The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend Jason and I met with Susan from church to travel to Lancaster to visit the Congolese refugee family* we were partnered with through Church World Service. It was my second visit and Jason’s first. After having a so-so first experience, more so because of being indirectly forced to drive there in the rain, I was hopeful that the second visit would be more enjoyable since the weather was great.
Earlier in the week I had texted the father to ask him if the family would be home for us to visit, and he said we were welcome. Texting was a relief to my communication anxiety as originally I thought I would have to call and hope he would understand my English well enough to know what I was asking. I’m not sure if he had any type of translation device on his phone, or used a Swahili to English dictionary, but I was glad we established the visit without any issues.
I had intended to go to Five Below to buy a soccer ball to take, but due to spending the morning at the car dealership buying Jason’s used Toyota Rav4, I didn’t have time. Fortunately Susan took a route that enabled us to get off the highway and stop there before continuing to Lancaster. I ended up buying both a soccer ball and a jump rope after remembering the CWS volunteer coordinator say that the girls liked to jump rope.
Upon entering the home we gave the father dominoes that Susan had bought, and I gave the children the soccer ball and jump rope. The oldest boy took both gifts, particularly excited over receiving the soccer ball. It became evident through our visit that while a daughter was the oldest child, the son was the leader of the children. We mentioned to the parents about going to the park, using hand gestures to point in the direction we wanted to go, and shortly set out and around the block. Susan had asked the father if they were coming and he said yes, but we don’t think he actually understood the question as only the five children joined us while the parents stayed home with the baby.
Three of the girls quickly began using the jump rope while Jason and I began kicking the soccer ball back and forth with the son. His skills were much more advanced than either of ours even with wearing sandals. Susan pushed the youngest daughter on a swing. I eventually left Jason to keep kicking the soccer ball to help swing the jump rope. Not being allowed to jump due to my hamstring injury was a good excuse to not embarrass myself in front of girls who clearly were masters at it. They sang jump rope rhymes in Swahili and I would’ve loved to have known what they were saying to compare it to the old rhymes I sang in elementary school while jumping rope.
The children hadn’t seem to take an interest in the playground equipment, and I realized that they may not have ever encountered anything like it. I guided the youngest child over and showed her how to go down the smallest slide. She followed then proceeded to repeat the activity. One of the other girls soon joined, and then I showed them the larger slide. The youngest one was afraid, so I held her hand and guided her down the slide. Jason, Susan and the other children soon joined us in exploring the equipment. As the afternoon grew hotter one of the girls walked home to bring back a gallon of water and a cup. I was uncertain if I should follow her, not knowing the area, but as other children were coming and going from the park I figured it was safe.
Jason, Susan and I sought out spots in the shade and it was very apparent the kids weren’t as bothered by the direct heat as we were. Susan began a hand game with one of the children by clapping her hands on her legs, then clapping her hands together then clapping her hands against the girls’ hands. The girl quickly caught onto the pattern. I began to do the same with the youngest child. I tried to recall various hand slapping rhymes I sang as a kid but couldn’t think of any.
After about an hour and a half at the playground we decided that was enough sun for the day, plus Susan had an event that evening to get to. We walked the children home and their father encouraged us to come inside, but we implied we had to leave. We gave the kids high fives and everyone stood outside waving until we had turned off their block.
I am so glad I didn’t let my fears of communicating keep me from visiting the family a second time. Few words were spoken while playing with the children, but words weren’t needed to teach new things or share in the fun together. Jason, who is not a kid person by any means, said that he had a great time and that he probably had more fun with those kids than any other kids in his life. They were very well behaved and shared things with each other. We could tell by the tone of the brother’s voice at times that he was giving the sisters orders, but none of them ever fought. I was reminded how in a world of consumerism, with so many kids wanting the newest toys, that something as simple as a soccer ball and jump rope can keep some kids occupied for hours. I am grateful for this cultural and growth experience and hope that we are bringing as much joy to this family’s life as they are to ours.
*Names have been kept out of the writing to ensure the family’s privacy.