Futbol and Folk Dancing: NMCB 5 Experience African Culture
As the four-wheel drive vehicles shuddered and lurched over the rocky dirt road, Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 caught a glimpse of the Kontali village as it appeared on the horizon, nearly hidden by the mid-day sun, October 1.
The small village, which sits atop a hill overlooking a vast expanse of dry land, was bustling with activity as villagers hurried to make the final preparations for a futbol game and cultural festival held for the Seabees.
"They [the Seabees] have helped us so much," said Ibrahim Idriss Mohamed, a Kontali elder and village council member. "We wanted to invite them to experience and enjoy our traditions. We want to show them who we are and where we come from."
For nearly a year, Seabees attached to Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa have been working with village elders to coordinate construction efforts and plan renovations to modernize their local school house. When completed, the project will provide solar power and much needed physical structure renovations to the school.
According to U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Keith Genereux, NMCB5 Kontali project senior enlisted leader and a native of Columbus, Ohio, the relationship the Seabees have built with the people of Kontali has been one of the strongest he has ever experienced.
"The village welcomed us with open arms," said Genereux. "This has been one of the best symbiotic experiences I've had throughout my 21 years in the Navy."
The bond extends beyond the schoolhouse project and was further cemented when the Kontali people invited the Seabees to a futbol match with students from the school, said Genereux. The Seabees provided jerseys for the students to wear during the game, as a way of thanking the people of Kontali for the invitation.
"We have really integrated with the whole community," Genereux said. "It's great to be part of such a close team."
Although the Seabees won, one to zero, both sides claimed a victory in forming friendships on the field.
"I think had the kids played the entire game they would have beaten us," Genereux said. "But, luckily, the village adults took pity on us and played for a few minutes."
Following the game, the Seabees witnessed and participated in a cultural festival that included traditional African dances and a display of handmade items from the village.
"We are a proud people with a proud culture and heritage," said Houmed Hassan, a Kontali elder and village council member. "Everything [in our village] has a history. Everything has a story."
The Kontali people shared stories from their oral history in the form of three separate, traditional dances. The first dance illustrated a young Kontali man proposing marriage to the woman he loved. Next, male performers gathered to demonstrate a battle between the young man who proposed marriage and another man who was in love with the same woman. Finally, the young man, after defeating his challenger, married his bride in a ceremony attended by his friends and family.
After the dances, the Seabees viewed handmade crafts made by some of the villagers and learned about the history behind each item. Village council members explained that the dances and the crafts were an important part of the Kontali heritage, because they represented the history of the people and how they tied into the story of Africa. Throughout the festival, they thanked the service members for everything they had done to promote regional stability by working with the people to revitalize their schoolhouse.
"We wanted to thank them, but we weren't sure how," said Mohamed. "There are no words to express our gratitude. No one has ever done this before."