It was dirty. But sometimes not as dirty as I wanted it to be. The soft sand dug under my fingernails as my hands disturbed it’s restful silence. It amazed me how one little hole started by my fingers could turn into a hole huge enough for my whole body. This was mine. I built it myself. And I would defend my house with the little cannon balls of sand I had made.
That was the whole purpose for us missionary kids. We each dug our own hole – our own house- and then we would all make sand balls to pelt at each other. We defended our hole homes like nations fight wars. While our parents were off ministering to everyone else’s needs, fighting satan, planting seeds in dirty souls and baptizing the green leaves that would sprout, we could always be found here, competing on who became the dirtiest. Dirty souls, dirty bodies, maybe they would want to water our thirst too.
Maybe the reason we fought so hard for our territories was not just because our own hands had made it, but because this was our home. We knew the cement houses we lived in weren’t ours. They were the church’s in our passport country’s land. They were God’s. And God gives and takes away. We learned we would never stay in one place for long. So we made our own place and fought in the mud to keep it.
This was where I belonged. I was too white to blend in with the village kids; the dirt still didn’t hide me very well. I already attracted too much attention. And I am a girl. So it wasn’t always good attention. But here, under Josh’s tree with the open, blue sky encircling above, I was safe.
We called it Josh’s tree because he had a wooden platform set up in it’s branches. There were also pieces of wooden blocks nailed to the side of the tree to use as a ladder for climbing up. On each side of the tree there were orange rope swings with knots going all the way up. Sometimes we would climb up the tree this way, putting the knots between our big toe and the one next to it.
Even though we called it Josh’s tree, there was an unspoken pact that the tree was for all of us. This looming Mafura tree was each of ours. It’s green leaves that tickered in the wind provided shade for us from the burning African sun. It’s red and black oval fruit, which tasted more like soap, gave us imaginary food to store in our holes. Josh’s tree was our playmate, our friend, our refuge. Life was real beyond our dirt walls. But here, under Josh’s tree, buried in the dirt, we were alive.