When I finally got around to emptying my red-dirt stained backpack a few weeks ago I found two little stowaways that had been snuck into my bag, and carried home - all the way home - from Juvi...
There's nothing quite like the chaos of a classroom of thirty kids all needing their pencils sharpened right now. And sharpeners never seemed to last very long in the classroom, either breaking or disappearing entirely, so most of the time they were all scrambling for the same two sharpeners. "Moja moja!" I'd tell them. One at a time. But it took me until the last week to realize that this could all be avoided by taking the pencils back the home base and sharpening them all that night.
Which is what I did every night that week, sharpening pencils until my hands were sore and blistered, but oh the relief of that first morning when everyone sat down quietly and waited for their pencils. It's those little things in life that you learn to appreciate.
That last week I also went back to Juvi for a couple afternoons, along with my brother and a few of the other volunteers, just for a chance to play with the kids. A lot of the boys wanted to draw, others wanted to play Tic-Tac-Toe with my brother, and some of the kids were deriving the greatest joy from bouncing that little green plastic ball on the cement floor. The ball would bounce and roll erratically around the room with a handful of kids scrambling after it.
My favorite game to play with the kids, or rather, their favorite game to play with me, was Hangman. They tended to play English words and phrases, usually the same words that were plastered around the room labeling the "chalkboard" and the "window". I liked to play a mixture of the English that they knew and the Swahili that I knew, though the hardest part was learning their own particular pronunciation of the alphabet.
One time I had up on the board:___a kchizi kama ndizi. For those who have never taken Introductory Swahili, it's a common phrase that translates to cool crazy like a banana. A lot of the volunteers liked to wear it on their t-shirts. But poor Clinton just wasn't figuring it out. So I finally looked right at him and said, "Mambo, Clinton!". Mambo is a greeting: How are things? And you respond by saying Poa. Cool. Clinton opened his mouth to reply just as he figured out what I was getting at, and a huge smile grew on his face. For the rest of the day, whenever I would say "Mambo!" to him, he'd just laugh.
Just a pencil and a ball...and I realize how much I miss it.