It had been 7 months since my last visit. Where there was grey and barren in October now was green and full. My heart was full as well as the car waited for the iron accordion gate to open and proceeded to drive us around the circle to the front steps of the orphanage. The comfortable familiarity of the front gardens was topped only by the familiarity of those who rushed to the front door to greet us as we stepped out of the car. Welcomes that were once closed mouth smiles and polite handshakes now were hugs. In just a few moments there, it was clear that these relationships were why we had been brought here again.
Hot water with floating leaves in a fancy conference room. It’s where the day always starts. And then we did what I know how to do and what they want me to do. With our translator and the director by my side and my notebook and pen in hand, we walked into rooms full of children. Some remembered me and rushed to me for a touch. Some didn’t know what to do with the desire for connection and rushed to me only to hit my leg and run away. I get it.
As my daughter blew bubbles to entertain the masses, I scribbled what I could as the translator gave me shortened summaries of what the “working staff” was rattling off to her. This boy needs surgery. This boy is hungry but cannot eat. This girl has dimples. Is there ever a family for a child with Down Syndrome? Can I find a family for this boy soon–he will be too old soon. This girl is all healthy now.
Why didn’t I bring more paper?
Their stories could fill books, and I was only scribbling a few notes and trying to grab a few quick pictures of a split second in time. I could choose to look at it all as futile and simply not enough or choose to remember the handful of times we’ve been able to see the successes, when the notes and the pictures gave a family confirmation that they were on the right path or led a family who wasn’t sure to say yes.
The older children surrounded me, chatting away, telling me things. I wish I could have understood what they were saying. I wonder if they were telling me what they did in class that morning, asking me about how their friend was who was adopted last year, asking me if there was a family who wanted a “clever and positive” child like them.
I took pictures of them with my own daughter among them. For a few moments, the chaos and noise were silenced in my head, and my own thoughts surprised me.
Essay contests, teacher conferences, caramel popcorn at the beach, softball tournaments, a shopping trip to Target for training bras, Christmas morning, spoiling by grandparents, praying together every night, trips to the library…
A little girl I knew wouldn’t let go of her hand. A little boy marveled at her curly blonde hair. And, they welcomed her into their place seemingly without a thought or hesitation, the girl who has what they want and has things they don’t even know to want.
She wanted to see the babies, the youngest ones. Of course she did. I should have thought it through more; I should have expected it. We tiptoed in as everyone knows to do when you walk into a nursery whether that nursery has one sweet baby or, in this case, nearly 20. Ashlyn went from crib to crib, admiring each child, trying to get the wide-eyed ones to look at her and smile a little. I looked around, then I looked around again. And, then it hit me.
I don’t know a single child in this room.
It’s been 7 months since my last visit. These precious babies had all arrived since my last visit. Older kids got older in that time, a few blessed little ones are now home with mommies and daddies and Christmas mornings and all the caramel popcorn they can eat, and the nursery is always full. These little ones’ stories have just started; they were just beginning here. We were just making them smile and telling them they are precious in word and action right now. But, next time I come, it would be notes about them filling my papers.
It all could sound hopeless, an endless cycle of brokenness and need. But, there’s something hopeful in it all as I stepped back and breathed deeply of the air the staff works so hard to keep clean. There’s good here. There are friends here. There is relationship here and connection; flawed it may be, but it’s here. This place isn’t just a pitstop as some await their final destinations of families all over the world. They’re growing here in body and spirit, a nearly constant yet changing group of 300 children supernaturally somehow unified as a family.
In 4 months, I’ll be here again. I’ll lead a team through those front doors, drink leafy water in a fancy conference room, instructing them with my eyes to do the same. I’ll pat ayis’ backs and give them the universally understood thumbs up. Kids will rush to meet me only to hit me on the leg. Others will hang back with no recollection of the woman walking around with a camera around her neck and paper in hand. I’ll press on as they press on, all clinging to the life and hope we see amidst the grey barren background.