And now...on with the events of February 10, 2011:
I can hardly even describe my inner state of mind as Germatchew finally turned the van onto the dirt road that he said was where we would find the Kingdom Vision International (KVI) orphanage. Hannah, Imagine's representative who was traveling with us to the orphanage, advised us (as we already knew) that we would see our children in a group, and that we should pay attention to all of the children. I could hardly focus on her words, so excited was I to be moving down the dirt path towards KVI.
The nameless dirt road...the address of KVI orphanage.
A little further along...closer, ever closer.
I am sure Germatchew could hear my heart pounding. My senses were on full alert as we travelled that dirt road and I must have asked him six times, while pointing to a gate on one side of the road or another, whether that was it! He laughed, and finally told me that he would give me plenty of notice before we arrived at the gate. I glanced back at Geoff - he was on the edge of his seat, too. Our eyes met and we shared a moment of wordless understanding. It was happening.
It didn't take much longer before Germatchew lifted a hand from the wheel to point to a gate on the right. "Where, which one?" I asked. "The one with the grey gate," he answered, "in the middle of the stone wall." Sure enough, there it was. So close now, I could feel it in my bones.
By this point, I couldn't decide whether I was so excited I was about to have a heart attack, or so terrified that I was about to have a heart attack. Either way, things weren't looking very promising for me. But it was too late to stop the momentum now. Germatchew honked the horn, and the gate opened. Deep breath, I remember thinking...this is the moment you've been waiting for, for nine years (no pressure there!)!!!
First, one gate opened...
...then the other. We had arrived.
This is the administration building, where the offices are located.
Can you see the building on the left? That's the building where we met the children; it also houses the bedroom for the older children (including our 5.5 year old), just up the stairs and to the left.
Directly behind the administration building is a large courtyard, and, behind this building to the right, is the building where the younger children (including our 3.5 year old) sleep and eat their meals.
At this point, we needed to stop taking pictures. If anyone has pictures of the insides of any of the buildings, though, please know that I would love to hear from you.
We parked the van in front of the administration building and, as we climbed out, we were greeted by a lovely woman who was introduced to as as the Director of the orphanage. Twice I asked her to pronounce her name, and twice I couldn't quite get it, but I'll refer to her as Sister Marianne, as that's the closest I could get (she had a very soft voice). Somehow I had it in my head that we would receive a tour of the facility before meeting our children, and so I wasn't surprised when Sister Marianne led us immediately towards the building that you see above on the left. We walked up the stairs and, immediately at the top, she gestured that I should go into a small room located right there.
I walked into the little room. It was empty except for one tiny little girl standing there in the centre, stuffed dog tucked under one arm and some kind of biscuit or cookie held at her mouth by her other hand. My first thought was, "oh, what a beautiful, tiny little girl." My next thought, accompanied by a gasp, was "that's my daughter." It was her! Right there, all by herself, staring at me as intently as I was staring at her. My daughter. I loved her immediately. Right then and there. She was mine. My eyes filled with tears even as I went to her.
I crouched down in front of her, half aware that Geoff had entered behind me. The other couple there to visit their children also came in at some point, as well as Hannah. But for me, the only person in the world at that moment was our little girl. A beautiful, 3.5 year-old girl the size of an 18-24 month old. A miniature person with eyes waaaay too alert to belong to an 18-24 month old. I greeted her, and smiled, and she didn't move a muscle. I kept talking, about what I have no idea (something about the puppy she was holding and how we had a boy who loved puppies and liked to call them all Ruffie), and just kept staring at her. She was equally fixated on me: intense and reserved. She was wearing a white t-shirt with tiny pink flowers on it, along with a knee-length pink skirt with a tiny, white ruffle at the bottom of it. She was wearing black shoes, and both of them were right shoes, a little thing that stuck out in my mind (Geoff noticed that later during our visit, the shoes were changed to little Robeez shoes). Her hair, essentially shaved for our referral pictures back in November, was about an inch or more long; black black, and so curly, and utterly soft and lovely. She is going to have a great little head of hair, that one (which, yes, I shall have to learn to manage and keep beautiful!). She had the same chubby cheeks that she had in our referral pictures.
