By mid-week, that first week in Cambodia, the team had learned a lot. That oppressive heat and humidity – God’s personal makeup remover – led us to a family-owned shop nearby the safe house, and to the best ice coffees in the world! They swore they used purified water, and we were willing to take the chance.
After a particularly sticky afternoon, entertaining 150+ kids on the third floor of the safe house, my sense of charity was waning! Although several floor fans valiantly circulated the smelly, thick air around the room, I was beginning to think I might melt away, just like the witch in the Wizard of Oz. The only thing remaining would be two filthy flip flops on top of what used to be me. By the stoic looks on our team’s faces, I figured they were feeling about the same.
And then it dawned on me! Brilliant! Next thing you knew, I was on the first floor, sheepishly asking the Pastor for a word. Would it be all right if we split the kids; boys outside and girls upstairs, for just a couple of hours? “Sure!” he said, brown eyes twinkling. “Other teams do that all the time.” A lady-like pause – deep cleansing breath… Oh well, learn as you go, right?
A few minutes later, through a cloud of dust and a “Hi Ho Silver!”, 75 boys were racing down the stairs and out to the back yard, kicking a dozen soccer balls back and forth and, well, being boys. Pastor’s wife ignored us all, as she stoked the outdoor wood fire, beginning lunch preparations for the lot of us. Upstairs, the girls had settled into a craft, all sitting on the floor in a most blissful peace, concentrating on their coloring projects! Praise God!
I opted to join the boys, perhaps to ensure that a soccer ball would not land in the cooking pot! Lunch is a very precious meal to anyone who works in the safe house!
About twenty minutes into my new-found brilliance, I noticed two boys fighting back in a corner of the yard, obscured by dozens of other boys. The taller boy was punching the other, who tried to defend himself but was making no headway. I approached the boys wondering what I should do. Not being able to speak Khmer and not wanting to embarrass the boys, I simply stood between them. Towering over the taller boy, I gave him my best “mom look” and then, took his two hands in mine and held them up in front of him, palms facing out. I could tell by the confused look on his face, he was unsure what I was doing. I smiled slightly, and then started playing patty cake with him. I went faster and faster, until I could see his face relaxing and a little smile making its way into his eyes.
He was having trouble following my lead, so I started counting out loud as I patted his left hand, and then his right: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5, and then three pats with both hands for a special flair! 1 – 2 – 3! We were now surrounded by boys, all watching intently, bright eyes smiling. I could see their hands mimicking mine as they slapped the air. I turned to the little one, who by now was laughing and pushing his way in front of his “attacker”, wanting his turn. I played patty cake with him and we both laughed out loud. (By the way, Khmer children don’t “pat”; they “smack” – ask anyone on the team about that!) By now, I had a line of 15 or 20 boys waiting their turn. I played patty cake with each one – the palms of my hands bright red and stinging!
Why were they so excited at this simple game? I had given the first boy a container for his aggression. A safe place. A way to make contact, while at the same time, unleashing a lot of pent up energy. No surprise, he wasn’t the only one with some pent up aggression.
Patty cake. Huh…