Perhaps a little salt.
It wasn’t the flies crawling through his hair that got me. It was his choice of dinner.
I was standing outside the market in Kabale, Uganda when I noticed the four boys trying to catch objects being tossed out of a huge blue metal dumpster. The ground around the bin was heaped with shredded plastic bags and rinds and refuse of every describable kind.
Being new in town, I wanted to find out what was happening outside the dingy hotel lobbies and sparse cafes set up for the tourists heading west to see the gorillas. It seemed that every second body on the street was pasted to the seat of a Chinese made bicycle.
These two wheeled wonders wove around potholes and buses and trucks and cars with amazing cargo. One bicycle carried a huge pig tied up for market and another carried a cow held down by two men. Several of the bikes carried flocks of chickens or huge loads of pineapples or bananas. Some with special racks carried dozens of large cases of sodas or beer or shortening or other canned goods.
But none of these items were for the boys sorting through the trash heap outside the market. No one even seemed to notice them in their rags and clay covered bodies. The stench by the bin was overwhelming and I couldn’t imagine how this eyesore could be ignored.
The smallest boy was the first to see me taking a step in their direction. He must have been about five. Perhaps he was the lookout. His short verbal signal encouraged the others to stop their gleaning and to look in my direction.
I hesitated a moment. At six foot five it was almost impossible not to be noticed. Perhaps my wide brimmed olive green safari hat also marked me as a little different than the others travelling through. I knew from my experience in this country that the likely response to my approach would be the use of all their English vocabulary. “White-man, give me money.”
Instead, the group just stood and stared up at me. Within a minute another head popped up over the edge of the bin from the inside. This boy was obviously older, maybe ten. His immediate smile was unmissable. “Agondee. Hello, friend. Today, God has blessed us.”
The street boy scrambled over the top of the bin and dropped down beside the others. A dirt-stained Colorado Avalanche jersey hung off his frame. He stood calmly beside the others who had their own jerseys. Chicago Bulls, Montreal Alouettes, and Boston Red Sox. The smallest boy sported a soiled knee length formerly white undershirt with no marking of any kind.
I could see a paint can sitting on a trio of small rocks. The boys had been dropping items into the can. From the pockets of his drooping shorts the friendly lad produced a half-dozen rotting potatoes and dropped them into the can.
He waved me over and I hovered over the paint tin. There was still paint lining the inside edges of the can. Along with the rotten potatoes were a few other scraps of indescribable food items.
One of the little boys was on his hands and knees blowing underneath the can and that’s when I noticed the small burning mound of plastic that was being used to heat the contents in the paint can. I couldn’t imagine how they’d managed to start a fire out of plastic scraps but I was intrigued by their ingenuity.
The oldest boy ignored me and dragged a muddy stick out from under a soggy green plastic bag. He stood by the can and stirred while one of the other boys held the can in place. The smallest one walked up to me and wrapped his small arms around my leg. He was barely above my kneecap.
The lurch in my stomach was unmistakable as the paint inside the can began to peel. The oldest boy reached into the can and hauled out a warm specimen from their dinner. “You want?” he asked. “We welcome you, our guest. You can ask the blessing to God.”
I felt the tears coming as I took the young boy in my arms and knelt in the middle of the trash with the boys. They all came and hugged me without hesitation.
“I am not hungry,” I said truthfully. “I will pray for you now and I will come back again. God loves you all.”
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