After a few minutes of mindless chatter, I reached for the little stuffie under her arm and gently pulled at it, raising my eyebrows in a clear question as I asked to take it. She lifted her arm slightly and let me take it. I started having the puppy make noises as it nibbled at my skin, and I laughed about it; next I tried it on her, running the puppy up her arm and into her neck. I saw the tiniest of smiles start at her mouth. I did it again on myself, and pretended that it was the funniest thing ever; her smile got a wee bit bigger. I tried again on her, and her smile suddenly lit up the room, right up to her eyes. Her eyes positively sparkled! Oh my goodness, it occurred to me: I am going to have a daughter! What a lucky woman am I. I never knew how much I wanted one until recently, and I do. I want her to be my daughter. So badly.
Just around then, Hannah indicated that we should go next door, where our five-year-old was waiting, along with a few other children, including those being adopted by the couple with us. I asked if I could pick our little one up, but Hannah firmly said "no," and picked her up herself. Geoff and I walked out of the room after the two of them, and our girl stared at me as we walked that short distance.
Just one or two doors down was a large room that we then entered. At the far end of the room were about five other children of varying heights. They were mostly focused on the one object in the room: an electric piano that had been placed on the floor for them to play with. When we entered, someone said something, and most of the little faces turned towards us. I quickly scanned the group of them until my eyes fell on a little boy wearing a navy blue shirt. It was him, our boy! Again, not needing to wait for Hannah to point him out (discreetly, from behind where he was sitting), I knew it was him. He looked quite different from our referral picture, but it was him nonetheless. As I think about how it was that I knew it was him, I think it was the intensity of his look. I had already just witnessed that look in his little sister, and his look was no less intense and watchful...more so, even, if that was possible. In that moment, I remember thinking a silly thought - I was so glad he was wearing navy (many of the boys in ET wear pink) because I love navy and it suited him so well. He was soo very tiny. He is 5.5 years old and the size of a three-year-old. Teeny, tiny. But so beautiful and perfectly proportioned. His hair, too, had grown since the time of our referral (when it was also shaved), and I remember hoping in that moment that he would be ok if we kept his hair quite short, so that I could learn to manage first one head of that hair before taking on a second! Even as I walked across the room towards him, his eyes watching the group of us, I loved him. Even now, thinking of how my heart swelled with love in that moment, my eyes fill with tears. In those dozen steps it took to reach him, I realized that what I'd heard so often before is true: as much as one thinks one can never love anyone as much as one's first born, it is entirely possible for one's heart to expand to include subsequent children. Utterly effortlessly. That moment confirmed for me that I have plenty of love, endless love, for all three of our children. It was a powerful moment in my life.
We went over to where he was sitting, and sat down on the floor next to him. Hannah put our daughter down beside us. I greeted him, and he simply looked at me intently, just as his sister had. So serious, so wise-beyond-his-years. I thought in that moment, oh, my dear child, it's going to take a while, isn't it? He is a child who has not had much opportunity to be a child.
That thought became more pronounced as a bit of time passed. I began to hand out hot wheels cars, and stickers, and our little guy did not know what to do with them. He didn't really know how to play. Even when Geoff pumped up a soccer ball and motioned to him to kick the ball with him at the other end of the room, he seemed able but without much knowledge. But maybe that's because he was so busy glancing at his sister and me while kicking the soccer ball...my hunch, watching him, was that he's been the protector of his sister for quite a while.
