eyes I have become all-too familiar with: He had no g.d. idea what I was saying.

So I tried to put the camera away because I realized that had been what had drawn them all there. I sat down by our backpacks and tried to pull out my book, but then they all pushed closer. I don’t often feel claustrophobic (occasionally on elevators) but this was a whole new world. They all just looked down at me from various heights above my own head. “Okay, I’m standing up again,” I said to the hordes.

It just kept going. At one point, Justin saw me from across the field and came over to check on me (love that man). As he came through, the children parted like the Red Sea before Moses, screaming! Screaming!! Running away from my gentle man. It was hilarious. They were tripping all over themselves, losing their shoes and tackling each other to get away from the bearded wonder.

“I just wanted to make sure you’re okay!” he said, chuckling at my predicament.

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said, laughing, because I didn’t know what else to say. So he returned to the game and the sea closed up over me again.

Remember, most of them speak no English and I speak incredibly limited Kinyarwanda, so the extent of our verbal exchange was “What is your name?” “Maggie.” And then I couldn’t ask all 200 of them their names so that stopped there. “How are you?” “I am fine, how are you?” [Bashful silence, more stares, giggling] So there was another wall. “How old are you?” from the back. “23.” And of course, I didn’t want to know all 200 of their ages, and few would answer me when I tried to volley the question back to them. Instead, they just kept staring.

I saw an older boy in the back– Alex, whom we had met a few days before. “Alex,” I cried, trying not to sound too desperate, “Would you please tell them to go away?” I paused. “Nicely!!” I added as an afterthought.

He said something in Kinyarwanda and they all just laughed at me.

So clearly that worked.

Not one of the massive horde moved a muscle. They just kept staring at me with their luminous eyes. And I kept not having a clue of what to do next.

And I kept looking around, clutching Justin’s precious camera in my hands and checking on our bags to make sure no grubby paws swiped his iPhone or our keys, watching more and more tiny kids pour out of the schoolyard. The sea grew.

You know, I don’t pray anywhere so much as in the majority world. I remember when I studied abroad in India being struck by the fact that it was there that God was all I had. People didn’t speak English enough to help me if I got lost. I couldn’t have my parents come get me out of a bind. He was all I had. It was us against the world. Me and God.

So as I watched more blue sweaters, dresses, and shorts surround me, I giggled and prayed under my breath for God to keep me safe. From children. How ludicrous! But it was terrifying in the moment.

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So God sent another teacher– and this one had a stick.

He ran around, bless his heart, on his one lame leg and one good one and chased the little buggers away! He carved a no-fly zone around me, vacated by the kids who ran shrieking from his brandished stick. I think he must have told an older boy to help him, too, because this other fellow in a black shirt and camo pants helped herd the kids away more.

The whole crowd of them then proceeded to run directly through the soccer field.

Only a few stragglers trickled back. And finally Patrick, who was wearing a Harley-Davidson belt-buckle in the shape of a bald eagle head on two olive branches, all framed by a circle of bicycle chain, came up to chat with me. He must have been about 10 and was a shameless flirt who only knew the standard English phrases that we discussed before. Finally, I gained a smaller, more manageable crowd.

And by the time Justin was done, I had covered the back of my hand and wrist in my Kinyarwanda lesson from these kids. We’d point to things and say them in our respective languages for a while until I realized this opportunity that was right in front of me. So I grabbed my pen out of my bag and wrote it all down. I’ll teach you soon.

An older lady joined the crowd and took her place directly in front of me. This turned out to be quite the vantage point because she could bend over and shout the pronunciation of the word in my face if I didn’t get it the first time. Which actually helped quite a bit. She even gave me a sheet of paper from her bag to write on instead of my skin.

So at the end of the day, I was covered in ink and my husband in the red dirt of Rwanda.

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Then we went up the hill to Wim and Berta’s house (South African missionaries; he’s a doctor and she’s a teacher) to pick up a package we are going to take into Kigali tomorrow. We saw this beautiful sunset (yes, another one) outside of their back porch. They have the best view of the lake and almost the whole valley. Justin apologizes for the fuzzy photo; but I think it’s beautiful.

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It was just a weird day. I felt unsettled by the whole child-ambush thing. Not sure why. I think that one of the reasons is that I was suddenly aware I had pictures of strange African children on our camera whose names I would never knew. Just like every other white tourist who visits the continent.

And it didn’t make matters worse that I saw my first cockroach before dinner. I won’t tell you where he came from, only that I steeled myself and smooshed him with the aluminum foil that covered our plates. If you know me, you will know how absurd this story is because I can handle most creepy-crawlies– but not cucarachas. Something I inherited from my mother.

