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Saturday, May 09, 2009

J and J's NFTA part 3: Cultural Immersion

When Julia and I arrived in Fort Portal, I really had no idea what to expect. But as we jumped off a taxi-pick-up and entered the campus of the girls' school housing all the teams, we were met with a warm welcome as the girls on the CSB team yelled "Julia, you're here!" and ran to hug her and carry our bags. Our team of 20 girls and one chaperone was housed on one half of a sturdy cement dorm: a dozen metal frame bunk beds and a roof, and a nearby pit latrine. Everything else: mattresses, sheets, plastic bowls, cups, sacks of corn meal and beans, firewood, jerry cans for water, kitengis for towels, soap, basins, salt, sugar, etc. had been brought from our school. As we milled about greeting the excited team, anticipating the first match the next morning, they invited us to stay. And so we did. At first I thought, let's see if we can make it one night. By the end I realized, this is a rare privilege.

Sure, the wafting odor of urine and garbage from the congested latrines was unpleasant for all of us. It was a challenge to bathe with a gallon of cold water in an outdoor tin stall. We improved our eat-with-your-fingers from shared bowls skills. I resorted to asking teachers at schools we played to plug my phone in to recharge the battery, a luxury I had previously taken for granted. We washed out clothes by hand with our little ration of water. And since Julia and I borrowed mattresses from the Chedesters, we each had a bed, while the girls slept two to a mattress on the bottom bunks, using the top as a storage shelf. But as the days wore on, none of that seemed very consequential.

Instead I marveled to witness the way 22 of us functioned as a single organism, everything shared. Once they settled down for the night, almost no one stirred. Then between 5:30 and 6 someone would wake, and all would begin to get up, opening the creaking metal door to creep out to the cho in the morning darkness, pulling on shirts and shoes for dawn training. Each day began and ended with the harmonizing voices of the girls singing from their beds, and then a short meditation and prayer. As the dorm emptied the chaperone, counselor Eunice, and I would relax with our Bibles watching the sun paint brilliant pinks across the cow pastures below us. When the girls returned we sipped cups of thick hot posho porridge, and divided up gear for the games. With 5 games in 6 days there was a lot of down time: reading, hearing stories, getting to know Eunice who is delightful. Time to reflect, and pray, time away from normal responsibilities and the distracting burden of possessions. Julia had brought along scrabble tiles and a card game called 5 crowns, and quickly taught groups of girls to play each, so that she became the main instigator of entertainment. The team captain, the only girl who is in the Senior 6 class on the team, was in my cell group Bible study for her first few years, but most of the other girls I did not know very well. I began to learn their names, and listen and watch and absorb more about life for a teenage girl in Bundibugyo. They talk about boys, They talk about spirits who have disturbed their families. They talk about worries that their aunt will no longer be able to pay fees. They sing. They giggle. A lot.

So much of our life involves being different, being on the outside. So the gift of going undercover so to speak, was a precious one. I went from feeling doubt, to feeling some pride (!) in "coping up", to wondering why I shouldn't cope since we are all human beings.

On the 5th day we learned abruptly that our game had been delayed until the 6th day . . . meaning Julia and I would miss a ride home to Bundibugyo with Scott, meaning one day longer away than I had geared up for by then. I complained, quite a bit, wanting the whole schedule to work out more conveniently for me. But the Spirit convicted me (quickly, one of the advantages of praying for revival and repentance). Was I pretending to live by faith, or really trusting? I confessed my attitude to Eunice. That turned out to be one of the best days of all, lots of time to listen and visit. God was giving us a gift, and I almost didn't take it, like Mary at the tomb missing the whole beauty of the situation in the disappointment of my expectations.

Who would have thought that living in a dorm of 22 with nothing much more than a sleeping bag and a few books would be a real vacation?

1 comment:

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