Monday, August 17th
Mwanza is 700 miles away in northern Tanzania, on the shores of Lake Victoria. Gil, Lily, and I flew up in the afternoon. Lily got to come because we were going to Forever Angels, My Orphanage, as Lily describes it. She was two when she left. She had no memory of it, so we aimed to fix that.
We arrived at Forever Angels at 6:00 pm. Hannah, one of the longer-term volunteers, was sitting outside with Johnny when we arrived. She told us later that he had been so excited all day, eagerly telling anyone who would listen that he was getting a mama and baba, and would be going on the airplane.
But when the longed-for moment came, he shrank inside himself. He knew how to relate to us when we were just ordinary visitors--because he had seen a lot of those. But a mama and baba? No clue. I crept up to him and sat with him on the couch, where he was clutching the picture of us that he had examined for the past two weeks.
Since it was dinner time, the plan was to go to a restaurant together with Hannah and Georgie, volunteers that Johnny knew and loved well. He let me hold him in the taxi, but during dinner, he stuck with Hannah. His big eyes kept a worry crease, but usually we could get him to laugh.
Tuesday, August 18th
We hung out in the Baby Home, which is not known for peace or quiet. The children barrage any friendly face--or even not-so-friendly--the moment you step in the door. If you've got an arm or a lap free--or part of a lap--they want in on it. As far as they were concerned, even Lily was big enough to be fair game.
When we went outside, we discovered Johnny was hiding behind a playhouse, which we were told he does often. He let me hold him, but mostly he kept his distance. I caught him solemnly watching us from across the garden.
At lunch time, we decided to take Johnny out with just us, to practice for that evening's departure. We ate at a deserted hotel down the road, where it was just our family. We pushed on the swings and we played hide and seek, and Johnny was won over. For a while, the worry line disappeared and the smile emerged. I repeated to him what I had been saying all day. Will you come on the airplane with us? Will you come to our house? Finally, instead of stoic eyes, I got tiny nods.
Then we went to the social welfare office to make everything official.
In the evening, we took Johnny back into the Baby Home to say goodbye. The children mobbed him. Kwa Heri, Johnny! Good-bye, Johnny! Hugs, kisses.
I couldn't hold back the tears.
Because so many had loved him.
Because the loss in his life is real.
Because there were so many others left behind.
He was so brave. He took my hand, a total stranger, and walked off from the place he loved. So much trust in one little three-year-old boy.
He fought sleep for hours, taking in dozens of new sights and experiences. He finally succumbed in the plane, and we got to our home in Dar es Salaam at midnight.
Wednesday, August 19--today
He met Grace and Josiah today, and as I write, he is sleeping after his first full day at home. More about that later. But for now, I just want to celebrate that there is one less orphan in the world, and that there are four children in my house, and that they are mine.