Day 9 of my trip. The day I met my daughter.
A good good day.
Shortly after my mom and I arrived at the orphanage, which is made up of the main living quarters and a recreation center which has rooms for different age levels, we were led to the living room where a gaggle of children sat quietly. Some were at a low table, some on the floor, one was in a highchair and several sat on caregivers’ laps. None of them uttered so much as a peep.
My heart was pounding. Would I know which one she was? Her? No, not her, Luyanda has fuller cheeks. Her? Nope, that’s a boy! Wait, is that a boy? No matter. Her? Well, maybe…
Someone said something to the children that I couldn’t understand and Luyanda separated herself from the rest and slowly, cautiously walked up to us. She was scared. She stood in front of me with her chin pressed to her chest. I bent down and slowly took her hand. She placed her palm on mine. She seemed to be studying our hands and I couldn’t help but wonder what particulars held her interest. Was it the difference in size? The difference in color? She didn’t look up. She didn’t smile.
After a short while, I gently placed her in my lap. Still, she kept her chin pushed into her chest. Different people mildly chided her… “look up, this is your new mother!” She didn’t look up. “Say hello, your mother came to see you.” She didn’t speak.
I felt for her. She was so frightened.
Mom and I stayed for probably an hour and a half. Luyanda smiled twice. Once when mom picked her up, and once when Maureen, the woman in charge, nuzzled and tickled her. Right then, her face was a sunbeam and I felt for the first time that I was seeing my future child.
She and I had our moments. She played with my hair. She took out my earring. She slowly got semi-comfortable. She leaned against me almost as though she wanted to see how much of her could touch how much of me. She was very concerned that her fingers were as intertwined with mine as possible.
Two things greatly held her interest. 1) My camera… she likes to push buttons. 2) The family album I brought along. It’s got photos of me, Russell, and Zaffy and every few pages is a picture of her that I got from the agency. I felt bad taking the album back from her at the end of the visit. I could tell she didn’t want me to, but she didn’t fuss. She was very compliant. I would have left it, but she wasn’t the only child who loved it and I was afraid neither of us would ever see it again.
Just before we left, Pastor, our facilitator, asked her where her mother was. He wanted to see if she would indicate that I was her mother. All while looking down to the dirt, Luyanda tilted her head past me (I was standing right in front of her) toward the orphanage main building. It was an awful lot for her little brain to take in.
For me, it was surreal.
As we were driving back to the guesthouse Pastor told me that the children were good at teaching each other. He said, “Tonight, all the children will have a forum. They will talk to Luyanda about her new mother and how she will soon be leaving them, just as other brothers and sisters had done before.”
Here is something interesting. The people and children at the orphanage do not call her Luyanda. She has a nickname. It’s Mgazi (MM GA ZEE with the stress on the middle syllable). It’s a praise surname. I’m guessing at the spelling. Two people have spelled it for me two different ways.
I’ve gotten permission to visit Luyanda as often as I like until she comes back with me to the guesthouse. So, Mom and I went back yesterday. I was nervous. Would she look at me this time? Would I maybe be able to get her to smile?
As Pastor drove up the drive, we saw perhaps a half dozen children playing in the yard. Again, I feared I wouldn’t recognize her. Once I was reasonably confident that she wasn’t outside, another, more awful thought snuck up on me. What if she didn’t come out? What if she didn’t want to see me? What if the kids held their forum and Luyanda announced, “Actually, she’s not what I’m looking for… I’ll wait for the next one.”
I was feeling small and unsure and helpless, when her stout little self appeared in the doorway. She looked up. Saw me. And ran into my arms.