Member Monday: The Airball Queen by Alicia McCauley

Welcome back to Member Monday. Today we feature an essay by Alicia McCauley. Alicia is a teacher, a writer and the President of Vigilante Kindness. Her essay, The Airball Queen, was recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible. Welcome, Alicia.

The Airball Queen

by Alicia McCauley

Friday afternoon was our school-wide reading program finale in the gymnasium.  The finale was a series of races and games.  There were jump rope relays, basketball relays, soccer relays, minute to win it games, hula hoop contests, scoot board races and a host of other challenges for my first graders to participate in.   There were times when I was doubled over, laughing so hard that I was crying because of balls escaping, jump ropes tangling, and all my first graders clapping and cheering each other on with abandon.

One of the harder games was a basketball shooting game.  Each kid stood at a line taped in the middle of the key and shot five baskets.  This was a supremely hard task for first graders.  That basket might as well have been in the clouds.  One of my darling little girls-a teeny, tiny breath of a kid-was chosen for this game.  

She was an adorable kid with curls of hair that bounced each morning when she would run to me and wrap her arms around my leg in a hug.  When she got excited about something, her blue eyes opened wide and she flapped her arms.  I’d seen her do this when reading her favorite books, when mastering particularly difficult math problems, when playing at recess and especially when she painted.

She stood at the line, basketball in hand, with a serious expression screwed on her face.  She shot.  Airball.  She scrunched up her face in concentration and shot again.  Airball.  Her third and fourth shots arched through the air and again fell short.  

I bet you’re thinking this is one of those stories where she made the fifth and final shot and ran a victory lap around the gymnasium filled with kids who chanted her name and hoisted her up on their shoulders.

It isn’t that kind of story.

Not one of her five shots even came close to grazing the net.  

Not a single one.

Back in the classroom after the conclusion of the reading program finale, we’d gathered at the carpet to talk about all the fun we had competing and cheering each other on.

My tiny airballer raised her hand to share, “Mrs. McCauley, I was nervous about that basketball game because I’d never played it before.”

She paused and I’d waited, scripting in my mind words of encouragement or some sage advice about perseverance or something, anything to ease the sting of all those airballs.

She continued, the pitch of her voice rose to an exuberant squeal, her arms flapped in wild excitement, “I was nervous at first, but then I played the game and I was AWESOME at it!!!”

Wait, what?  

She explained, “I’d never thrown a ball that high before.  I threw it really high five times.”  She held up five proud fingers. 

My face broke into a huge grin, mirroring the smile on her own precious face.

How silly I was for thinking I needed to pepper her with my “sage advice”.  As is so often the case, I found myself marveling at the unconventional wisdom of my students. 

I can be so hard on myself when it comes to trying new things, so fearful and bound in nerves, so unwilling to try lest I fail, or, worse yet, lest I fail in public.

The next time I’m facing a new challenge, I’m going to remember her face, scrunched up by every ounce of concentration.  I’m going to remember her candor in admitting she was nervous and afraid.  But most of all I’m going to remember her wild, flapping arms and the triumph on her face for throwing the basketball higher than she ever had before.

She didn’t make any baskets that day, and for that I’m grateful because if she had, I would’ve missed the lesson.  She didn’t score any points, but one thing is for sure, my itty-bitty airball queen was a winner.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Advertisements

Member Monday: Kijumi is Coming by Alicia McCauley

Welcome back to Member Monday! Today we feature a piece written by member Alicia McCauley during her recent return trip to Uganda. Alicia is the founder and President of Vigilante Kindness, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education and employment opportunities for students and villages in developing countries. On Saturday, October 17th from 4:30 pm-6:00 pm Alicia will be speaking in the Redding Library Community Room about her most recent trip to Uganda. This event is free and open to the public. Welcome back, Alicia.

Kijumi is Coming

by  Alicia McCauley

I woke this morning to the welcome voice of thunder and the syncopation of rain. I drew back my curtain and breathed in the relief. It hasn’t rained in Gulu in a month and a half, leaving everything and everyone parched and jacketed in ruddy, red dust.

I threw on some clothes-okay, I really just yanked a skirt up under the nightshirt I’d peeled off and thrown on the floor. I didn’t bother with shoes or anything else. I grabbed my camera and iPad. I tiptoed to my mom’s room to see if she was awake to watch the storm with me, but the crack under her door was dark. So with my camera and iPad in hand, I scrambled back down the hall to the balcony outside of my room. The sun wasn’t up yet and I knew I was in for a spectacular lightning show across the dark sky. I sat on the balcony writing and snapping photos.

The storm was behind me, so I didn’t see the fingers of lightning pointing from the sky and touching the ground. Instead the whole of the sky would go from pitch black to electric pinks and yellows all at once, like a camera flash to the face. As my retinas recovered from each flash, I’d count the seconds between the turbulent thunder and the blinding flashes of lightning, counting the miles separating me from the storm, just like I do with my students at home when a thunderstorm rumbles in. To my delight, the increments quickly shrunk from five seconds to one second and then the thunder and lightning were stacked on top of each other, a thrilling assault on the senses.

Not to be outdone by the thunder and lightning, the wind rushed in as well, a welcome reprieve from the stifling, still humidity. The wind whipped at my skirt and splashed my bare feet with rain. My balcony overlooks the once grand Pece stadium and I watched the field puddle.

