We arrive tired, sweaty and covered in dust, yet, the smiles, waves and sounds of jubilation that greet us makes me forget the long, bumpy ride. Instead, I find myself searching faces of people I saw last year, dear people living in such absolute poverty, it is hard to comprehend. They usher us into the old chief’s compound, a huddle of five huts and a small house. The old outdoor toilet has been replaced, I notice thankfully, but vow not to drink unless I absolutely need to. My kidneys will feel the brunt of my aversion to this type of latrine, I am afraid, but one day won’t be so bad, I figure, as I just took a pee break in a field of grass taller than me before arriving in this village.
The afternoon goes by as expected, with talk, questions, filling 400 bags of seeds to distribute to the 10 clans represented in the village, being surrounded by so many children that we find it hard to breathe and we have to ask them to step back. Sweet, dirty children are everywhere, staring at this not-so-white girl, as I am tanned despite my constant use of sun screen. Any time I look up, I find hundreds of eyes on me, staring. Staring.
I smile each time I look at them and giggles break out. Their laughter at my silly faces makes me want to hug them and to hold them on my lap. Instead, we smile and laugh together, them making up a silly language they think I will understand because they think they are speaking English. I answer them in the made up language and laugh, making them laugh, too.
Seeds finished, we note that my laptop didn’t hold its charge, and with no electricity available anywhere, Toussaint roars off on his motorcycle in search of a battery. He returns with one and he plugs my computer in while I silently pray my laptop won’t blow up. When this battery doesn’t work, Toussaint takes off yet again and returns with two more batteries…from where, we don’t know, but soon, the laptop is up and running and I plug in my tiny projector while my bedsheet is hung from a hut. I hold my breath as the guys move our contraption of laptop, projector, and three car batteries to center stage. I click on a button and Nemo shows up on the sheet to the gasps and cheers of the village elders and children. Every scene is something to cheer about and I find myself clapping and smiling, thankful to Toussaint and Mathurin Mandaba Kosse for not giving up. As the movie plays, I sit to the side, head thrown back, watching my own show of the never-ending stars. It is so dark here! It is so incredibly remote, that I can’t believe I am here. Someone stands up and the chief’s voice is heard saying “sit! I can’t see.”
Finding Nemo plays on as someone prepares a warm bucket of water for me and, knowing that the village is occupied, I step behind the small house to take a bath under the stars. In the pitch darkness, there is magic in the feel of warm water under the stars. I feel for my towel, hung on a bamboo ladder leaning against the house (the roof was quickly “repaired” when we arrived so water won’t pour in if it rains), get dressed and rejoin the gasps of wonder as Dori leads Nemo’s dad to Sydney, Australia.