Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The power of a ball...

Before I was adopted there was one thing that I wanted more than anything else.  I wanted my biological dad to take me outside and play catch; I wanted to throw a ball.  I remember one time he got a ball out and we got into his truck.  We drove to the park.  He stopped and then turned around and we went back home.  I remember feeling so hurt and crushed.  I thought that we were actually going to have a catch.  The power of a ball crushed me.    

After I was adopted, my new dad took me into the yard and taught me how to throw a ball.  We would go to the park sometimes and throw there.  I remember feeling so loved by the act of throwing a ball.  It was awesome!  The power of a ball showed me love.

For some reason this morning, I was thinking of this.  So on my way into town this morning I stopped and picked up a few balls like the one pictured here.  I made my way down near the Khetias where the street boys I've made friends with hang out.  I sat down and bounced a tennis ball on the ground.  I sat there for a few minutes; maybe 10 or so waiting for the kids to show up.  I looked to my left and saw two of the boys walking.  They saw me and yelled my name and came running down the street to me.  Let me say, the looks on the faces of the others in town was priceless!  It was great!  I showed them the ball and asked if they wanted to play.  They said yes and we threw the ball around for a little while.  Right there, just off the dirt road and only somewhat out of the not-so-busy intersection, we played catch.  In short time, other boys joined us.  The boys were all smiles as they began to throw the ball back and forth.  We played a volleyball-like game with a squishy ball.  The people walking had all kinds of reactions.  Most of them just stared at us as they walked by, usually with a smile on their face.  It was seriously like these kids were at a park.  For a few hours today, they may have even forgotten that they were street boys.  For a few hours today, these boys were just that - boys.  They were able to be kids.  I pulled out the checkers board and a deck of cards and it was like play time.  Some played more ball, some played checkers and others played cards.  

The Khetias across the street was getting a delivery early on in the day.  The truck driver came over and played with us for a bit.  He actually picked up three of the balls and juggled, which the kids really loved!  I tried to juggle, but it wasn't nearly as impressive.  

What I love about these boys is that they call me friend - and they mean it.  They spend time with me because they enjoy it, not because I give them things.  In fact, they know that I won't.  Most won't even ask.  There was a new boy today who wanted to keep one of the balls.  Another boy got it from him and gave it back to me and said, "put this back in your bag".  Honestly, there have been more adults asking me to buy them things than these boys.  Today, a grown man handed me a letter, that appeared to be from the government (probably a fake), that gave him permission to solicit funds from strangers in order to get to Lodwar.  Grown men will boldly ask for a few hundred shillings and then walk away when I tell them that I have no money.  Yet these kids hang around and talk to me.  They teach me Swahili words and expect no money in return.  They hang out and just have fun, like kids are supposed to do.  They know that they are protected when I'm there; they know that they are safe.  In fact, the number one thing that they have asked for is me to take their pictures.    

I know that the power is not in the actual ball but instead in the act of playing a game.  But what power there is!  It's so easy to show these kids love.  Many consider them a nuisance.  But when you get to know them a little bit, they're a ton of fun to be around!  I look forward to the days that I can spend sitting on the street with them.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What do you do when you see an injustice?

The other day I posted about a card game with some street boys and the adventure that that turned into (you can Read it here.  Yesterday, I went back to the same area to play some more games.  I took a small, magnetic checkers game with me.  I sat down across the street from the Khetias (which I told the manager that I will never shop at again after the other day).  There was a cement piece sticking out of the dirt, so I sat down there and opened up my checkers board onto my lap.  Before any kids came up, two adults came up and asked about it.  One of them ended up asking to play.  My first thought was to say no because I was there to be with street kids, not the adults, but I thought it best to go with it.  I'm glad that I did, for a reason that will show soon.  As he beat me pretty badly at a game, a few kids wandered over.  This man came and went a few times; he runs a little shop behind where I was.

The past few weeks I have been having some back pain and after a little while of sitting on this cement slab, my back was begging for a back rest.  I took my little group over to a sidewalk so I could sit against the shops.  Some of the kids played some more checkers, while the rest tried to teach me some Swahili words.  After a bit, a guard came over and asked us to leave.  This guy was different than the previous one though.  He was polite, for starters.  And he wasn't allowing anyone to be sitting on the sidewalk; he didn't single me or the kids out.  I told him that I will respect that and we would move back to the dirt.  I only wanted to know why it was a problem (don't worry, I asked politely).  He was kind and explained that this street has a bank on and he didn't want people idling (loitering, back home) near the bank.  Satisfied with his explanation, we moved back.

Remember that first man that played checkers?  Well, he came back out and brought us all outside of his shop to a table and told us that we could sit on the table and carry on.  I was sure glad that I didn't ignore him earlier!  We carried on for a while longer.  Then, the shop owner from next door came out carrying a long pipe.  The kids ran to the corner right away and huddled behind each other.  He started after them, shaking this pipe.  I yelled at him and asked what he was doing; was he going to hit these boys?  His answer was that he was going to "discipline" them with the pipe.

