Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Kids Have Arrived!

Yep, the kids are finally here, four of them to be exact. We—Gabe, Connie, me, and their Administrator Welday—left Friday December 1st around 10, beginning the two hour drive north to Adrigrat. Nothing too exciting: I think everyone was a bit anxious. I, for one, enjoyed seeing more of the country, the scenery, the people, and everything else. We arrived at the office around noon to the sight of a group of kids standing outside the office, these kids being the “options” for Gabe and Connie. The three of them went inside to meet with the social affairs guy and deal with all the paperwork while I waited in the car.

About two hours later, Gabe and Connie came out having chosen 4 kids to bring back with us. Apparently they had had to turn away some of the kids who had been brought by their grandparents, the kids who had been gathered outside the office. I was moved to see Gabe so hurt by having to do that, having to tell them they just couldn’t take them. I found myself in somewhat of an awkward position yesterday in that I was there and was part of it all but I wasn’t involved. I was almost a bystander, a spectator, and I found that somewhat difficult because I so badly wanted to be right in the thick of it all. We went to lunch before leaving to help ease the transition as much as possible. It was the kids, their grandparents and other family members who had walked them the 2 hours or more to town, Gabe, Connie, the social affairs guy, Welday, and me. Again I found myself in a new situation. I so wanted to just go sit with the kids and talk to them and make them smile but as they speak Tigrinya (I hopelessly do not) and not a word of English.

There was a moment that just absolutely broke my heart that I think in some way perfectly describes some emotional part of this situation. It was after lunch and one of the girls, Brhan, had moved to speak to Connie and was sitting right beside me. Her older sister—who at age 14 has been raising Brhan and 2 other younger siblings—got up and walked over and said goodbye with a faint smile and a hand shake. And that was it. This unspoken understanding that Brhan is going to a better life that totally justifies them being separated. And it just touched me. I immediately had to look away to stop myself from totally breaking down. And there was Brhan silently tearing but again with an understanding of someone way beyond her 8 years. All I wanted to do hug her and tell her everything would be ok (even though she probably already knew).

The rest of the goodbyes went similarly, without much fanfare, and then we were off. The youngest girl, Embaba, started crying for her grandfather about 15 minutes into the journey but she eventually calmed down. The rest of the ride back can really only be described as the Puke Bus Part 2, (a NOLS reference). These kids just finished probably the biggest meal they’ve had in their lives and had never ridden in a car before. So, combine those two and you’ll have some idea of what went on, totally understandable of course, but definitely made for an interesting journey.

We made a few stops in town to pick up some items before heading back to the orphanage. And at one point Connie and Gabe were both in the store and I was left in the car with the kids, me in the front seat and them in the back row. 2 of the kids were asleep and 2 awake and they had a few balloons that they were hitting back and forth. At one point one of the balloons made its way to the front seat and I jumped at the opportunity to join in the fun. We started playing some combination of balloon volleyball and keep-it-up, and that was it, the barrier was broken. Kids amaze me like that. Especially these kids who have just been taken away from everything they know and yet there’s this blinding trust. I’m not sure when in life we lose this, but it’s a damn shame.

Arriving at the orphanage was interesting. The kids were just totally and completely overwhelmed. The girls were still each holding on to a broken shoe, unwilling to let it go. First thing, showering the kids. Gabe and Connie took the kids one by one showering them and giving them new clothes. I took advantage of the balloons again and re-initiated the keep-it-up. Embaba, clearly the one having the most trouble with the transition, was the hardest to break. And finally, making a complete fool of myself, I did it and I got a smile and eventually even a laugh! What a reward!! After showering, we introduced the kids to the playroom and they just went crazy. Play cars and anything that made sound and moved on its own was a huuuge hit! Then it was dinner and bed and the first day was over and done with.

This was the originally blog entry I wrote right after that first day and night but I never had a chance to upload it. Hope you enjoy it. I will update the rest of my time in Mekelle with the kids and at the school as soon as possible.

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