The night air wraps a cool shawl around my bare shoulders. The house is quiet. Its guests asleep after their long day’s travel. I sip my hot chocolate & sit back, relaxed but not ready for sleep. My thoughts begin to creep out beneath the layers of schedule of the day. My mind retraces the dirt paths & many faces.
I am outside of Christ School scanning the street for her familiar smile. Annet told me she would wait for me to finish football practice at 6:00. I check my watch for the third time. 6:34. I’m a late person, but African late makes even this one impatient. I don’t have her cell phone number & I don’t know where she lives. Some would give up here, but I am determined to meet her.
I meander to the market square, responding to the attention-starved faces that shout “How are you?” I ignore the teenage boy talking to me in the high-pitched voice the people of Nyahuka think we muzungus have. I know she lives around here. Maybe she’ll see my glowing white skin if I just keep walking. God, help me find her.
I pass the women roasting ganja & wave at the woman to whom I buy from on Saturdays. My mind floats back to the woman I am supposed to be meeting.
Annet translates for the doctors at the clinic. Her story is not unfamiliar in Uganda. After completing her secondary level education, she moved to Kampala to study social work at a university. Around the time of her graduation, Annet became pregnant. With a diploma but no job, she moved back to Bundibugyo district to give birth to her son, Stewart. Unemployed with a baby. Sad, but the life of so many teenage girls & women. Annet thought her degree would procure her a job. She searched for months, covering applications in ink & travelling miles for interviews, all to no avail. The choice arose to return to school to earn a second degree. She looked down the cross roads in front of her, & holding on to blind hope, she decided to continue to job search. A year & a half later, Annet’s only income comes from translating, more than most women in her situation, but it barely pays the bills & does not employ her degree. “The time has been wasted & it is too late to go back to school,” she had told me a few weeks ago after another job interview birthed no results. “I have a dream of a business.” Her eyes sparkle with a brief moment of excitement before the helplessness fades back into place. “If I could, I would open up a chalk business in Nyahuka. All the schools use chalk & they get it from Fort Portal. But the chalk machines cost too much.”
A honk from behind brings me back to the present & sends me into the trash filled drainage ditch as a boda whizzes past at a speed unthinkable, but apparently not impossible, for the middle of town. All of a sudden an arm slips underneath mine, & I whirl around ready to slap whatever male has crossed the limits. To my surprise, & much to hers, Annet’s face beams back at my defensiveness & I relax under her embrace. I’ve been found.
She leads me across the street to her mother’s shop in the small cement buildings that populate the business center. Her mother is a seamstress & has offered to make me a skirt, one of the reasons for the visit. But the main reason hides behind his mother, peering up at me with wide shy, curious eyes. “Happy Birthday, Stewart,” I gently tell the 2 year old & pull out the bag of sugar cookies I baked between Finch-care & kids club. Sweets win & he slowly steps over the imaginary border to sit in my lap.
Annet’s mother joins us on the porch & we perform the customary Lubwisi greetings. I settle into the plastic chair as we begin the inconsequential conversation that characterizes the beginning of a cross-cultural friendship. The town street lies in front of us providing entertainment during the lapses of silence. The heat sinks with the sun & the bugs begin to inhabit the air. Stewart & his cousin desecrate the large number of cookies in the plastic bag. I half-heartedly nod as Annet tells me about her plans for the week & how she wants to come by my house for a visit. The shadows darken & the moon confirms its still existing in the night sky.
Now at home, behind locked doors in a concrete house the size of four shops, I drain the rest of my hot chocolate & race over the illustrations of poverty lying before me. The business side of me roars its battle cry to return to school to solve the world’s economical problems. The writer wants to set up a booth in town to record each story to share with the world. The logical brain asks what that will even accomplish. The planner lays forth her calendar of graduation & beyond. While the small honest voice urges me to get up & run.