Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

It’s just a game

Children play football during a rainstorm in the Doro refugee camp in South Sudan's Upper Nile State. More than 110,000 refugees were living in four camps in Maban County in October 2012, but officials expected more would arrive once the rainy season ended and people could cross rivers that block the routes from Sudan's Blue Nile area, where Sudanese military has been bombing civilian populations as part of its response to a local insurgency. Conditions in the camps are often grim, with outbreaks of diseases such as Hepatitis E.

When I posted this image on Facebook a few weeks ago, some people wanted to know if I’d gotten all wet taking it. Not really. It was late in the day and I’d wandered off without a translator or vehicle in the Doro refugee camp in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State. (These are refugees from Sudan's Blue Nile State, where Omar al-Bashir is raining terror from the sky.) As is common for me, I just wandered along seeing what images I could discover. While shooting some women at a well, I had heard a bunch of kids yelling in the distance, and so I started wandering that way. At the same time, the clouds were getting pretty thick and it was threatening to rain. The clouds finally broke open just as I came into sight of the football game. Fortunately, it was in a clearing beside some school “classrooms” — open-aired thatched-roof structures with a few skinny trees for supports. (Like what you see in the background, but with thatch rather than plastic roofing.) I ran the last hundred meters or so to take refuge under the thatch, which stopped most of the rain. A bunch of kids joined me; after all, a kawadja is always good entertainment. A few practiced their English on me, but when one side of the conversation can only say “What is your name?” the dialogue tends to not go very deep. But we laughed a lot, in many ways a simpler language. And, although some of the participants sought shelter with me, the game nonetheless went on, a rousing contest that involved a lot of falling down and sliding through the mud, often helped by a push from another kid. I photographed from just inside the structure, though there was enough splash and leaks that I stopped several times to wipe down my camera and lens and clean the droplets off the front element. The light was really low at this point, because the cloud cover was pretty dense, so the shadow areas are starting to get muddy (the geek term for splotchy shadow areas in photos). I shot a hundred of so images of the game, and I like this image with the partially inflated ball emerging from scrum of players falling over each other. After a while the rain stopped, and as it got dark I slowly wound my way through the refugee huts back to the UN compound where I slept in a blissfully dry tent.

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