During my first two nights in Gulu, sleeping was a near impossibility. My jetlagged body struggled to adapt to the correct clock and to the humidity that always sucks the life out of me at the beginning of my trip. At night I’d lay naked under my mosquito net, not the sexy kind of naked, the ugly, sweaty “peel everything off to survive” kind of naked. Mosquitoes buzzed around my net and I laid there sweltering.

I could only imagine what the last month and a half in Gulu had been like. I’ve seen the parched, brown crops and can imagine the utterings from cracked lips praying for rain in this unexpected dry season.

The morning of the storm, I watched the sun peek her pink face from behind the clouds as the spaces between the thunder and lightning counted back up to six, then seven, then ten miles away until the storm held its breath altogether. The soccer field drank the puddles and they vanished almost as quickly as they’d formed. Just when I thought the storm was through, a fresh slashing of rain fell, and a second helping of thunder and lightning filled the sky until the ground was sodden and swollen with rain.

Later that morning, I sat downstairs talking with an old musee. He taught me the Luo name for thunderstorm (mwoc pa-kot) and the Luo names for different kinds of rain. There’s ngito, meaning a drizzle. There’s kot paminilemu, an unexpected rain. But my favorite kind of rain is kijumi, a long, hard rain.

The musee talked about the parched crops and how this mwoc pa-kot and kot paminilemu vanquished his worries of famine.

Famine.

And here I was complaining about the heat because it made it hard to sleep.

Fear of famine had never even crossed my mind. I’ve never known the worrying pangs of impending famine.

While I’ve not known physical famine, I have known the feeling of famine in my spirit, the ugly nakedness of feeling bereft. I know about waiting and praying with dry, cracked lips for some relief, any relief to fall from Heaven. I also know the reprieve of rain and the joy of hearing the cool whisperings of God blow into my life.

Friends, some of you are impossibly parched right now, famished down to brittle bones, praying desperate prayers from cracked, dry lips. I don’t have any pretty, pious words for you, but I prayed for you today during the kot paminilemu, prayed that you’d be absolutely sodden with a first and second helping of refreshing rain. Hold tight, dear ones, in the midst of your dry season, keep looking to the sky.

Your kijumi is coming.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: Finding Denis, Part 1 by Alicia McCauley

Alicia & some of her Ugandan kidsWelcome back to Member Monday.  Today we feature a piece by Alicia McCauley.  Alicia spends her summers teaching writing and committing acts of Vigilante Kindness in and around Gulu, Uganda.  She will be sharing about her last trip and her upcoming trip at our May meeting.  Welcome, Alicia.

Finding Denis, Part 1

by Alicia McCauley

The boda driver killings in Gulu, Uganda began on May 28th and on May 29th I received a frantic message from my boda driver, Denis, that a rebel group had entered Gulu and was killing boda drivers in the cloak of night.

Denis’ message to me was quick and to the point.  “A group of people are killing boda boda riders in large.  And they are using guns.”

Messages from my other loved ones in Uganda came in frantic bursts.  The number of drivers killed was nearing twenty.  A mandatory curfew was put in place over the town.  The police were vigilant in their pursuit of the rebel group, but drivers continued to be shot and killed.

I called Denis.

And messaged him.

And sent my son, William, out to Denis’ village, Bungatira, to find him.

His phone was disconnected.  He didn’t reply to messages and worst of all, he was nowhere to be found in his village.

For weeks I tried to find him.

Then weeks turned into a month.

Time kept on growing and still no word.

The pit of my stomach felt like it was full of rocks. I thought of the voice in my ear telling me to let go.

No, I would not let go of this.  I would not let go of my friend.

I spewed angry prayers from between clenched teeth.  I am not letting go of my friend, God.  NOT LETTING GO.  So You and your voice are going to have to help me find Denis.

I wondered if Denis was alive.  And if he was alive, why wasn’t he home?  Why was his phone, his life line, not working?

Something was terribly wrong.

Since the summer of 2013 I’d heard from Denis at least every other week.  He regularly filled me in with reports on his pigs and reports about the village treasury.

And now nothing.

I arrived in Gulu and tried calling Denis countless times to no avail.  I planned to go to Denis’ village the following day to figure out for myself where my friend was and whether he was alive or not.

I can’t tell you how happy I was later that day when I picked up my phone and it showed a missed call from Denis’ number.  I kicked myself for having it on silent.

Again I called and didn’t get through.  Later William called and talked to Denis.  Denis was in Te Okot, the land of his clan.  William reported that Denis was walking to Gulu to come and see me.

Again alarm bells sounded in my mind.

Te Okot is 2-3 hours from Gulu and that’s if you go by motorcycle.  Why was Denis walking?  Why was he so far from home?

I called Denis and nearly cried when I heard his voice.  I fired questions at him.

“Where have you been?  You scared me to death.  I thought you were dead.  Why isn’t your phone working?  What are you doing so far from home?  Aren’t you in school?  Where’s your boda?  Why are you walking from so far?”

“I’ll explain it all when I reach you.  I’ll be there around midnight,” Denis replied.

“Why don’t you take a boda?  It will be much faster.”

“It’s expensive.  I can’t pay for it.  My pigs were poisoned and died.  My future has died.”

“What???  Who killed your pigs?  And how much is the boda ride?”

“40,000 shillings.  I’ll explain everything when I get there.”

40,000 shillings is roughly $15.

I told Denis I’d pay the boda driver, that he should just come and come quickly.

Then I waited one of the longest hours of my life.

Come to the May Writers Forum meeting to find out how the story ends.  Can’t wait that long?  Click here to read more.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!