Simple Pleasures

You know those movie moments where old friends who haven’t seen one another in a long while run towards one another with arms flung wide, wearing expressions of joy, and sometimes shrieking with equal or greater joy? Yeah, those do actually happen. I experienced one last week.

A Ugandan volunteer at Arise and Shine and a very good friend of mine, Sam*, used to live with another girl, Jen. Jen also volunteered at Arise and Shine, which is where I met them both.

Starting about a month and a half ago, Jen started Senior 2 (roughly equivalent to grade nine in Canada) at boarding school in a town/village, Nyenga, a couple hours away from Jinja. Boarding school rules dictate visitors are allowed only on prescribed days, so none of her friends in Jinja have been able to see Jen.

Visitation day was last weekend. Jen and Sam’s reunion was a movie moment: arms flung wide, smiling and shrieking while running to embrace one another.

We stayed for most of the day. Late in the morning someone suggested I play volleyball. Eager to experience what locals do and show that I’m not a stick in the mud, I accepted.

I played with mostly boys for what must have been a couple hours. Nobody kept score. Serves were sent by whichever side had the ball at the time. Out-of-bounds was observed only when someone couldn’t reach the ball before it touched the ground. Heads, fists, and feet were all used to return the ball. Players came and left as they pleased. The only rule I could discern was the number of touches – three, as in any volleyball game.

I was the only person wearing shoes. A few wore sandals. Most were barefoot. None were deterred despite uneven ground and rocks.

Most were more skilled than me. I could serve with some effectiveness, but my overhead sets weren’t confident or consistent, and my bumps were often too strong or sent the ball in an unintended direction. The students laughed at my mistakes and I laughed with them.

I left the field smiling and sweating. Mid-day sun in Uganda is a vicious master, but I didn’t notice its heat until I walked to join Jen and Sam in the shade. They had been talking the entire time I was playing volleyball, exchanging two months of life stories.

Jen lead us on a tour of the school water pump and each classroom after Sam and I announced we had to leave soon. We lingered at each tour stop far longer than necessary. She told us when the next visitation day would be. As we neared the school gate, Sam asked her about the visitation day again even though I was sure she had already memorized it. They embraced again, arms and fingers alike pulling one another close in the way the very best of friends do in movies. Sam smiled all the way home.

*Names changed.

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