Yesterday I took a "taxi" into Kampala for 2,000 Ugandan Shillings (equivalent of $1). The lanky young man in the driver's seat yelled at me through the window of the 20 plus year old van as I walked from the supermarket. He was eager for me to go to Kampala and I hadn't yet ventured into the city so I hopped in the van and handed over my money.
Taxis in Uganda are like tro-tros in Ghana, minibus taxis in South Africa and dallah-dallahs in Tanzania. They are broken vans with 4 rows of seats or benches, that are packed from bumper to steering wheel with as many human and animal forms as can squeeze.. They take a two-man team to operate. Driver in front; a young boy in back leaning out of the van door, yelling people down, jumping out, jumping in, taking money, sitting on laps to make room for more forms.
After about ten minutes in the taxi, a young woman and her two little girls got into the taxi beside me. Both girls had brilliant smiles and short snakes wrapped in green yard spiking from their heads. The younger one stood between her mother and me; the older girl sat on her mother's lap. When they got settled, the older nugget immediately reached out and latched onto my arm. Her mother pulled it away, but as soon as it was free again the arm darted back like a chubby magnet. I smiled at Mom and told her it was alright. I didn't say that the tiny arm clinging to me made my day. There wasn't enough room with 6 people in a 3 person row, so I pulled the smaller nugget onto my lap. Mom didn't flinch, or size me up to see how I had the gall to pick-up her child, she just smiled at me again with a huge row of perfectly straight teeth.
-What are their names? I asked.
-Ask them, she said looking to the girls, they'll tell you if you ask.
Neither of the nuggets were quite bold enough to answer my question, though they were bold enough to latch onto my arms and use me as a chair.
-She's Fevah, said Mom, motioning to the little one on my lap.
-And what's you're name? I asked the older girl again.
After hearing her mother speak a familiar name, she was released of her bashfulness and shouted "JOY!" -Hi Joy! I said. How old are they?
-Fevah is two and Joy is four.
Hearing the word "two" spoken aloud Fevah turned away from the rushing window.
-Five! she chirped.
-Oh you're five now? Mom said laughing.
-Wow! You grow really really fast, I said.
Fevah smiled triumphantly and turned back towards the window clearly very pleased with herself. My arms were wrapped around her warm little water balloon belly and she gripped onto my hands without a fear in the world. Holding her made me feel completely content with everything that could possibly exist. The power of children, I suppose. They make you feel like a part of the family by completely trusting. You don't have to win them over, you simply have to be kind and they love you automatically.
-Say thank you to Auntie, said Mom.
Fevah refused, probably about 9 years old by that point. I smiled at Mom and had to reign in the glow in me that wanted to say thank you to her over and over. Thank you, for trusting me with your little water balloon. Thank you for calling me Auntie and asking them to tell me their names, thank you for making me feel welcome. Thank you for not pointing out that the only reason Joy wanted to hold onto my arm was because of my white skin. Thank you for not resenting me for that. Thank you Fevah, for liking me immediately; thank you for being so beautifully oblivious to the concept of not trusting.
Mom pulled Joy's chubby little magnet off of my arm and stepped out of the van. I helped Fevah into her mother's arms and smiled even more as the two little girls waved at me and shouted, "Good bye Auntie!"