I take Esther and An-wei, who calls me his “small mother,” to Save Africa with me today.
When we get off the dala dala, I stop at one of the small shops to buy pads for the older girls, and he and Esther both have chocolate bars in their hands when I’m ready to pay so I take those, too.
An-wei saves a piece of his and breaks it into tiny pieces for the kids at the orphanage. Of course this doesn’t go very far but at the end of the day, when we’re walking to catch a dala dala, he says next time he comes he will buy more chocolate to share with them.
From the start, he blends right into their play, and they welcome him, though some come over to me and ask about his heritage and later that night, he shares that they kept touching his hair. (Welcome to my world!)
But they all play on the swings, cavort and laugh through their games. I see him helping out the little ones sometimes, managing disagreements when one child has taken the plaything of another. At one point I catch him running barefooted with his pant legs rolled up, jumping the puddles left over from the laundry done earlier that day.
Esther has a bit of a tougher time. She likes to be the center of attention and wants what she wants when she wants it. When Angel runs up to hug me as soon as we arrive, she possessively clings to my arm and sidles close throughout the day to lift her lips to mine. I repeatedly have to remind her to share, and one little boy tells her to play with the other kids when she’s off sulking after I have returned the ball she took from one group.
Still the kids draw her into their circles, look out for her, and I intermittently catch her laughing and engaging with them and smile. By the afternoon, she is giving little ones piggyback rides, showing off her dance moves and running around in someone else’s shoes.
When lunch is served, Esther and An-wei get served makande and go sit on the floor in one of the rooms where most of the kids are eating. They join the line when I start giving out cookies and sing and pray through a much more boisterous and exuberant “religion time” than what I first experienced.
When Harriet arrives at the orphanage so the four of us can head to town to join the rest of the family for dinner, the Save Africa kids want to know if Esther and An-wei can come tomorrow, and they’re just as excited at the prospect of spending more time there.
I am not surprised when we arrive for dinner at a local favorite an hour late, and about 20 minutes after, Betty, Haiman, Tamaaeli, Harriet’s niece Joy and Mama Tumishi, a neighbor who helps out at the house, follow.
When they walk in and we are all seated around the table, my heart, already so full, overflows, taking in all of their faces. I haven’t only made friends here. I have found family.
The night I slept at Save Africa, they were sad not to have me with them. A few nights ago when I walk in later than usual, Betty tells me I just missed Mama Tumishi, who was waiting to say goodnight to me.
I don’t know how I got this blessed to be the recipient of their warmth and caring, to fit in so seamlessly when an ocean has separated us for years. But I am deeply grateful.
And as we walk almost half an hour to get a dala dala later because there are none headed to Morombo where we are, and walk another 15 minutes to Harriet’s house once we get off (God bless An-wei and Esther who start to complain only toward the end), that gratitude is the sweetest of companions, filling the night like stars.