I think it helped that he looked like the cockroach from “Wall-E” and so I decided he wasn’t so gross as he could have been.

Then I saw two spiders, each the size of my palm.

“Did you see that?” I asked Justin of the gargantuan arachnid that had just scuttled back outside through the gap under our front door. “Nah,” he shook his head, nonchalantly, communicating to me that he had, in fact, seen every leg on it but just wanted me to forget it.

Then another one crawled towards our storage closet.

I will be blocking the gap under our bedroom door tonight with towels. And gasoline prayer.

I was just unsettled by a lot of little things today: little children, little cockroach, big ass spiders.

It was just… weird. Just a reminder that I’m not home. I don’t speak the language (and don’t have enough time to learn sufficiently), am an obvious outsider because of my skin, and most days just want to stay in bed with the Internet to keep me company. But I must learn to be content and present where I am. J and I both agree we aren’t exactly happy here, but it could be worse– and someday it will be a great three-months worth of memories and stories. Not to mention that we get to go to Europe when this is over.

So now I’m going to bed. Where I will be praying the mosquito net keeps all of these flying and crawling beasties away from my body and that of my husband. We are going to Kigali tomorrow to visit our friends, Deke and Jocelyn. And I get to take a yoga class at the US Embassy with Jocelyn. I might cry, I’m so happy just to be doing something I love with a friend. It was the small things that threatened to unhinge me today, but they’re also what keep me going: a good lunch, the promise of a yoga class, killing that mosquito, my hilarious husband, being asked to do the readings at the English service on Sunday as a couple. Justin and Deke are going to play more football, and we will drink the bottle of wine that I won at Nakumatt last week. It will be a wonderful anti-valentines day. Perhaps we’ll tell you tomorrow why we don’t celebrate Valentines.

Love from the land of spiders as big as your palm,

M&J

[Hello boys and girls!  It’s me.  Maggs had quite the experience today.  I was genuinely worried for her with the horde of children around her.  And she’s not joking when she says there were 200 of them.  At one point, I watched one child emerge from the pack in a bright canary yellow jacket–which looks exactly like Maggie’s rain jacket.  I saw Maggie had her back to the child and figured the child had slipped it on and walked away.  I watched this child walk all the way to the other end of the pitch, battling internally on whether or not to run after this child and snatch Maggie’s jacket back.  Alas, the girl turned around and there was brown writing on the front of her hooded sweatshirt.  I told Maggs this later and she said, “Could you imagine how scared that girl would have been if you had run up to her?”

Also, I want you to know that tomorrow I am going to post a video and some other pictures that are on my iPhone/iPad.  For some reason, my computer won’t register either of them when I plug them in and so I’m unable to get the pictures off of them!  But tomorrow we’ll have wireless internet (not just this “modem” internet that is really just a flash-drive with a cellular SIM card in it).  One of these precious items will be a video of our abode here.  It takes you from our bathroom and out to our porch.  It’s got the best commentary too…I think, I don’t remember.  Anyways, speaking of bathroom, today when we got back from down the hill, while I was still red-faced and sweaty, we both got to take a nice shower.  Mind you, it’s quite a bit different of a shower than in the U.S.  It’s more of a “shower” than a shower.  Nonetheless, it felt incredible.

That’s all for now, I’m exhausted and we’re waking up early (6ish) to catch the bus to Kigali tomorrow.

I’ll leave you with two flies mating]

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[Classy as usual, babe. And may I also add that my shower was remotely warm at the end? It was another little thing that gave me hope.]

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4 Responses to “Little Things”

  1. Jennifer Wellington February 13, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    Love this Maggie! Gave me big smiles. Hope to meet Justin some day!

  2. Laurie Guille Best February 14, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    Thinking of you both and praying God will make a way, when there seems to be no way. My hats off to you Maggie, I admire what you and Justin are doing there. You will both make a difference in their lives.

  3. Donna February 14, 2012 at 6:05 am #

    Ooooh, those children are so beautiful! I’m glad you survived, Maggie. You’ll get braver every day and when it’s time to leave you’ll want to stay. Or at least be torn. Except maybe about the cockroaches. I absolutely abhor those things, too.

    Can’t wait for the videos tomorrow!

  4. Kaity B February 17, 2012 at 7:02 am #

    I remember feeling completely overwhelmed and claustrophobic in Uganda/Rwanda being surrounded, poked and prodded by curious dark-skinned children. I had the same exact fears. Your honesty is refreshing, Maggie 🙂

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