Scenes From A Hat

by charlie walter
              Caleb loves Whose Line Is It Anyway. He is Colin Mocrie. In college, he played the part.
              Now he looks the part, too.
              Myself, I am a Ryan Stiles man.
              There is a game from the show called Scenes From a Hat.
              Just short scenes.

                I find it best when we don’t try to say too much.

                So, from Uganda,

August 2, 2012

                The last morning, we walk with our bags in tow. I am tugging a piece of wheeled luggage. It rollicks in the grooves carved deep by boda-boda motorcycles. All of the roads in Bulenga are red-clay that turns to mud-slop in the rain.

                When we reach the center of town, we walk single file--five muzungus, white folks, toting our packaged bags. The children stand and wave. “Bye Muzungus.” They will not see us again.

                Yesterday, the children were ready with a chant. “Bye Muzungus bye Muzungus bye muzungus!” They jumped and chanted.

                We walk single file through town. I stop at my favorite shop, which is my favorite because they understand when I say “Water. Big.” They give me water, big. Other shops hear me say “Warid. Big.” Warid is cell phone airtime.

                I want big water, not big airtime.

                We make our last walk by the chapati stands. I will miss the smell. At night, the chapati are lit in glass cases by a hot light bulb. Bulenga at night is alive and buzzing, with single light bulbs lighting bananas and chapattis and airtime cards and phones and shoes and sodas. The music thumps and you listen to one song as you walk, until that song blends with the song coming from the next stand. You hop from song to song.

                When we are just a few minutes from the orphanage, I push the handle down on my luggage and pick it up by the strap. For the last little bit, I want to be a bit less muzungu, with my rolling luggage. I want to be a bit more Bulengan, with my thin, lean arms that strain with long muscles.

                That is how the Bulengans are. That is how the children are--boys and girls. Long arms. Lean muscles. Veins running down their forearms. Their upper arms are no thicker than my wrist, but they are full of power, like,

                carry two jerry cans of water from the well down the road to the orphanage,

                drum for two hours, furiously beating palms into the skin of the drums,
                pick you up off your feet from behind and you turn, and who is it,
                it’s thin and brilliant Becca who has lifted you,

                we get to the orphanage with our luggage, and the kids shoulder our duffel bags and burden our backpacking packs and tug our rolling luggage away from us to stack inside.

                They are brilliantly lean and strong. Kind.

                And they can lift you off your feet.

July 25, 2012

                I am re-stringing a guitar for them, the only guitar, which was up in the attic above one of the girls rooms. It is black and has four strings.

                I poke myself with the tip of a string. A red dot of blood on my finger. I suck it. I continue with my work. Two of the littlest kids come to me. They pluck the one string I have on. They pluck hard. Thumpa-thumpa. I let them.

                I continue with my re-stringing. It is one of my least favorite tasks back home.

                A few strings later, there are seven kids. They all pluck while I work. Thumpa-thumpa-thumpa. The uncut strings at the neck of the guitar spider out wildly. The tips are so sharp, but the kids linger close. A mom would pull the kids away, Your eyes! Watch your eyes. A dad might tell them to go, Give me some space, geez.

                I’m like an Uncle. Hey, watch this.

                I work. They pluck.

                One boy pinches my knee and asks, “Where is Obama?”

                “He’s at home,” I say.

                “Obama,” the boy says again. It is his magical word.

August 5, 2012,

                D. has a kind smile and big eyes. He will flex if you take a picture of him with his buddies. They will all flex. Their muscles are long and lean and sinewy. They are so strong. So lean. They carry water in jerry cans two-at-a-time.

                It is what they have: long, lean arms. They are so proud of them. They all flex. They are so strong.

                And D. He is kind, endlessly, and he loves to play football, shoeless-ly, and he speaks soft, and he will flex,

                but only if all of his friends flex, too.

August 1, 2012

                Today, I start taking pictures. I am going to take one.

                Then it is two.

                Then it’s the children dancing. Them singing. Sitting reading, scrubbing bubble-soap shirts and then tossed on the clothesline running through the middle of the courtyard, fetching water, arms flexed and smiles big, littlest ones with their bellies pulsing under their t-shirts, barefoot brownfoot, shirtless and pretty flower dress and jean overalls no-shirt. Miracle.

                One picture turns into 54..

                I understand, now,

                how the orphanage is growing.