He has a whistle and a spear. In the day, he opens the gate for people. At night, he sleeps in the truck so no one steals the battery again (or the truck).
Tonight, the middle-sized kids went off to study after dinner, in the room that I think is far too dark to read in, but which has electric light, a huge improvement over their previous house. The little ones gave us an impromptu concert. It was the best thing I've ever been part of. They're show-offs, they're shy, they're loving, and they have smiles that make you feel like you've hung the moon for them.
I went to the market. Was shocked at the cost of footballs. Was offered grasshoppers. They are very sweet.
I can't capture any of this. The red dust everywhere. The heat. The tininess of the stalls, stuffed with things that would be flea market fodder at home, which no one can afford. Adverts for coke everywhere but none actually on the shelves. The zone of meat, where a man chops part of a cow swarming in flies in half with a machete and hurls it onto the counter. It drools fluids. Our dinner -- a feast. They only have meat once a week. Meat and matoke on a Friday night is a huge treat, for us, the visitors.
We bought Auntie Lillian two huge new saucepans, two suitcases to keep the little boys' clothes in, special meat and matoke. Put money aside for the clothing market for tomorrow. The little boys have almost no clothes. Last night Moses was running around a tiny wrestler's suit. Someone in north america donated that. Like the baseball shirts from dufferin mall that half the kids have, the soccer jerseys from cedar rapids michigan. These are treasures, here -- it's clothes.
Abdu is a softspoken, sharp, thoughtful, polite 16 year old. His parents were killed in the Rwandan genocide. He wants to go to medical school. But his school doesn't have much equipment in the lab.
The 9 year old twins and the 6 year old. "Their mother was chopped" says our director. "They saw this."
I am half choked, half the time. We have done so much work here this week -- renamed the program -- Nikibasika (which means It is Possible in runyankole, one of the local languages -- pronounced ni-chee-bah-ska). We planned the year, went through the budget line by line, saw that the kids were healthy and happy, met with the main school they go to, met with local government, met with a local NGO to try to partner to develop some community support for these kids. All familiar territory, and really good work. And. And. I roll a bit along, taking in what it is, saying TIA (this is africa) easily, make a joke of the phrase "we have all the time," which our partner here says when we look too much like north americans trying to hurry things along. But then I'm choked. The choking hot market, where charcoal that I know is made from the rare hardwood trees sits in piles, waiting to be purchased. Filthy children playing in rotted matoke as their parents lie in the shade, waiting for the occasional customer, dust and red dirt everywhere.
It IS possible -- that these 51 children can grow up as healthy and educated as we can make them, can become contributors to this place. And it hits me over and over, contractions of recognition, when I really take in, again and again, that these people have nothing. The meat that I find so difficult to look at is a precious offering to visitors.
I'm certainly not the first person to have this so-called insight. But realizing how hard it is to pull the resources together for food, shelter, schoolbooks and clothing that we would find absurdly inadequate -- I feel fat and white and untethered. What we're doing is, I think, one of the only sane responses -- strengthening a little group of people who can grow up and be resources to their communities -- but when I hold Brian on my lap and he never lets go of my hand, when Kiiza cuddles into me before dinner and then falls asleep on Jordan, when Baba lifts his little head up when he's singing to find his fullest voice, when Rodgers hangs on the edges kicking the ground, when Kigami laughs out loud as he chases the new fancy football -- it all seems impossibly hard to let go of them and go back to Canada. Impossible.