Okay, stop for a minute.  If you know my background, you may understand why this would set me off.  I have zero tolerance for anyone who abuses a child.  I'm not talking about a spanking.  I'm talking about abuse.  I consider hitting a child with a pipe abuse.  By this time I was pretty ticked at him.  I told him, "if you want to hit someone with that pipe, you come and hit me, not these boys.  But I promise you, I'll hit back.  And I'll hit you much harder".  He went on to explain that these kids have run away from their parents and need to be beaten.  I again told him that it isn't his job to discipline them and that if he hit them, he and I would have a fight.  He was shocked that I would fight him over these street boys.  But I would have had he not backed down.  I was seconds away from pulling the baton out of my bag and going after him.  I will NOT sit by while someone abuses a child.  I'm sorry, I just won't stand for that.  Not here, not back in the States.  Nobody has the right to abuse a child and no child deserves to be abused.  We argued for about a minute or two before he told me that these kids bother him because "they smell bad".  I'll admit, they did smell bad.  A few of them reeked of glue and bad BO.  But I still sat with them and played games and hugged them.  I told this man to go back in his shop and he wouldn't have to smell them anymore.  He realized that I was serious.  I told him one last time that if I ever find out he hit one of these boys I would come into his shop and he and I would have a big problem.

When he finally backed down and went back to his shop, the kids came back with such thankfulness on their faces.  This may very well have been the first time ever that someone has stood up for them.  That's a shame.  There were other adults sitting around that gave me looks of approval.  That's great, but they still just sat there as this man was about to beat these kids.  They saw the injustice and were going to just allow it to happen.  That's unacceptable to me.  I'm not some big, macho guy that doesn't feel pain.  I know full well that had this man hit me with that pipe, it was going to hurt.  I also know that it would have been well worth it.  That pipe would have done a lot more damage to these kids (some were barely 9 or 10 years old).

The question now becomes what will you do when you see an injustice?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

It's okay to treat these boys like human beings

Today was an awesome adventure.  I made my way into town around 9:30 this morning. I found  couple of decks of cards and headed to Khetia's, which is a grocery store here in town.  It's also where a number of street boys hang out.  I walked up and there was what appeared to be a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk playing the guitar.  He had a small bowl out for people to put money in - no different than we ften see back in the States.  I walked just past him, set my bag down and pulled out a deck of cards.  A street boy sat down a few yards away and watched.  As I shuffled the cards I invited him over and asked if he wanted to play a game.  He was very eager.  In fact, 2 more of his friends came with him then.  We were all sitting next to the building, not in the way of foot traffic at all.  There was me, Alex-Juma, Bryan and I honestly cannot remember the other boy's name.  I started by showing them one of the 2 magic tricks that I know; they thought it was col, but most people do :).  I give credit to Jim Vomero for showing me the trick.

I showed the 3 boys how to play the game War.  They picked it up pretty quickly and were smiling and having a good time.  We were probably sitting there for about 10 minutes playing the game.  A few people stopped and starred - it's not every day a white guy is here playing cards on the street like this.  Then a security guard came over and told me that I had to leave.  I told him no.  I said that I am playing a game of cards with my new friends and if the other guy can play his guitar here, then I can play cards.  He wasn't going for it.  he insisted that I am not allowed on the property or on the sidewalk.  After about a minute of debate I looked at the boys and told them, "we have to go play over there in the dirt because this guy's a jerk".  They laughed a bit and followed me across the street.  I must have dropped my sunglasses in that short time because as one of them followed me, he handed them back to me.  First, that's crazy!  I wouldn't have been at all surprised if one of them had kept my glasses without me knowing it.  I felt truly honored by this child's honesty; it really is a rare occurrence here.

We finished our game of war a few minutes later.  The boys taught me a card game next.  I think that this is huge.  Sure, I could have sat there and taught them another game, maybe Go-Fish or something.  But I wanted to learn from them.  Yes, that's right!  It's not just about what I can teach, but what I can learn too.  Personally, I think that far too many of our Christian Ministries focus solely on the church being the hero and teaching everything.  But very rarely are those ministries able to learn from those that they are helping. Sure, this was just a card game.  I get that.  But it's also a focus for me to learn from these boys.  Not just cards.  I want to learn whatever I can from them; it just started with cards today.

During this whole time, many others stopped and starred.  These boys never once asked me for a single thing.  I loved that!  The one boy was sniffing some glue.  I pointed at the bottle and told him that it was bad for him.  That was it.  I wasn't going to make a big deal out of it.  Yes, it's wrong and they shouldn't do it.  But I wanted to meet these kids right where they were.  I wanted to show them and the others around that I care about and love these kids regardless of what they are doing.

