Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jinja is for Lovers

Today's blog is coming straight from the fingertips of your gentle giant, Tommy. (Quick side story: while walking to the soccer pitch today, an older gentleman passed us and said, in English, "You are very large! How are you doing?" It truly is great to be the biggest man in the village.)

Day 3 at TAOST brought loud noises, smiling faces, and new experiences for all. We started the morning off by singing some old favorites with the entire school, including "This Little Light of Mine" and "Lean on Me". The kids love getting into the motions, and have seemed to quickly overlook some of the team's tonal deficiencies (Mandy and Zazie notwithstanding). The high energy produced from the singing led straight into some great lessons.

The team working with the youngest group -- Zazie, Seth, Jess, and myself -- have really been focusing hard on basic English vocabulary. Today we played "charades", having one kid come to the front and act out a word we have learned during the week, while the other kids attempted to guess what was being acted out. They really loved this game, and we loved hearing the (often off-the-wall) guesses. I recommend this as a great party game for any of you parents who have planned nightly shindigs while the little one is away (like we didn't know). The book we read was "Wheels on the Bus" which, as always, was a huge hit. This just confirms what we all already suspected: "Wheels on the Bus" is the greatest piece of American literature ever produced. So move over "War and Peace", and stop complaining "Sense and Sensibility" (that was a book too, right?). We also read the day's bible story, the story of Jonas and the Whale. The little ones had the story translated to them and loved talking about fish and the ocean.

The team working with the middle group -- Cregan, Bianca, James, and Amber -- kept their group energized about Jonah and the Whale by playing a rousing game of "leapfrog". Though I must confess that I was too enthralled with the little ones to fully grasp the connection (though I have no doubt it was there). As always, their group had constant noise and participation from all. (Side note: I don't want to sound like I'm complaining, but man, they are LOUD. And I mean all of them, leaders included. They really get into everything they are doing over there. It is quite impressive.)

The oldest group, held down by Mandy, Joe, Jenna and Max, really had their group enthralled with the children's bible. Mandy told a great story about the older kids asking her to read them a bible story that they had yet to hear. They really want to learn more about the Bible and this is exciting for the whole team. I can speak from my own experience when I say that I have been extremely impressed with the way that the oldest kids interact with the leaders, as well as the younger students at TAOST. They really have been a group that we have relied on to help bridge language barriers (their English is slightly better than the rest of the school), as well as to keep the younger children (somewhat) behaved and orderly. It is a credit to the staff at TAOST that all of the children are being raised in a disciplined, nurturing environment. While the facilities and the resources are sorely lacking, TAOST is on par with any Western school when it comes to the care and love that the staff exhibits. Seeing this over the last few days has solidified for many of us how imperative it is that we are able to do things, like this missions trip, to help equip this school, these teachers, and especially these kids with the resources and know-how that they have lacked. We hope that this is something we can continue to do, even when are time in Uganda has come to an end.

Lunchtime brought an all new experience for the members of the YG team. The Headmistress from TAOST treated us to a local Jackfruit. I will attempt to give you an image of what this is, but if my description is lacking (likely), feel free to google it. A Jackfruit is a giant yellow melon-type fruit that grows on trees. It is slightly larger than a pumpkin (how it stays on the tree is a mystery to me...which ryhmes, but I digress...) We were given half of a Jackfruit (or a "hackfruit", as I called it), which was enough to satisfy the entire 14 member team. The outside is much like a pineapple (though, as I learned through Seth's efforts, does not come even close to feeling good as a back-scratcher) and the inside contains several sectioned-off "pods" (our term). In each pod is a GIANT seed that, to be honest, looked sorta creepy, so they were used to throw at people. After de-creepy-seeding, you were left with a rubbery orange piece of fruit that was shaped like one of those pads you put on pencils so that your hand doesn't rub against the wood (think back to K Mart back-to-school shopping when the charges were in second grade, post-Ticonderoga). The actual fruit tasted like a banana and a grapefruit mixed together, with a rubbery texture. That was probably WAY more information than you guys could ever want about the Jackfruit, but I typed it and you read it. So here we are.

After lunch we returned to the soccer pitch. Dave and Mandy have described for you the games we play (though we added kickball today in my effort to introduce every game that kids on college campuses play: kickball, whiffle ball, and frisbee....hackey-sack is tomorrow). I'd like to take a second to talk about the two other interesting parts of our afternoon: the walk and the newbies. The walk from TAOST to the soccer field takes us out of the village and up a large road. It's roughly a 20 minute walk (considering the little legs that are following us). This has been a great opportunity for all of us to really get to know some of the kids. Rarely is their a leader without (at least) 2 kids holding their hands, and we've been able to learn a lot about each others lives outside of school. Edgerine, for example, lives with his aunt and his two sisters. He loves to play whiffle ball and is absolutely fascinated with the animals that hang about the village. His best friend is Anthony (side note: Anthony is the child Dave referenced earlier when saying the Yankees needed to be in Jinja. I'm going to hold him for the Cubs, but that's simply due to my own preference, and not the fact that I don't want him pigeon-holed as a DH just because he hasn't learned the finer points of fielding a grounder yet...give him time).

The second point I wanted to mention about the field is the "newbies". Many of the team members have mentioned the difficulty they've had dealing with the fact that we really only have supplies for the students of TAOST, and not the hundreds of other children in the village who we have had to turn away (this has really been a struggle for our team members). However, when we are at the field, there is room, and time, for any and all kids that want to come. We have literally dealt with triple the number of kids, if not more, that we work with in the mornings. This has allowed us to share love with more kids, and to see more smiling faces. The availability of this field really was a blessing from God, and one which we are truly thankful for.

I must now be off to join the team for dinner, but we will try and give you more updates as the week progresses.

The Chronicles of the Sr. High Youth Team of Redeemer Presbyterian Church NYC on their trip to TAOST school of Jinja, Uganda, in conjunction with Fount of Mercy.

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