07 June 2010

Why Footballs are Great, and the Complexity of Organized Games

When the bus pulled up for us, I had flashbacks to Tilikum, a Bible camp I went to as a kid. The smell of sunscreen and bug spray, trying to find a good seat, the sound of nervousness chatting, and the awkwardness of people who don’t know each other yet. This week, we helped a team of college students here from Arkansas put on a VBS out in LaJenn, about 15 minutes down the road by school bus. As the bus pulled out onto the “highway” (think dirt road, rocky, lots of mud), it turned left, and I looked at David. We’d arranged for a friend to buy us our favorite kind of mangoes, and he was set to deliver them to us this afternoon…down the road, to the right. We checked for his cell phone number as we bounced down the road, but to no avail. Rats. That’s living in Haiti for you—he’d understand.

“What’s that?” one of the team members asked shyly, as we passed a compound with blue and white buildings and a tall fence with razor wire. “Oh, that’s the U.N.,” I answered. “And what do they do here?” someone else asked. Mostly, it seems like they drive around in their big white U.N. truck with tinted windows and play football (soccer). Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad they’re here. I feel a lot safer knowing I could knock on their gate if I needed to…but I still haven’t figured out why they’re here exactly.

We arrived at the school, and the kids were all waiting for us. They sang a few songs, including “Read Your Bible, Pray Every Day,” which we can now sing in Creole, English, and Dutch, thanks to some other friends from MAF we met back at HQ a few months ago. Then they broke up into groups, sending the older kids outside while the little ones spent the first session listening to a Bible story. Our job was entertainment and interaction with the big kids until the little ones were done, and then we’d switch.

There was confusion, inevitably. The kids had amassed in a large, muddy space in front of the school. “Was there a field?” I went and asked the head teacher—there wasn’t. “Was there any equipment?” Nope—just what you brought. “What do they know how to play?” Football (soccer). “What about other kid-type games?” I tried to explain that Haitian kids don’t really…play. They do play, in the sense that they have imaginations and cardboard and teddy bears, but they don’t play in the sense of learning organized games.

We broke them into four groups—one group had a soccer ball (they did not need a translator); one group had a Frisbee (they also seemed to have some kind of communication figured out); the other two groups were in trouble. Our first attempt was a game we called “Kanna, Kanna, Poul”… “Duck, Duck, Chicken,” because I don’t know how to say “Goose,” and I forgot that I had my dictionary with me. That was a hit—they picked it up pretty quick.

The last group had wandered back behind the school and wanted to try “Freeze Tag.” I was skeptical, but I gave it my best go: “You’re going to run around in this area. One person is “it.” (The word for “it” in Creole (li) is the same as the word for “he” and “she,” so I stuck with English.) If they touch you, you freeze. You can’t run. You can’t walk. You can just stand. But then another person is…” My brain got stuck. What do you call the person who unfreezes you? “Another person is the sun, and when they touch you, you can run again. Does that make sense?” They all said yes, which means nothing. “Are you excited?” They stared at me like I was a drill sergeant who’d just asked his soldiers if they wanted to run six miles. I sighed. “Well, let’s try it. One, two, three, go!” Two of the college students were the “it” people, and one was “the sun.” It was chaos. Seriously. We tagged them—they didn’t freeze. “The sun” touched them—they didn’t start running again. Half the kids ran over and hid behind me. We scrapped it.

Then I had a brain wave—what about Red Light, Green Light? My smart husband pointed out that the only traffic lights here are in Port-au-Prince, so these kids have probably never seen one. But I thought I could make it work…we called it “Kouri, Kanpe,” which means “Run, Stand.” And I’m proud to say, it worked like a champ.

I got my hand held a lot. I got my skin stroked and my shirt tugged and my name called and it was glorious. One girl in particular, during a lull, came up and just stood close to my side, resting her head…and it reminded me of a sermon I’d heard on a podcast from our church in Vancouver a while back. Daniel was talking about comfort, and he said that it meant “to hold to one’s side.” So I gave her a hug. She grinned at me, and I had a shadow for the rest of the day. It was really a blessing to us to be able to positively interact with the kids and bring them some fun and comfort in their lives.

Thanks for making our life here possible. Still no word on our housing—please keep praying!


  1. I had a similar experience when I led PE for the barrio kids in Nicaragua! It's amazing how God transcends our lack of language to make things work out! Keep up the good work you two, you are making progress!

  2. I love reading your blogs and watching your videos.I think that the children of Haiti are very blessed to have you in their lives.