All I can do is stare. Places, people, animals, and dilapidated buildings are whizzing by and all I can do is stare blankly – numbly, as they all pass by in a whirl. All I am seeing is poverty – and not the kind I am used to seeing.
Extreme poverty – the kind that makes you almost shrug your shoulders because it’s too much to take in. I am quickly jolted out of my visual trance when our driver is forced to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting another car. This throws me, unaware, into the seatback in front of me. I look at Anton who smiles and says “you’re ok!” I glance at my knee where a piece of skin is now shaved back and a red spot now grows. "Ok" indeed. It takes about ten minutes to get to our guesthouse, which itself is on the backend of a very rocky and bouncy dirt road. Again, people are milling about everywhere. Walking, walking, always walking. Going here and going there…who knows. Just everywhere.
As we pull up, I notice a man atop a bamboo ladder who has constructed a small metal shack about seven feet in the air. He is peering out a man-made window to us down below. I smile, and he does not return the favor. I am far from home…
Our car comes to a stop and our driver honks the horn rapidly. Suddenly, the large gray gate we are stopped in front of swings open and we are granted entry. At first I see a house, and then the grounds – which are covered in trees, grass, and flowers. There are several dogs, and I spot a turtle as well. Loaded with our bags, we make our way into the house and immediately I feel somewhat comforted that though clearly older, our guesthouse will be leaps and bounds above anything we just drove past.
We also have a closet with many shelves. The bedding is brightly colored, like you might expect. I notice when I sit on the bed that the mattress is extremely hard with no give at all. Uh-oh. Might be a challenge. We have about three hours before we will need to make our way to the orphanage, through yet another road trip. We will rest and eat lunch and then prepare to meet our son. This is the plan. But as I lay down on the bed, I sigh – a heavy sigh…which turns into a small cough which then somehow morphs its way into a sob. As it escapes my mouth I am mortified to hear myself. How could I cry so soon? Nothing has happened yet! (This is what I tell myself…that nothing has happened…fool.) I continue to cry, angry at the sounds I am making, and I hear Anton say “honey, its culture shock…it’s ok to cry…its ok”. I blow him off completely because I have determined that I will not do any crying unless it’s over the baby. I little naïve I think, in retrospect. Then I hear myself say it…what I didn’t want to say…what I promised myself I wouldn’t say…and out it came faster than a jack rabbit across an open field “Iwannagohome”. Sob. Sniffle. I can feel hot tears sliding down onto the pillow. I think I am beginning to grasp what people mean when they say you can "feel" so far away from home. I am feeling a million miles away from my comfort zone - and in reality, I am a good several thousand. What is the matter with me?!? Anton approaches me with caution because he knows I am tender and raw. A third world experience does not make you stronger until much later – at least until much later than the first day. He rubs my back and tells me about his experience in
We have been warned profusely to clean anything we drink from – including the rim of our bottled water – which is, ironically the only form of water we were to even entertain putting anywhere near our mouths. We are told prior to travel not to touch vegetables or fruits of any kind unless they had been washed thoroughly and vigorously. Imagine my initial panic when a beautiful garden salad appears on the table in front of us at lunch. Several bottled waters and even some Coke bottles are also there and I hastily grab a soda. Only problem is it’s slightly warm. Ok – so bottled water it is.
(**side note - There came a point where we made a decision that since the guesthouse was operated by the French owner of the orphanage, he had not set out to kill us on arrival by allowing us to be fed contaminated salad. We dove in and relished having greens and tomatoes. From there on, we did not worry about what we were fed at the guesthouse, until a pink soup appeared on the table one evening and tasted of Captain Crunch cereal. It gave us quite a laugh, among our curious taste testing.) Our house staff is polite and kind, but speaks no English at all. This proves very challenging later in our trip.
I must admit to you here that I was not feeling overjoyed to go to the orphanage at this point. Don’t get me wrong – Quint was still heavy on my heart – but by this time I was so depleted of energy, zest, and any kind of excitement, that I jokingly asked AB for one more day. It was not an option, and I knew it. You simply cannot prepare for how you will feel in the moment, and that was my proof. I had just proposed we wait another day…after all our waiting? What was wrong with me?
We piled in the car after lunch, and made our way back down that rocky road to join the throngs of people and ancient cars packing the roadway. Several minutes of chaotic driving, heavy exhaust, and another trancelike state of mind and we are down yet another rocky road. As we drive in, I see a sign that says the name of our orphanage.
Now I feel my stomach lurch. Could this really be the moment? We pass a small red and white painted shack with a cross on it. There is a man standing casually inside behind a makeshift counter. I see large slabs of beef on hooks hanging just behind him. Our driver explains that the cross indicates he is Christian and so only Christians will buy meet from him. The Muslims will not. I snap a picture.
Down yet another small dirt road and small children are running all over. They are young - like three and four years old. Hand in hand they run and laugh. We approach a blue gate and again, our driver sounds the horn. A man who is sitting on a stool by the gate quickly jumps up and begins to open the large swinging doors.
Suddenly here we are…in the open area of the orphanage our son has called home for the last three months. We get out and I am taking in what I see. I snap a few pictures because I can’t believe we’re actually here.
In my haze, I snap a picture of dozens and dozens of baby clothes drying in the cool afternoon air. Little did I know I was standing right next to the building where my son was being prepared to meet us.
We are escorted to a small dark office where a lovely young woman, in broken English, asks us a few questions about our children. I feel anxious because I have heard that when you least expect it, a nanny will walk in with your child. You won’t have a camera ready, etc. So I remind AB to get both cameras ready. We have agreed in advance that I will take Quint first and then we will switch. The other is responsible for taking the best video and movies they can. So in this moment, we are trying to be prepared and our life is about to change forever. So, nothing heavy there to absorb or anything…cough. Having this tidbit in the back of our minds as we try to ready our cameras, of all things, we cannot help but be slightly numb.
It could have been five or ten minutes, it could have been fifteen but suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I see a woman in white walking by the office with a small infant in her arms. Through the window, I catch a glimpse of the baby’s face and my breath catches in my throat. It’s him. I know it’s him. I hear myself say “this is it…that’s him…honey, turn it on…that’s him…” Seconds later, I turn myself around to see the nanny walking toward me with Quint, there she is with my little son in her arms. In a mere flash of a moment, the words “this is why it’s worth it” go through my mind. I hold my tears at bay the best I can as I extend my hand to touch his. His little fingers clasp around mine. I say “Hiiii” and he smiles at me – a big gummy grin.
Oh God, he smiled at me. I feel the tears sliding down my face and I don’t want to scare him. I smile back…and say hello again. Thank you, Lord. I prayed and prayed You would just let him smile at me and he did. Thank you! Maybe now I can get through the next eight days. Maybe I can handle this country and all that I’m trying to absorb.
I’ve just seen my son. Maybe I can do anything now.
To be continued…