Day Twelve: Les Jeux

Ahh … the games people play, in Toubacouta and around the world.

In the evening, after the heat of the day has floated away, the folks come out of their homes to be with their friends. In Canada we have the sport of curling, where large round stones slide down a sheet of ice towards a bullseye. In Senegal players loft heavy metal balls into the air, with backspin, trying to get close to a target rock. The atmosphere is intense. No smiles, but plenty of furrowed brows. As the game wound down, the young man in the picture made a brilliant shot, knocking his opponent’s ball away from the rock. There was no cheering … except for me. The grim intensity wore on.

Farther down the street, I came upon a game of checkers, or was it chess? Actually it felt like something different. Silence from the players and spectators hung in the air. All were focused on the wisdom of the next move. Strategies swirled in the space. I leaned closer, and at one point, reached toward a piece on the board. Truly a dumb move, designed solely to bring attention to myself. The gentleman on the right in the photo shot me a withering glance, and I slunk off to the edge of the gathering. The game continued amid a flurry of brain activity, with nary a muscle moving.

How about a shark face to lighten the proceedings? I had told the kids in Belmont, Canada that last December I’d played soccer with some children, using an empty peanut butter jar. Sophie, an 11-year-old student, suggested I buy some beach balls at the Dollar Store, and inflate them in Africa. Great idea! So I did.

As I lifted this ball to Nima, her face shone. She held it to her chest with such love. It was hers. Nima experimented with throwing it way high and especially liked tossing it backwards. It didn’t matter that her skills were marginal … the smile said all. I loved seeing her chase down the ball when it bounced away.

Now it was time for the Nima and Bruce show. High throws, bounces, wild kicks, rebounds off foreheads … we did it all. Just a simple beach ball was spreading the joy. Really playing the game was just a convenient excuse for laughing together. Nima and I were really good at that.

O Senegal … thanks for allowing me to be with you.