Sunday, July 22nd:
A day with the boys at Tone La Maji.
We began our day attending the Swahili service and part of the English (though mostly Swahili) service at the Catholic Church next door. We often hear the choir practicing during the week and after wandering over last week to talk with some of the youth who were practicing a dance, decided to check it out. The first service was packed and much more what I expected an African church service to be than last weeks trip to Nairobi Chapel. The youth (younger youth) had a large role in the service, dancing down the isle numerous times during the service. It was great to see how many people were involved in the service and how joyful everyone was towards worship. I'm sure God was pleased with their hearts and approach to worship.
Following church/mass we drove back into the countryside to spend the afternoon at Tone La Maji, one of the Kononia projects started by Michael and Father Kizito. Having only visited for a short time earlier in our trip, this trip provided more time for us to get to know the boys.
The boy I connected with, and whose story I will tell in conjunction with the story of Tone La Maji (meaning "Drop of Water"), is Kevin. Kevin is an 11 year old boy who, like most boys at the home, could not be fully supported by his parents in the slums (he has two brothers and two sisters). It was this lack of family support and love that makes him and the other boys connect immediately to strangers and visitors, always wanting to hold hands and stay close by their new friends. Kevin loved "football" (soccer) and one day wants to do it professionally. Upon arriving we were immediately introduced to Kevin's soccer skills (he is only 11 and yet amazing at juggling a soccer ball). The cool thing about going to the home on the weekend rather than during the week is that we have more time time to spend with the boys (they don't get back from school until 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon on weekdays), and the weekend is when the soccer tournaments are. This particular Sunday there was a tournament for the 17-and-under team from Tone La Maji. The home has 60 boys and four soccer teams - divided into U-17 and U-14 for the talented and soccer-knowledgeable boys, and U-13 and U-12 for the boys who are less skillful and knowledgeable.
After spending some time with the boys, and for me with Kevin at their dormitory area, we all headed up to the ground (what the boys call the soccer field) to watch a match between Tone La Maji's U-17 team and a team from a town down the road. The game was played on the most beautiful, scenic, and soccer worthy field I have ever seen in my life (I have watched and played soccer my whole life and have never seen anything like this). As for the field itself, instead of chalk or painted lines, the lines were simply dug out of the dirt - all the appropriate measurements, and the goal posts were nothing more than three thick sticks placed together in the appropriate dimensions - these with no nets and yet as sturdy as medal posts. The ground was mostly dirt with some patches of grass and did have four orange cones, one at each corner as visual markings. As for the officials, it was the coach of Tone La Maji (a volunteer from the Republic of Congo) and coordinator of the tournament, that refereed both afternoon games (there was one game before it) and the funniest thing was that the line judge was a kid with a stick that had a pair of red soccer shorts tied to it that served as the flag. As for the players, they had surprisingly nice jersey tops (probably donated by outside donors) and though most had shin guards, socks, and shoes, there were some from every team that simply played barefoot. The goalie uniforms were not as official as they were long sleeve shirts and pants that were simply a part of the boys wardrobe. Needless to say, these uniforms and the field allowed for a fun and competitive game of soccer.
Adding the the makeup of the game itself was the scenery and the fans. The field was set out on a very large flat area next to a road, surrounded on one side by large mountains and the other by a green and forest-filled river valley. In addition, as its fan base, Tone La Maji had the remaining 45 boys who were not on the U-17 team, the ten from our group plus three guides, and the full time volunteers at the home. It was a community endeavor. And while the older boys played the game, we got to hang out with and interact with the younger boys - me with Kevin and some of his friends. One thing that every boy and girl we have interacted with loves is our cameras. Once they figure the cameras out they love taking pictures and videos of themselves, them and us together, and their friends. Kevin and his friends particularly liked taking videos of themselves rapping (in Swahili so I didn't know what they were saying). They were also totally into their "brothers" who were playing the game. Both halves Kevin and I sat on the side of the opposing teams goalie, to be at the forefront of any goal scored by Tone La Maji. When a goal was scored (only one by Tone La Maji) the fans would all join the team members in running hysterically to the corner cone and do a little dance while screaming and yelling. I did get a video of this which captures it the best I could.
As for Kevin, he, like Esau is someone I would like to sponsor and keep in touch with if the opportunity presented itself (if I haven't said it already, they have sponsorship of $30 a month available in Germany and Italy, but not yet in America). Being cold at the soccer game, I gave Kevin my long sleeve shirt, but had to take it back before we left because we are not allowed to give things to the children (for two reasons - 1) that if we give to one kid the others will then ask for things or be upset, 2) that we want the house and administrators themselves to give the kids our presents so the kids look highly upon their home and "parents" rather than become dependent or hopeful toward outsiders). The one main need Kevin has is football shoes because he has the same shoes for school, home, and soccer. Maybe I'll have a chance to help while here or after going back home.
Following the football game we had tea and cookies with the boys in their dining hall which turned into a minor dance party and time to exchange thank-yous and gifts between us and them (we gave the boys 8 soccer balls to share amongst themselves).
After Tone La Maji (and a hard yet fun departure - hard because we were attached to the kids; fun because it was night and our group had our own little dance party on our bus while leaving) we went back to Shalom House and had a second entertaining show from the local African drum and dance group. We were supposed to have a drug and dance lesson following the show but during the show 15 Italians (also staying at Shalom) came in so there were to many people for a lesson.