A Party

There are four hens and a rooster cowering suspiciously in a corner of the back yard. They don’t know it yet, but they’re the main attraction for tonight’s staff party.

Jennipher and two village boys hold the chicken carcasses over the gas stove-top in some sort of pre-frying ritual I don’t understand. The boys grin and occasionally put down a chicken to chomp a piece off the candy watches I gave them. I know there’s a large pool of blood and feathers somewhere, but Jennipher has cunningly hidden the chicken slaying location because she knows it’s not my favorite sight.

The entire Arlington staff sits in the Guest House in an awkward circle after Mai Kuloba has finished her prayer. Trays on the main table glisten with piles of fried ‘Irish,’ fried chicken, fried beef and hard boiled eggs. David has built a small monument of packets of glucose biscuits with a jar of Nutella prominently displayed inside. I force Teacher Godfrey to be the first to serve himself, and twenty pairs of eyes silently follow his progress down the table. I wonder what in god’s name I’m going to have to do to get the others to stand up and eat. Finally Godfrey resorts to essentially pulling people to the table by the arms, and we have ourselves a functioning buffet.

Teacher Michael plays chess with David, and I watch and offer useless advice like “I think the horsey looking one is sometimes called a knight.” Seventy-seven year old papa is on his eighth soda, and shows no sign of stopping. Every time I turn around he’s holding up another empty bottle and I walk back to the soda crate: “We’re down to only Fanta now Papa.” Papa doesn’t mind, and happily accepts his ninth. The non-teaching staff has gotten over their anxiety and has finally started drinking the beer. They are becoming quietly merry, and increasingly insistent on prompt re-fills.

Patrick, Godfrey, Nelson, and Headmaster Thomas are involved in the most dramatic game of cards I’ve ever seen. Every play is made with a giant flourish and a corresponding sound effect. I can’t fathom the rules, or why certain cards produce explosions of laughter and argument. I kind of wish I knew how to play.

It’s 11pm, and a glassy-eyed crew heads into the pitch black night, teetering along the muddy driveway. Andrew’s laptop still blasts out Ugandan reggeton, as David, Brianna and I contemplate the mounds of dirty plates and chicken bones. The dogs that prowl the compound will be happy tonight.

A Joke

I’m trying to explain to teacher Nelson why he can’t watch videos on the computer in the staff room. We look at the screen which says ‘additional media plug-ins required,’ and I sigh. “It won’t work, these computers are just too . . .” I search for the word. “Just too old,” I finally spit out, resignedly. Teacher Nelson and Librarian Rachel burst into great peals of laughter that echo off the concrete walls. “Teacher Ruth,” Rachel chuckles breathlessly, “Oh Teacher Ruth . . . . . . that word.” They laugh until they are crying. I am mystified.

A Walk

We’ve already been walking to Benard’s house for two hours when we turn off the road, cross a river, and begin climbing. In a steep, narrow passage carved between the rocks of the hillside, we stand aside to let men carrying ten foot planks of timber on their heads pass. Their feet are bare and their eyes narrowed in concentration, and as protection against the sweat dripping from their foreheads.

At the top of the passageway, on a brief section of flat land, I see a shack with “Education Ministry” crudely painted on the wall.

I let the boys listen to my i-pod. The first time he puts on the headphones, Isaac stares around wildly, wondering where in the hell the music is coming from. He asks me if I can also hear it. Within minutes he is singing along to Arcade Fire, whimsically mumbling his own version of the lyrics. At one point he stops, and turns back to face me. He smiles hugely and yells: “IT IS VERY ENJOYABLE,” before ambling on. It is the most charming moment of my life. I crack up.

Altogether the walk takes three hours. I am damp all over and experiencing mild heart failure when we arrive at a house perched at what feels like the end of the world, just in time for a cup of steaming milk-tea.

A Marketing Slogan

I use a small red basin to wash my face every night. I’m taking a wild guess that it’s Chinese in origin. There are brightly colored flowers painted on the bottom of the basin, and the company’s slogan is written in flowing gold lettering:

Little Flower. Let’s feel the clean cosmos.

Duocaitu means chaste and joyful, andlet’s feelurgentlythe freshfamily’s atmosphere.


A Compliment

I’m strolling down the hill with papa, informing him that my twin brother will soon come and visit me. He asks if we resemble each other. I tell him sort of, but my brother is taller, and slimmer than me. He thinks quietly for a minute, and then slowly remarks “Ah, but your body, it is well-built. It is . .” Here he pauses for at least fifteen seconds, then finally, “It is recommended.” It makes a pleasant change from being told point blank that I’m fat.

A Gift

Mauchi Tom walks into my office, and stretches out his long, thin arm. He holds a hardboiled egg in his hand. “An egg,” he says. He’s in P7 and it’s his evening snack before another hour of class. We argue about it for a while but he insists he’s not hungry because he has “taken tea.”

I eat the egg slowly, looking out my window at all the children heading home down the muddy slopes.