It appears, the neighbor children (and that’s like 50 kids) seem to think that Joseph is the easiest name to remember of us three so every time we go out all I hear is my name being shouted from every bare-footed child in every unpaved direction. Sometimes it makes me laugh and sometimes I can’t stop my eyes from welling up, especially because I can’t do anything for them and this is most discouraging. I did buy a soccer ball for them to play with and we go and play with them at times (except when they knock on our door at 6:00 AM). It’s a lot of fun and those little ten year olds totally dominate us! I tried to blame it on the fact I was wearing my sandals and I needed real shoes to play in until I saw that most were playing unshod.
The Big Dipper here is in a different part of the sky—quite obvious if one stops to consider, but does one really stop just to consider? But Major Borealis practically slaps me in the face every time I step outside on a clear night. And in its new, or different, location, it reminds me I am elsewhere.
One such night I sat with our guard, Katama, and a neighbor boy, Germa; the three of us star-gazing, failing to communicate verbally but trying just the same until we finally grew content to just sit in silence, enjoying the quiet camaraderie that surpassed basic understanding. The weather was ideal and the stars were in the billions. It was the perfect night, belonging only to movies and storybooks. In the stirring silence Germa broke in and said a word in Amharic I did not understand. Katama smiled and nodded his head. When I looked at Germa to see if he knew the English word of what he said, he thought for a moment then uttered, “Happiness.”
I bought another soccer ball for the neighborhood kids. The first was too cheap and broke quickly. Everyone seemed to know of one shop in town that had a good quality ball. So after a chaotic journey there and to a bike shop to pump it up—really the simplest of errands can take all day—I returned to the neighborhood being greeted as if I were returning from a successful hunt. Not too dissimilar I guess as soccer, like food, also has a certain way of sustaining life. However, playing on a mostly gravel and dirt field with weed patches and thorn bushes for side lines gives any ball, regardless of quality, a short life span: pretty much just one game. But the kids were determined to have their ball last longer than one game. They pooled their resources together and somehow paid to have the ball repaired: sincere evidence of their gratitude and appreciation for the gift.
Per usual, the game continued the next morning at 6:00 AM to the banging on the door and laughter of children. When eyeing the soccer ball, I discovered the age-old wisdom of Duct tape was as liberally applied and universally believed on the rolling hills of Eastern Africa as it was back home. In the end it had little to do with the actual ball, but in what it symbolized. It was a reason to come together. It united the neighborhood with the strange, white foreigners in the common and jubilant experience of sport.
I’ll always remember this when I quibble over politics, differences of opinions or industry best practices. There is always a common experience to build on. There is always Duct tape.
Joseph is a public relations practitioner and writer in Washington, D.C. who loves to build socially conscious brands and help nonprofits with their communication strategy. He is currently running his own community organization focused on educational activities and service opportunities. Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/greatnessclub?fref=ts