Eventually, it was time for me to leave.  The boys handed me the cards back and we said goodbye.  I told them that I'd be back tomorrow and we can play more cards.  I walked back over to the security guard.  I had planned on just asking him some questions.  But then he glared at me, and with an attitude in his voice said, "are you finally done now?".  There went my nice, calm questions...I walked closer to him and told him, "you know, you sit on your butt all day in that chair and don't pay attention to these kids at all.  i had to come all the way here from another country to pay attention to them while you just sit there.  You let this man play guitar on the sidewalk, but won't allow me to play a game of cards.  No body was being disturbed at all.  You should be ashamed of yourself!".  After that, I turned and walked away.  Feeling a bit more like a man for standing up for these boys.

By no means am I saying that this guard should be taking care of the street boys, or feeding them or anything.  But, seriously, he sits on a chair outside of a back entrance.  There are street kids all around him.  The least he could do is say some kind words to them.  It's such an injustice to see so many kids - young kids! - ignored and rejected every day.  Yes, there is a lifestyle that plays into why some of them are on the streets.  I get that.  I really do.  But, these are kids!  They need to be shown that people care about them.  They need to be loved by someone, not rejected by everyone.  So, I'm going back to the same place tomorrow.  I'm taking my deck of cards and a checkers board.  I'm sitting down with these kids again.  And we're going to play some games.  People need to see that it's okay to talk with these boys.  It's okay to shake their hand.

It's okay to treat these boys like human beings.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

My heart in a thousand pieces

This morning started around 7:30AM with some devotional time as a group.  After we ended I asked John if he wanted to walk around town with me and talk to some kids.  We took some bodas (bicycle taxis) into town.  We walked towards Khetias, which is where many street boys hang out.  Nearly right away we met a boy named Alex.  He was definitely high on glue.  I thought that I was going to get high from the smell coming from him!  We talked for a while anyway.  John met another boy, an older boy, and was talking to him.  He was also high and spoke very little English.  Another town local helped translate.  As I talked to Alex, he spoke pretty good English.  We talked about why he likes to be on the street and sniff glue.  I refused to buy him anything at all, but I did make him a deal that I'd be back in town on Thursday.  I told him if he is sober and not high I'd take him to a place in town and get him a Coke and talk with him.  I hate to say it, but I have strong doubts that he will take me up on that offer.  I hope I'm wrong though.  We walked around some side streets for a little while, and then talked to some local con artists.  They are a fun crowd!  But, different story.

After lunch in town we walked some more.  We prayed for a divine appointment and meeting.  We walked up a side street near the Transmat, a local grocery store.  There, we met a boy on the street.  His name is David and he is 13 years old.  He was sniffing a little glue, but his bottle was very low and he didn't smell too bad of the glue.  He was actually pretty sober and clear headed.  I asked if we could sit down and talk.  John met another little boy named Lavin.  As I talked to David, he shared with me that his parents died when he was 5 years old.  We talked for a few minutes and I shared with him some of my story.  I told him of how I lived on the street with my birth mother.  But a family took me in and made me part of their family.  I told him that there is a better life than the glue and streets if he wants it.

Now, most street boys have heard of and been to Oasis of Hope.  It's a local street boys ministry.  David really never heard of it, nor has he been there.  Lavin was afraid to go to Oasis, but we convinced him that we'd keep him safe.  As we walked to get some pikis (motorcycle taxis), David looked at me and asked if he could throw his remaining glue on the ground.  I told him it was okay and without hesitation, he threw don the bottle and kept walking.  John and Lavin hopped on one piki while David and I got on the other.  Lavin had probably never been on a piki before.  He was so happy and giggling the whole ride!  We got to Oasis and Lavin had been there off an on before.  They welcomed him back.  Oasis is a day program and was soon closing.  Lavin stayed and they asked David to return at 8:30 tomorrow morning to get things started for his education there.  We rode the pikis back to The Coffee Shop, which is more of a touristy place to go eat.  I bought David a Coca Cola and John got him a samosa. We sat there and enjoyed a soda and talked for a bit.  I began to share with David the story of Joseph from the bible.  He knew most of the story and actually told it to us!  He is smarter than anyone would credit him for.  It turns out that he used to be a part of a home close to here but he let because they were over crowded and he was old enough to find work.  Unfortunately, he ended up on the streets of Kitale instead.  Normally, I would be cautious to believe the stories.  What helped confirm it was that the girl working at the Coffee Shop recognized him because she used to be in the same home.

As we left, I made plans to meet David there at the Coffee Shop tomorrow at 8AM and I'll take him back to Oasis and stay with him while he gets started there.  Here's where it sucks though.  David still has to be on the streets.  It just got done raining; he was outside in it.  David can go to Oasis tomorrow, but when they close for the day, he still goes back to the street.  In time, they may be able to find him a home.  But for now, he's stuck on the street.  As I rode back home my heart broke into a thousand pieces for David.  Here is a boy who appears to really want a change.  Here's a boy who felt loved today for maybe the first time in a long time.  And here is a boy who is still going to sleep on a cold ground tonight.  It's just not right.  It really sucks.  And my heart weeps for him.  I hope and pray that I see him waiting for me tomorrow.  I hope and pray that he is truly committed to a new life.

Tomorrow is a new day.