Today was the big Inharrime Inter-group Exchange that we have been preparing for for weeks now. It was overall a good day, but with some very high highs and some pretty low lows.
Because there were 130 girls participating in this exchange, we had recruited many PCVs and colleagues from our schools to help us out on this day. We divided the girls into 22 groups for the purpose of painting (each group was responsible for a design) and the groups were scattered between 9 stations, to reduce the number of girls out on the highway painting at a time. Two of the stations were painting, to give them sufficient time, then we had jump rope (it was supposed to be double-dutch, but they didn’t quite get the hang of that), flower making, peanut butter making and eating it, discussing making the transition from secondary school to primary school, dancing the “Cha Cha Slide,” writing cards, and playing soccer. We had someone in charge of controlling time and signaling a switch every 45 minutes and had people distributed between all the stations. The restaurant made a HUGE pot of beans and had lunch ready for everyone when they showed up in three groups. Organization-wise, things went well. And or the morning, we had been able to keep people not associated with the exchange out of the soccer field and away from the wall.
At 1pm a bunch of men soccer players showed up at the field to play a game. We politely informed them that there were no soccer games today, since we had already arranged with the chief of sports for the town to have the field at our disposal from 7am-4pm. They didn’t respond as politely, so things got a little heated after. We called the chief of sports to come tell these guys that they were wrong and needed to leave, and we continued to tell these guys that there was not going to be a soccer game today. But Ann and I couldn’t do much to physically stop 30 grown men from entering the field, so I despaired a little—even though we were right, I thought we might lose this battle. But I had forgotten that I had 130 girls on my side. That’s when something amazing happened. Completely on their own, with no encouragement or instruction from any PCVs, the girls took it upon themselves to ensure that there would be no soccer game today. They began singing and dancing in the middle of the field. Then they took it upon themselves to steal the soccer balls from the boys and bring them to Ann. At one point a player, out of frustration, picked up his soccer ball and ran with it away from the group of laughing girls chasing him. Ladies and gentlemen, the birth of rugby. One of the head players with whom we were having head-on confrontations with most often at one point said “screw this, we’re just going to play.” All of the REDES girls responded by starting a chant “mark up the goal, I wanna play too!” and chanting, stomping and clapping in circles around him. And I don’t care how manly you are, having 100 girls chanting and circling you is pretty disarming.
Finally the heads of the soccer commission of Inharrime showed up. The players yelled to them to get us off their field, they had a game to play. The head guy responded “this team doesn’t even exist, we haven’t created the teams yet! There are no soccer games today, the field is theirs today!” Hah. Then the chief of sports finally showed up and he also said that we had the field until 4pm today. But just because the men were wrong doesn’t mean they were going down without a fight. There was a lot of yelling about where to have the games now and how we were messing everything up. Somebody suggested again (this had been suggested about 30 minutes prior) that they move to play at my school. People were okay with that, but then where would they play the second game? Trying to be helpful, I suggested they come back here since we would be done at 4pm. This started a whole new round of yelling about how it was too late by then. I kicked myself for trying to help and promised not to do it anymore.
In the commotion earlier, a hot-headed soccer player hit one of the kids provoking him. Luckily it wasn’t one of our girls, but a boy who had wandered in, since his sister was participating that day. Apparently his mom lives close because a few minutes later, amidst all the other craziness happening (girls singing and chanting, men yelling, us arguing) a furious mother came storming onto the scene. She demanded to know which player had hit her child and when she found him, she took off after him. The guy, being a spineless slug, ran away from her. The mother and a bunch of REDES girls chased him around the field for a while, but he then disappeared into the neighborhood/woods behind the soccer field. And we never saw him again. She talked to the captain of his team, but I couldn’t tell if he was going to actually do anything. And this guy had been one of our biggest problems today, so I didn’t have high hopes. As she was leaving, she politely apologized to us for intruding on our day.
Eventually all the commotion calmed down. The players left for another field and we were able to get the girls back to the stations. We were never able to get all the spectators out of the field after that point though. And only one soccer player pointed out that what we were doing that day was to make their field look nicer. I’m glad somebody noticed.
I was feeling great about the day. The wall looked good (thought it needs touching up) and everyone had a good time. Then I walked over to where Ann was sitting and it looked like she was going to cry. We had gotten shirts for the girls for today, we charged them 40 Meticais per shirt (a shirt costs 150 Meticais), thus Ann and I fronted the costs. There had been leftover shirts which we were going to sell to other people who wanted them, but apparently a bunch of the girls had untied the bags and gone through them, stealing about 40 shirts. Looks like Ann and I won’t be eating this month. We implored the girls who were still there to let us know if they knew who had taken shirts. Ann got word of one girl, so she went to her house to confront her and her parents. Then, we were sitting at the restaurant when a bunch of my girls ran in. They had gotten about a kilometer out of town when they had heard of a girl who had taken shirts, so they ran all the way back to tell me. So Ann and I set out on what would end up being, in Ann’s words, “the worst scavenger hunt of life.” We went to the girl’s house and she gave us two shirts, then told us her friends who had also taken them, but she claimed not to know where they lived. We were about to leave when her grandmother and mother asked to talk to us. They explained that they had no idea where she had been today and other days. Apparently she returns home every day after dark and says she was at a REDES meeting (her meetings are once a week and end at 1pm), she forged her mother’s signature on her permission slip, and stole the money to pay for her shirt. Her mother was so fed up with her that she decided to help us on our quest and ended up being out savior tonight. She informed us that her daughter did in fact know where her friends lived, so we set out to one, two, three, four houses. All of the girls blamed one girl who had taken the shirts, then distributed them to others. But Ann, their mothers, grandmothers, and I repeatedly told them that they were just as culpable, since they had ultimately taken the shirts without saying anything. We were really lucky the mother came, most of the conversing was done in Txopi. We recovered eight shirts that night. What upsets me the most is that not a single of the girls thought they were stealing. They kept saying, “I didn’t steal it, I took it.” Luckily there was a full moon tonight, since I had jumped up so quickly from the table at the restaurant and didn’t have a flashlight, cell phone, or even a single Metical on me. If you forgot about the circumstances, it was actually a really nice night to be out walking where there is no electricity, and we got to see a lot of Inharrime I’ve never seen before. I never knew before coming here that the moon can cast such strong shadows.