Saturday morning found me standing in the rusty carpet of dust forming the soccer pitch of a local school. Lines were marked out in charcoal granules, which I found novel. The closest thing to bleachers was the elaborate root system of a tree bordering the field, next to the corrugated tin fencing. On the opposite side of the field, a chain-link fence thinly separated the pitch from the exhaust, clamor, and matatus of Ggaba Road.
But there, gazing at the middle of the field, I felt a rush of pride. My middle son, now seven, warmed up with the other boys at Saturday-morning soccer (ahem, football) camp. Normally timid and decidedly comfortable taking up residence in his older brother's shadow, he'd faced a dilemma today. All of the friends and siblings he normally attended with were wiped out, victims of an unrelenting stomach bug distributed evenly through the recycled water supply of eMi Family Fun Day's rented inflatable waterslide. Presenting the options to my son, I expected him to opt for home rather than go it alone. But there he stood in cleats and shin guards, rocketing balls toward the goalposts-sans-nets. He was the only mzungu child among at least twenty; his friendly coach was named Abdul. Our silver, high-clearance minivan was the only vehicle in the parking lot. No other children had arrived in the luxury of a vehicle. In fact, no other parents were in sight.
In the distance, the hills of Kampala lay like a reclining woman's hips. They undulated with crowded roofs of terra cotta and whitewashed concrete, blurred by smog and cooking-fire smoke. I thought of the landscape I'd grown up with, where flat emerald fields stretched themselves as far as the eye could see, down to my uncle's house in the west, and around the usually-vacant intersection to my aunt's house in the east. African-Americans in my small midwestern town drew about as many glances as my son did now, running around with his equator-bleached hair curling up in the middle.
I thought of how landscapes shape us; how different my son's surroundings are from how I grew up. And I thought of how God is in both of those situations, working them together for our good and His honor.
As much as I wish my son was running around with his cousins, his grandparents on the sideline, I'm deeply happy that my kids are growing up in Africa. I'm invigorated by the people they're becoming, the stories God's writing in their lives, the compassion He's pressing on their little hearts. And I'm thankful for inexpensive, character building soccer camps where my son doesn't see that he's the odd man out.