Friday, 31 January 2014

Helping Is Easy, Part I

Day One: Arrival in Malawi.

It was the wet season and there were misty mountains and green fields, and sudden, solid downpours. Wandering into the centre of town, the streets were crowded with lopsided wooden stalls selling fruit and veggies, mobile phone chargers, local artwork and cheap plastic toys. People's eyes watched me, the foreigner, walk by.
"Hi brother" they called out "come see, looking is free." Bewildered, I walked on.

Minibuses with too many bodies crammed inside cruised past, and there was a man hanging out the open door drumming up yet more business. "Hello brother, where to?" he said.

Coming back to the lodge on the first afternoon I saw a group of kids playing soccer on a dirt patch with a ball made of plastic bags scrunched up and tied together. I'd brought a soccer ball from home, so I ran to my room, pumped it up, and ran back. When the kids saw it they stopped dead. I introduced myself and asked if I could play.

Within five minutes, it had gone from twenty kids to about eighty. They came from nearby huts, they came from the maize fields, they popped up out of the ground to play football with the white man and his ball. From about four years old to fourteen, they all played. It was a joyous madness, a wild mob running and laughing and trying to get a foot to the ball. Then an organiser appeared and broke people into teams and there was a competition.

The smallest kids stayed on the sidelines. There was a cheer squad of boys behind the goals who chanted and sung and when a goal was scored they poured onto the field to dance. Girls of no older than six had babies on their backs - their little brothers or sisters, presumably -  and stood quietly, sometimes stealing a glance at the strange white man.

The boys played with skill, with the body language and intelligent passing that comes with a genuine understanding of the game. The goal posts were made of bamboo sticks wedged together and when the ball struck them, the cross bar fell off. There was an agile climber amongst the junior cheer squad who shimmied up to replace it and the singing continued.

The afternoon wore on and I decided I wanted to give them the ball. The organiser told me they were part of a club, and he called the whole mad mob together for a meeting and explained that the ball was being given for them to share. There was an uproar of cheering and dancing and the kind of smiles you never knew existed until you saw them. I went to bed, that first night in Africa, with my heart racing and my mind on fire.

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