My hair is braided in two dozen tiny plaits, plucked by the fingers of Desire and Jennifer and Anitta, twining themselves to me, someone’s fingers trailing up and down my spine, as grateful to see me as I am to see them.
I cried greeting the kids this time, upended by missing them, finding my spun story real again. Greeted each one by name – confusing only the twins as always (I can tell them apart, I just don’t know which name belongs to which). Exclaiming about height, grateful that this one is happy again this year, wondering why that one is so quiet.
Beaming like the mother of a 5 year old in her first pageant when they sing to us, sitting quietly edgy when Gabriel and Tina give their labored, formal speeches that, as always, veer into the road of what’s not sufficient even as they praise and appreciate being loved, being supported, the fatness and shininess of the children. These children who have the luxury of leading the school, of singing at a regional celebration, of bringing home a washbasin for being the first in the nursery class, of being expelled for failure to work. The luxury of being children.
The drive was tedious – when we finally got through the gate of having a rack installed on the car, painful turn of the manual drill by painful turn. “Give screw guy a coca cola,” his muscles ropes beneath his dark skin. Too much stuff in the huge duffel bags, baby clothes and glucometers and candy and presents and messages and photos. Lisa and I tie extra scratchy ropes to the handholds inside the car, untrusting of what proves to be fine and sturdy work. Five of us squashed in a tiny car, suffocated by “tear gas” exhaust from lorries and minibusses in kampala, and then hurled about by broken roads, by sharp, never-ending humps in the road. We see how the humps are created, with tar and sticks of wood and nails, each of us shouting some mild expletive at a different point as we lift off the seat. My feet inches from the gear shift, shoes off because they’re filthy. I wonder if I can develop pressure sores in a six hour drive.
We’re trying a new hotel, and it’s homey and the people are kind, and the plumbing is ramshackle, and I miss the indifference of the Margarita a little bit, the necessary detachment that came from moments alone after the surfeit of connection.
Holding Tina’s tiny new baby Nana, I am so lucky. A loved, wanted baby more bundled up than any Canadian baby. “You are supposed to keep them warm,” explains Tina. Nana is kept warm, yellow blankets and 50 children who stroke her head and smile at her.