Throughout our time there, we never once saw him smile, and we heard neither of them speak (though none of the kids spoke much, so that didn't concern me). When I later asked one of his caregivers if he ever laughed, I was very relieved to know that yes, he absolutely does, and he runs and plays with the other kids, as well...oh, and that he and his sister like to wrestle each other, often to the ground. It did my heart so much good to hear that, seeing how sober he was in the room with us. This caregiver did her best to make our boy smile but, though he may have come close to it once, he never gave in to her prompts, in the end. She finally laughed and looked at us, saying that he wouldn't do it now because he knew we were watching him. Determined little thing...but then, I guess he's had to be. I was convinced that day, and remain convinced today, that he knew that something was up. After all, though he has a three-year-old's body, he is a 5.5 year-old boy with lots of life experience already; I'm sure his radar was up that day.
After about fifteen minutes of being in the same larger room with the kids, I had a disturbing thought: I had not yet seen our daughter walk. I wondered, with some horror, to be honest, whether she could even walk. I don't know how malnutrition can affect a child's body. I had seen her standing in the first room where we'd initially seen her, but I had been conscious, even during those first first minutes, that she never moved a muscle; her foot positions never shifted. And since the moment she had been placed on the floor beside me in the larger room, she had remained there like a lump, not moving her lower body. I finally reached to her, held her hands, and gently pulled her to her feet. I was very relieved when, a few seconds later, she make her first move to walk. She could walk...and I was very relieved. I noticed throughout our 90 minutes there that various caregivers seemed to like to pick her up, and I have since wondered if that's what typically happens - where she might not even have much opportunity to walk or run about. But at least I know that she and her brother can (and do!) wrestle.
As time passed, more and more children wandered into the play room, and they were so happy to receive hot wheel cars and stickers from us. I was glad that we had enough of each to pass out, as every child seemed to learn immediately upon entering the room that there were gifts to be had! It was sweet to see the newcomers make a beeline over to me when they realized that I was the gift bearer!
At one point, Geoff and a couple of others quickly went to unload the donations that we and the other family we were there with had brought (and bought) for the orphanage and I was glad that we were able to do something. I again want to thank every single person who brought us their donated goods and money...every bit of it will be well utilized...and some of the clothing might even be worn by our children!
The pile of stuff that was donated...by us and the couple we were there with
At some point, we were offered a chance to see the children's bedrooms, and their beds, and we were allowed to take pictures of these things. Our boy sleeps on the bottom of a bunk, and it appears that he shares it with another boy, whose pillow was at the other end of the bed. Our girl sleeps in the building on the other side of the courtyard, and is still in a (large) crib. She is going to have a bit of an adjustment, getting used to a double bed when she arrives at her new home here! Of course, Geoff or I will probably be occupying the other half of the bed for the foreseeable future, so she'll be assured of not falling out! Our boy will continue on the bottom of a bunk bed when he finally arrives home, but he won't have to share it with another boy.
The facilities were immaculate. Every single bed was made beautifully, the floors were spotlessly clean, the courtyard tidy and very well maintained. Nothing was new, but everything was clean and tidy. It was impressive. The caregivers we saw were lovely women, I am so thankful to say. It was obvious that they had good connections with the children, and that there was an ease about their relationships.
Our time at KVI passed too quickly. I loved being there, playing with our children as well as the other children who were there. It was so relieving to know that, despite the malnutrition that we know has affected our kids, they seemed alert and appeared to understand and follow instructions well when given by their caregivers...especially considering that they have had to learn an entirely new language over the past few months since entering the orphanage. It was awesome, being there. Hard to leave.
When it was finally time to go, I gave both of our children a little kiss and whispered to them (knowing that they could understand none of my words) that I loved them and that we would be back for them as soon as we possibly could. I told them that Matthew is so excited about having a brother and a sister, and that he couldn't wait to meet them, and I also promised them that Geoff and I would be the best parents we could be to them. What I really wanted to do, but couldn't, was to hold them close to my heart and let them know that things would be ok; I wanted to tell them how sorry I am that they have had a rough start in life, and how badly I feel that we will be taking them away from everything familiar to and loved by them. And of course, what I mostly wanted to do, was pick them up and take them with me on the van that drove back to Addis, so that we could take them all the way home with us.
Some day, I hope. Some day. But for now, what a gift that day was.