In this Jubilee Year, let us allow God to surprise us. – Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus
The students had been extra squirrely during class, and they had only gotten worse since heading into the field to practice. Looking back now, I can’t blame them – after a full day of school, instead of recess they were now standing outside in the hot sun, still needing to pay attention to the teacher.
But in the moment, I was fed up; “Why can’t they just focus? This is important!” I muttered to myself. I had to shout to be heard over the roar of a passing motorcycle, “Ok, be serious now! Get to work and show me what you remember!”
I pushed play for the song they had voted for, Shakira’s “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” originally written for the World Cup in South Africa, now being danced to by 60 5th grade students in Uganda. As the music started, I was shooting glares at whoever started to act up.
There’s a word I can’t hope to spell that starts the song, not even listed on the lyrics screen if you Google it. I believe it’s from a Cameroonian language called Fang. My students were not paying attention, talking with each other and getting out of line, and so, frustrated to no end, I yelled this first word so they would notice the music had begun.
Immediately, all the students fell to the ground, shrieking in laughter.
For a moment, I lost my composure. “What?!” I shouted, “What is it!?” Sharif made his way up to me, and between the fits of giggles and the tears of mirth in his eyes, he laughed, “Madam... Madam… This word you shouted… in Lusoga, it means to expel gas.”
I had just shouted “FART!” at all of my students.
Needless to say, holding a straight face at that point was not possible. We all laughed so hard we cried, and my frustration was forgotten. When we finally all caught our breath, the students were much better behaved, aside from the occasional giggle.
Merrily Belgum, a Lutheran comic who wanted to bring joy back into churches, said, “When you laugh, you get a glimpse of God.” When I should have kept my cool, I lost it, only to be reminded by God in my linguistic mishap and the laughter of my students that the Holy Spirit is always here to help, if only I can recognize it.
Anna Clarke is a Maryknoll Animator and Educator located in Seattle