mawe: day six.

February 25, 2010

jacob.

mancala. it’s a game many are familiar with. in our western world it is a wooden board with two rows of pits in which you move stones around working to collect them all. i first played years ago when i was college student, and remember loving it – despite my lack of strategizing knowledge. i hadn’t played for years until this past summer.

when i arrived back in tanzania this summer i was so thankful to be there again. the moment i stepped off the plane the african air seemed to hug me, welcoming me back to a home of sorts. there is something about that place which captivates my heart and it felt right to be there again. i could hardly wait to see friends, to taste the delicious food i had dreamt of since i left, to see the beauty of the people and the market and the land, but mostly i couldn’t wait to play with, to hold, to sing and dance with the children i had met and knew i was returning to.

the first day there when i walked back to the orphanage, and the kids excitedly swarmed me, my heart ached with gratefulness. i was back. i had no idea what this particular summer would look like, but i was back and that was all that mattered. my swahili was weak, though. and i knew it would take a few weeks to get back to where i had been, and continue learning the language. the first week or so of being back i had noticed a group of kids sitting under a tree [one of the few trees in the town of boma ng’ombe] playing a game in the dirt. day after day they would sit in the same spots, playing something in the dirt. finally, one day i walked over to watch. mancala. they were playing what i called mancala. in the dirt there were small pits dug out by a stick, and in each pit was a pile of stones. i loved it. i loved watching these kids play one another, a small group around them cheering them on and giving advice.

one morning, when arrived at KiChiJo [the orphanage] breakfast had not been served yet [not completely out of the ordinary]. a boy, jacob, was there and i asked him if he would like play with me. he grinned. we walked to the spot under the tree and he began carving out pits in the dirt with stick. my swahili was still slow – and jacob kindly spoke to me simply and slowly. he told me how many stones i needed to put in each pit. he explained how the game worked. we began playing. we played almost every day.

the time jacob and i sat and played together was holy. he kicked my butt nearly every time. and i didn’t care, not as long as i got to sit and play with jacob. my lack of swahili and his lack of english made talking difficult, especially at first, but we found ways. we laughed much and we discovered ways to understand and be understood by one another. our time together, under that tree, sitting on rocks and playing a game in the dug out dirt, was holy. i met a boy who’s smile was brighter than anything i had ever seen. i met a boy full of patience and kindness. i met a smart, funny, and sweet boy. he taught me songs to sing and patiently listened as i stuttered through swahili phrases. sometimes when we were together my chest would ache with sadness for the life this little boy had led. sometimes i wanted to scream and kick at all he did not have. and sometimes i could not hide the wetness in my eyes. but i also saw a child who, at 11-years-old, knew more about integrity, faith, and friendship than i did.

God showed me himself in jacob. and as i sit here and think about those times with him, as i think about the songs we sang and his incredible smile, i cry. i cry because i miss him. i cry because i love him. i cry because i long to sit with him under that tree and play a game. i cry because God gives us beautiful gifts – like a summer of mawe with jacob.

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