Sunday, September 9, 2007

Basketball and Christianity

The puffy white clouds and clear blue sky reminded me of the previous week climbing Monserrate. Only now, I was on the opposite side of the city, which provided a much better perspective of the red-bricked communities that surround the city’s hills and mountains, especially in the south and west. It was one of those days that doesn’t feel hot or cold but just right ... a Goldilocks day.

We walked past workers laying down concrete for the first time on the dirt road, and beyond it where a dirt path was better suited for bikes than cars. Along this path we saw lots of dogs of different breeds, shapes, and sizes. Some were sleeping. Others were resting. And some were barking at us. I saw other animals too, a duck sitting in the middle of the road, a man’s fighting rooster who had a 3-0 record, and a pair of donkeys too busy grazing on grass to notice us. As Andres mentioned, it was a tranquil area, like a faraway land from the crowded city streets and shops. It was a good place for a relaxing stroll. Not everyone was enjoying the day. A small boy, about 3 years old, walked barefooted in our direction, crying. Andres asked him what was wrong and where he lived. The boy stopped and kept pulling up his shirt, exposing his round brown belly. He tried talking but he made no sense because he was sobbing so much. It was no use. Another boy, about 10, walked up silently. Andres asked the boy if he knew the small child. He shook his head no. The small boy was such a wreck he disregarded our warning not to step in the broken brown glass. He walked across it anyway, sobbing as he walked away.

Everyone else seemed happy. I stopped and said hello and took pictures of a group of children playing on the concrete stoop in front of a yellowish-orange house with green trim. The building stood in sharp contrast to the many red-bricked buildings. Perhaps the people living in it had more money. We hadn’t seen many other people along our walk. The next big group was near the top of the hill. Slightly below the path was a dirt lot with two soccer goals made from logs. A girl in a yellow shirt and blue jeans was riding a bicycle too small for her around the lot. I told her I wanted to take a picture with her and her friends. A minute later she returned with her friends, a dozen in all, who had been playing on the other side. Some hung from the goalpost, others stood by their bikes. Like most kids, they liked having their picture taken, huddling around my camera as they laughed at themselves. Along the right side of the field was a row of houses, and I saw a few parents watching. I walked over with Andres and talked with them. One of the parents was a priest and he pointed to his church next door, which looked no different than the other tin-roofed houses. I told him I wanted to send him some pictures, but he nor anyone else had internet or e-mail. He invited me to the church service for the children that night, but I told him I had to meet some friends. However, we agreed to return to his Wednesday night service, which was for adults and children.

Andres and I walked a little farther to the top of the hill and beyond it, feeling a little tired, we stopped in a shop for a drink. There were few shops up until this point. But now we were in Santo Domingo, a small, yet bustling neighborhood beyond the official city limits and perched on the hilltop. Inside the shop was a Rana stand. Outside, locals filled the main road, a dirt road, buying things from shops and stalls. This street seemed out of place, like it had appeared from nowhere. It had been so tranquil and desolate. Now there were lots of people and busses. We walked farther away from the city, down a hill, to a giant blacktop. Here stood a playground, official-sized basketball and soccer courts, as well as a police headquarters. It was a good playground, and looked slightly out of place when compared to the small brick homes around it. I saw three young girls playing basketball and joined them. Since I was twice their size they all played against me. They weren’t very good but they didn’t give up. They liked playing. After a while, I showed them how to dribble and protect the basketball with their other arm. They liked the way I dribbled. Of the three girls, one girl listened very closely and followed everything I said. I asked her where she lived. She pointed to the house near mid-court. It was about the same size as my apartment bedroom. She wore a key around her neck. I agreed to return next week for a basketball clinic. Before I left for Colombia, I had wanted to have a weekly basketball clinic for boys. Now I had girls. It didn’t matter. They had no one to teach them, and they were very poor. I felt like it was one good thing I could do for the community. After all, I’m not a Sunday school person. I’d rather be standing on a basketball court than an altar.