I slept for the last time under my mosquito net at the Margarita last night. Tucked into my steamy little fort with my headlamp, the final pages of A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali, earplugs, my ugly little clock. Listened to the fan whirr on and off as the power flickered into and out of life. Stretched myself across the top fence of sleep without ever managing to fully surrender. Was snatched almost awake at 530 by mournful crowing and an equally mournful call to prayer from a mosque I hadn't even really registered before. I guess the fan's white noise and my ear plugs other nights had blunted it. My insomniac hallucinations fondled dreams around the noise and I floated across many countries.
I keep edging sideways into thinking about saying goodbye to the kids. Yesterday was a blur of queasy succumbing to the constant hammering of bacteria I've been fighting off for a week, rushing to finish up our video profile projects, visit with the landlord to ask him to pretty please put up a better fence. In the middle, Freeman kept giving us feast gifts. Roasted goat (majungo?). Undercooked maize still in the husks. I put one bite of the goat in my mouth and had to spit it out. We fed it surreptitiously to the little kids, who gnawed on it happily, shared our maize with them. Moses didn't get a second piece, so the other shared theirs. He put a handful of kernels in his pocket and ate them one at a time, for later.
Brian tried to give his maize to me, an offering. My sweet needy Brian who sobbed his eyes out when I left. Alex wouldn't let go of me all afternoon, his droopy yellowed eyes and tiny little hands clinging at me. He's always the first in line for sweets, though, and he's too small to really get that we were leaving.
We had a forlorn looking cake that said Nikibasika, had the kids sing Skinamarink (which we taught them and they love), O Canada (which they finally got) and Motherland Uganda (one of the only songs they know that isn't about Jesus or parents dying of AIDS) for the video. We talked to them about our commitment to them, about how we believe in them and that they can grow up to be contributing members of their communities, that we'll support them until they're grown and educated. About how we will be arranging for them to do voluntary service work in Kasese. They nodded, and got it. Then we hugged and there was sobbing.
Bizarrely, I didn't really cry. During O' Canada a bit -- they are so proud of themselves - but I went into parent mode, held the crying girls and poor inconsolable Brian and Kagame. Told them all I loved them.
They fell into my lap, these kids. They have so much to teach us. I had Freeman spell it out for me yesterday. We have kids from Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. We have Tutsis and Hutus, both. We have three different Ugandan tribes (Bakonjo, Banyankole, Botoro). The kids have emerged three shared languages -- runyankole (one of the local kasese languages), runyarwanda (the rwandan language) and english. They're teaching each other their tribal dances.
When we met with the probation officer yesterday, he stressed, in his officious, deadpan, extravagant way how important it is that the children retain their original identities. We agree -- and all but 12 return to relatives or their original communities in the holidays. They learn to cook, the layers of history, their family stories and rites. And at the same time, they're making something completely new, shredding the edges.
This, I think, is why I didn't cry. It's the right work. I will be back soon. And I am lucky.