I Am The Youngest Star

We are on the road to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, our final destination.  Here we are going to trek into the forest to look for gorillas. The talk in the land cruiser is all about what to expect tomorrow. How hard will the trek be? How long will we have to hike before finding them? I am dozing in the front seat next to Cliff.  Suddenly and without warning he jams on the brakes and brings the land cruiser to a stop in front of a school.  The children are in recess outside. They come bounding out of the schoolyard and re-assemble next to our vehicle as if they had been expecting us. Cliff is out of the land cruiser now. Their teacher hurries after them, but it is too late. Cliff has wrested control.

"Can you sing us a song?" he asks in the local language, Luchiga.

A young boy points his finger at an even younger girl. She can't be more than ten years old.

The girl starts to sing, "I am the youngest star."

The entire group responds, "So what?"

She goes on singing and performs a little dance, poking the air with her index fingers, first one hand, then the other, while she does a shuffling pirouette.

"I sing all over the mountain.  I sing, sing, sing all over. I sing all over Uganda."

Before she has finished, the designator has pointed to another student. She steps forward and the song goes on. Finally, the youngest of all, a child who can't be more than five years old, steps forward to sing, "I am the youngest star."

At first the teacher had her hand to her face in a gesture of consternation mixed with worry. The poise, the grace, the confraternity of her charges has put all that to rest. When I look at her again, her face is alive with pride.

These students are self-possessed to a fare-thee-well. They are delighted with Cliff. They are delighted with us. They are delighted with themselves. They sing to us for the sheer joy of it. Their faces are suffused with pleasure, their white-toothed smiles shining like flashlights. It is hard not to fall in love with them.

Cliff presses money into their teacher's hands.

"Buy each of them a pencil," he says.

He jumps into the land cruiser. We drive away, leaving her to ask, "Who was that masked man?"