When great-grandmother kicked the soccer ball, long skirt swooshing around her legs, her smoke-deepened voice letting out a yell, we all shrieked with laughter. In a split second, all the children and adults were in the fray, chasing the the ball and passing it to each other. All of a sudden, I was no longer the ‘church leader coming to visit.’ We were not divided by ethnicity, language, life experience, socio-economics, or education. We were just a group of people laughing with the sheer joy of being in this unexpected moment.
Although I felt fully present in a way that has recently been lacking in my life, I was also conscious of taking a step back. Even as I also was chasing the ball and laughing hysterically when the great-grandmother kept calling for the ball, I was studying the faces: smiles stretched from ear to ear, eyes fully alive and full of light, bodies moving in a wild helter-skelter of grace and motion.
A few moments ago, we had been in the grim realities of survival tales. A mother in charge of many children who incurred an astronomical and therefore unpayable fine because she didn’t have the proper bike lights while cycling at night. Now she was threatened with going to jail. A husband who was currently in jail. A pregnant daughter. The daily stresses of providing food for all the children, without jobs, dependent on social help. The list goes on.
And yet, in a single spontaneous second, all the burdens of life were forgotten and we were just in one wild, crazy moment of laughter and joy. Afterwards, the great-grandmother invited us to eat from the large pot of beans she had made for the entire clan. I knew their resources are scarce, and I knew this pot was feeding all the children for the day. But I also knew that this was offered out of a sense of hospitality, connection, and respect, and I could not refuse it. So my friend and I ate sparingly, graciously deflecting the cultural urging of “Just eat just eat.”
Sometimes, I reminded afresh of what it really means to be human, of what it really means to connect with someone, of these moments of joy that sprinkle life’s hardship like fine, powdered sugar. And I am grateful.