Last year, when a little girl stole my heart by draping her arm so protectively around her little sister's shoulders, I never dreamed their family would become so familiar to my family. I never would have imagined that we would find ourselves in their home.
We had walked through the fields on a dirt path, gingerly making our way to the crest of the hill. Each of the children grasped the hand of an adult, almost as a badge of honor. We followed the path to a cluster of mud huts surrounded by shrubs and fencing.
This was the first time I had visited the home of one of our sponsor children. The unexpected made me nervous. I was holding the small hands of two little girls. I looked down at my sponsor child, Dirbe, on my right. She was obviously excited about the visit we were making. We trailed behind the group, my mom was just up ahead holding the hands of Dirbe's older brother and sister, whom my parents and sister sponsor. My hands were clammy and my stomach full of butterflies.
From the moment we stole away from the care point; I felt such a burden. I wanted to remember each detail of the walk, each sight and smell, so that I might share the experience with our families back home. I felt such responsibility climbing that hill, as I couldn't imagine many visitors taking this path to these homes. We were there as representatives of so many people and I felt inadequate. I felt so awkwardly American with my cameras and blue jeans. I was so tired from a long flight and no sleep and so, so terribly sorry that I hadn't learned Oromiffa in the past year.
That smiling face kept peering up at me, glancing and grinning. She obviously doesn't care how out of place we look. She's delighted to bring us home. I wish I could capture her excitement! Then I catch a glimpse of the view once we reach her cluster of huts, and I wish I could bring that home, too.
The huts seem abandoned, but we are shown the Hunde family's home. Dirbe's mother comes, smiling. She looks graceful in her traditional flowing dress and scarf. Again, I feel under dressed, though we stand in a smoky mud hut. It's unreal. She puts me at ease as she, too, is obviously excited to have us visit. We talk through two translators to try and understand how many children are in the family and what they do for a living. We are waiting for the children's father to arrive.
I'm nervous and rest in Karen's ability to think clearly and make conversation. What will their father be like? Perhaps angry that these American Christians are here? I have no idea, but not much time to think about it, because soon the crowd peering in the doorway parts for him.
He is small and wearing a ball cap with a large shawl wrapped over his shoulders. He walks with a limp and uses a cane. I never should have worried about this man. The moment I see his face, I see the same familiar joy that I adore on Dirbe's face. He is thrilled that we have come. His eyes adjust to the darkness and he comes towards me, smiling. He is talking, but I can't understand what he says. As the translators begin to sort out what he has said, he is taking my hand. Then he begins peppering it with kisses as the translator says, "He says he recognizes you from the pictures you send. He says thank you, thank you, God bless you."
I'm a mess. I'm a humbled mess. I can't think straight enough to ask any simple questions, for which I will have to beg forgiveness later. We learn that our three sponsor children sleep on the dirt floors. Their father fought in the army and sustained extensive injuries to his leg. He tries to support his family, but relies on the help provided by the care point.
As we begin to leave I realize that I must bring home at least a mental image of the home where this family lives. The three children sleep on the hard packed dirt floor near a raised mud platform where their parents sleep, a mud bench runs along one wall, and in one corner is a small fire, obviously where the cooking is done. Our visit ends far too soon as I realize I haven't taken photos or video to share with our family.
We walk slowly away from the huts and I am elated. I have just seen the smallest glimpse of the blessing Trees of Glory is to the children. I'm excited to be able to tell my sister that 'our girls' are loved and adored by their family. My nervousness has bubbled up into relief and joy. I give the little hand a squeeze and Dirbe smiles up at me again. This time, I recognize that she has her father's smile.