It is a long hot drive out to the family camp, where we’ll have a dance workshop and art class.
We ride singing “Jesus love the little children” to the adorable Annabelle, two-year-old daughter of our host family.
“Jesus loves the little children, all little children of the world…”
Past the airport, past the cactus, bourganvillea and broken-down walls, past the many roundabouts…it is much further out than any of us anticipated, and we arrive dripping in sweat, at 10 am.
A suspicious guard and a shy, playful boy watch us from the gate, the boy hiding behind a stone pillar, checking us out, hide-and-seek style.
“Be they yellow, black or white, they are precious in His sight…”
“Say hello to the little boy, Anna!”
“Hello lit’el boy!”
We park, unload art supplies, food, drink, boom box and the swing flags, and bring them into the room we’ve been given—the only room available to the camp families to use communally, a room smaller than a Starbucks coffee shop, and with a fraction of the amenities. Eve goes off to collect children, Michelle sets out her flags and scarves, I pull out the art supplies. Linda fidgets with boom box.
Within minutes, children are arriving, and one pregnant mother, who sits passively while the children burst into what will be a two-hour rampage of acting out.
Colin is my first ‘customer’—four years old, with a nose that looks like it got sawed off and healed perfectly. After a few minutes—a very few—of coloring with markers in a book, Colin hurls the pen cap across the room, looks at me and runs, scrawling marker on furniture, floor, and walls. Someone grabs him, and the marker. Colin flees across the room, only to scream at us and show us he is going to swallow the cap. Agh. Someone else rescues the cap and dance class begins.
I go get Colin and bring him back to the table, where he sits peacefully on my lap, applying stickers into the book…for about 30 seconds. Then he charges into the dance circle screaming. Someone hands him a balloon, I go on to my next ‘art student’ and a fight breaks out. Someone has stolen someone else’s favorite scarf.
Balloons are soon bursting in air, to delighted squeals or terrified screams. Scarves are being tugged and pulled and spit on. Crayons are flying, and a baby is crying. Blocks are being hurled through the air, and the boom box is now off—we are all in ‘crowd control’ and the mother leaves. I wonder what Sudanese/Somalian/Eritrean discipline of children looks like under ‘normal’ conditions, and what it looks like in the camp, when visitors aren’t around.
I begin sketching the children, which brings a few of them in a line, each wanting me to draw them. Someone brings out the snacks and that draws another crowd of grasping hands. Colin hurls a fist at Linda.
I am drawing and affirming each child, praying for them as I go, praying for us. Some of the younger members of the team are overwhelmed.
Our time is up. I turn to find Colin pointing a metal bar at me (where did he get that?!), fierce anger in his eyes. I stare him down, wondering which one of us can move faster, and that unless I want a shiner, I better win this one.
“You are not to hit me, Colin.”
Colin brandishes the bar.
“Let me have that."
“NOOOOO!!!!” he screams and slashes it to the side, then aims it back at me.
“I HAVE TO KILL THE LIONS!”
He roars, and I seize the moment to jump behind him, grab both his shoulders and roar back, “Kill the lions, Colin! Save me!”
Colin springs into action. With amazing (disturbing) skill, he wields that metal bar like a Ninja at an imaginary lion a few feet from us, and returns to me smiling.
“There, Colin! Get that one!!!” I point, he charges, the sword flies, and Colin runs back beaming.
“Another one, Colin!”
This scenario repeats until Colin is fairly bursting with pride, and I am able to tell him how brave he is, how he will grow into a strong warrior, a mighty protector of women and children from lions, and he is glowing. And then I have to leave. Colin bursts into tears, and Linda whispers to me as we get in the car, “I think I need trauma counseling.”
It is a quiet ride home.
“Jesus loves the little children of the world…”