Sunday, 15 April 2018

Togo: The Football Story!

Today we're back out for another distribution, this time near the border with Benin. After another great breakfast from our cook Bill, we're packed in the van and watching in awe as our driver dexterously weaves between potholes, goats, and a small army of fearless motorcyclists. Driving here is a fine art.

We arrive at our distribution site and are met by a gathering of 500 Togolese schoolkids singing away. I am continually amazed by how ingrained music is in day-to-day life, and I breathe in as the voices of this 500-person gospel choir echoes through the air. 

Only on day three and we've already fell into a good rhythm to set up for the day, one that usually sees me and my dad engage in a harmonica duel in front of the kids. A few balloons, bubbles, and puppets later and we're ready to go.

I'm on backpack handout today, and I do my best to make eye contact with every child that comes my way. With the help of one of our local volunteers, I also start to learn some of the local language. Before long I'm able to say hello, how are you, and you're welcome as the kids pass by, and I am rewarded for making this small effort by watching so many surprised children breaking into giant grins.

As the distribution enters its last 100 kids, I feel the pull of the football game that is quickly unfolding at the nearby pitch. I undutifily abandon my post; our team here is phenomenally cohesive and my nearest teammate agrees to work double time while I vanish to partake in the national pastime.

The gathering of kids seem surprised as I join them in a game of what I can only describe as get the ball, turn, and shoot. Suddenly, as if in a West African version of Field of Dreams, local school kids begin to emerge out of the nearby woodlands in steady numbers. Before long there are about 100 kids running and laughing on the pitch. I feel so honoured to be able to join their game, and I feel the warmth of camaraderie with a group of kids who's lives are so different than my own. I also feel the warmth of the 37-degree sun on my pale Scottish skin, and I am soon imagining how the Scottish nationals would fare in a friendly in Togo. I teach the kids how to properly celebrate after a goal, which is, naturally, to run around the field with your arms out like the wings of an airplane. I remind myself to find out how to shout 'goal' in the local language, and as I net one myself I realize I'm likely the recipient of Canada's only international goal in this part of the world.

As we leave the distribution site I am elated that not only have we once again managed to disperse 500 bedkits to families in dire need, but I have some new football friends on the other side of the world. I get the feeling I won't ever forget this day.

Ian Culbertson

Team Togo 2018
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