My phone buzzed with concern about terrorist threats in Uganda. My mother texted, my father emailed, my friends called. I feel like no danger can come to me in Uganda. Actually, I feel like that in most places. But Somalian terrorists were targeting Entebbe airport along with other public spaces in Kampala, so we took caution when traveling from Rakai to the airport.
We left Sabina yesterday at 11 am. I tried my best not to cry, but failed miserably. Christine came up to me and tried to say goodbye, I shoed her away as I did so many others, insisting that it wasn’t goodbye. “To-coum-ah-woah”, I will see you soon, I claimed. The night before we left, about 8 of the close friends among the students we had been with, came to our banda. They were all from the band and they were all people I least wanted to say goodbye to. They helped us pack and helped us decide what we were leaving behind. Again, the things these kids utilize is incredible. I gave Jackie the beads from my hair, knowing that she would make some beautiful necklace with them. I gave Sophia my empty cereal box, knowing that she would put her prized possessions in it. I gave Vivian and Teddy plastic ziplock bags, knowing that they would be used for a year. I also left most of my clothes and a lot of the medicine, knowing that I’d much rather have them use it 100 times than me use it once or twice.
Vivian and Teddy stuck around after their curfew to sing us a goodbye song. I tried to film it; I tried to look through the lens of my camera and see it at a distance, in hopes of not letting my heart hear their words and melody. When I glanced up to meet Vivian’s eyes in person, I saw her tears and they invited my own. From that point on, my eyes were foggy with loss. I couldn’t stop grieving for what I hadn’t yet lost. The following morning I procrastinated on our departure, claiming that I had just one more interview to get, one more hug to give. I spent time with our cow, who they named “Madrine”. She is small and thin and very shy, but I expect her to be loving, chubby, and huge when I get back. I made the staff of Sabina promise that they wouldn’t eat her until she dies of natural causes in old age. I know they can’t keep that promise, and I won’t blame them when that promise breaks.
As I sat with Madrine on the field, auntie Stella came up to me and told me she didn’t want to say goodbye. I involuntarily fell into her motherly embrace and sobbed. It’s not like Auntie Stella and I have some strong connection, not like Auntie Deborah and I do. It’s not like we can speak more than 50 words in a common language, but I love knowing that she is there. I love hearing her voice ring with melody when she calls my name, I love when she plays with my hair, I love when she dances while eating something delicious. I love her for being there, I love her for taking care of all those children, and I love knowing that she won’t change because she wholeheartedly knows who she is. After hugging Auntie Stella, I ran to the car. I was done torturing myself with these goodbyes I said I wouldn’t give, and I needed to just tare the bandaid right off. We drove by all the aunties who were gathered under a shady tree. They waved and I saw Auntie Stella wipe her tears as she wiggled her hand loosely above her head. This made me laugh through the tears, because I had the feeling that Auntie Stella wasn’t crying. I was sure that she was doing that to make me feel less alone in my tears. She wiped her dry face of the tears that weren’t there and I loved her even more for this.
Auntie Deborah rode with us along with her two children, Jemima and Jeremiah. We dropped them off at Jemima’s school and said another “to-coum-ah-woah”. I kissed and hugged her children, then went straight to Auntie Deborah’s belly where her unborn child swims. Then I gave Auntie Deborah a quick hug, hopped in the car, and didn’t look back. I wish this place wasn’t so far away. I wish I knew when I’d see her and the children again. I wish that each time I come back, I will find the children at the same age as I left them. When I am in NYC, I will think about Uganda. While I am getting 16 Handles, I will think of Madrine being milked in the barn, then Auntie Agnes boiling that milk and putting it in the children’s porridge. While I am hailing a taxi, I will think about Daniel piling 12 Ugandan men and women into his small car and transporting them to Masaka. While I am shopping in Union Square, I will think of Auntie Deborah sewing up holes in the children’s worn uniforms. While I am reading an ebook, I will think of the children holding the pages of their library books together as they try to get the full story. While I am microwaving a cup of soup, I will think of Auntie Stella spending 4 hours steaming bananas. When I am recycling my bottles and boxes, I will think of what sort of use the children could have made out of them. While I am growing, I will think of how the children are growing. While I am singing, I will wonder if the kids are singing. While I am full, I will wonder if they are hungry. While I am rested, I will wonder if they are tired. While I am dreaming, I will wonder what they are dreaming of.
We arrived at Emmanuel’s house at around 4:30. I called Jane and Robert and they said they would come over at 7 after work. We were meant to go clubbing that night (something I hate to do in NY, but am willing to try in Uganda), but because of the threats, we decided to play it safe and stay indoors. Adam and I ordered food from Emmanuel’s staff and it was ready at 7. Jane and Bob arrived at 10; right on time on Uganda time, but three hours late regular time. They ate their cold food and we watched Cape Fear. They left at around midnight and I fell fast asleep, exhausted by non-goodbyes.
We drove from Entebbe the following morning with Daniel. It took us an hour to get from Emmanuel’s house to the airport. Then the security to get into the airport took about 2 hours. While we sat in airport security traffic, Adam and I ended up singing “Daniel” by Elton John while Daniel sat there smiling, saying “please” and “thank you” in between lyrics. I sang the melody and Adam somehow ended up harmonizing in his falsetto. When we sang the lyric, “Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane” I felt a sadness come over me. Daniel yearns to travel, but he may never, at least not by flight. At the airport he helped me with my bags. He held my water bottle in his right hand, and my backpack on his back. He got excited by the idea of others mistaking him for a traveler and asked Adam to take a picture of him. In the photo, he held my bottle up to his mouth and proudly carried the weight of my backpack. I think for a moment, he let himself believe that he would soon be airborne. But we left him at the airport cafe and continued on this luxurious journey. Next stop, Ethiopia.