Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cabin Time

It's youth camp and I am sitting down with my group of older boys talking to them about their day and seeing what they thought of some of the lessons taught. This room is usually used to house our primary school's Class One but we have converted it to a camp dorm by putting palm frond thatch and old mosquito nets over the windows. My group is sitting on a thin foam mattress which will later be used by at least three of them to sleep on. Some of the others have just a cotton lappa spread on the concrete floor which won't do anything to make them more comfortable but will keep the floor's dust off them as they sleep. Another lappa, shared of course, will help their snuggled bodies keep warm during the cold rainy season night. We are talking about peer pressure and nature, a strange combination guided by a little piece of paper of scribbled questions someone placed in my hand. My boys are tired after a day of games and songs and rice dinners but they are interested in the conversation. One of them translates in Mende for another struggling to understand my Krio.

Suddenly we hear a loud crash and we exchange brief puzzled glances. Something must have been dropped or have fallen in one of the other primary school classrooms. There is a beat of what would pass at camp for quietness and I am about to continue with a question when the sound of a host of people shrieking together rises up from somewhere else in the building. The sound increases in intensity, is accompanied by the sound of feet pounding on concrete and seems to be rushing in our direction. For a second panic stretches time out between its white knuckled fists and my head spins with unanswered questions. What is happening? Is someone hurt? Is there fear amidst these cries? What is being run from? What can I do?

Suddenly a huge rat bursts through the door to our room and relief washes over me as the pandemonium intensifies. Memory always balloons the size of animals in these kinds of stories but this was a big brown beast of a thing and it was darting around the room desperately searching for a way out that ceased to exist the moment one of the boys slammed the door shut behind it. The hunt was on.

Our neat little groups of boys burst apart as some people dived out of the way of our furry intruder while others dived after it. Chaos soared around the room as frenetically as the rat scuttled and the boys kicked, stamped and tried to catch. One of my interns hurdled the animal as it made its way to a corner where about four boys threw themselves down on it only to see it slip through their frantic fingers. Adrenaline was pumping through everyone but none more so surely then our prey who was now making his way in my direction. Stepping back I aimed a toe poke to the face in his direction which knocked his solid body off course but did little to halt his determined but panicked progress. Another kick sent him amongst the mattresses and a boy threw a bundled sheet on him which a third stamped on. The rodent warrior kept going and sprinted around the corners of the room until finally, finally, he felt a jerk from behind. One of the boys had thrown himself to the ground and come up with a tail in his upper hand. With a yank and a swing of his shoulder, Gogra windmilled his terrified target face first in to the floor. Once. Twice.

This was the peak of the action and details were confused by the amount of sweaty bodies that were jumping and running and throwing and the amount of dust and noise that was kicked up. Samuel, with a piece of lumber in his right hand (pulled from who knows where), would also claim the kill but it was Gogra who held the brute aloft to the roar of the crowd and marched it out of the room. It would be handed over to a security guard and eventually find its way in to a cooking pot somewhere. The laughter, shouting and retelling of the story lasted for a few more moments and then the boys reformed themselves in to their groups. Bedlam disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived and we settled back down on our mattresses.

“So, where were we?”

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