We’ll say goodbye today.
I make construction paper cards before we go. Erica’s brought a printer and given me a couple mini photos–one of Sophonie and me, and one of Chilanchi and me. I stick them to the paper.
“Jezi renmen ou,” I write. “Mwen renmen ou.”
Jesus loves you. I love you.
It’s our last day at the orphanage, and they’ve warned us the kids might be a little clingy, a little moody.
I’m a little clingy and a little moody.
That first day, when the children pulled me from the van, hung on me, reached to be picked up, dragged me here and there, each trying to claim me for himself or herself, batting away other children–that first day I wondered if I’d made a mistake. Their needs overwhelmed me.
I wondered what I was doing here in Haiti. And I wished I was home getting ready for Christmas.
But this last day, I don’t want to go home. I don’t care about Christmas. I’ve found holiday joy right here in the dirt.
I’ve tucked a hunk of sidewalk chalk in my bag, and we sit on the ledge at the side of one of the houses.
We’ve learned that word well and used it often–especially during craft time when the kids wanted to squirrel away the crayons, hide them in their skirt folds or in a pocket.
I don’t have to tell the girls to pataje this afternoon. They take turns writing names and drawing pictures on the concrete. One of them has a few stray Goldfish, and she crushes them, divides them up. Then she rips the snack-sized bag open, and they pass it around, lick and probe tongues deep into an untorn corner, not wanting to miss a crumb or any of the saltiness.
I drink up these last hours. I don’t want to miss any of the salt, either.
I’ve passed the cards to my little “posse,” the group that’s spent most of their time with me.
Chilanchi, she pulls on me, wants me to go around front, but the others want to stay. I’m torn. I stay. And Chilanchi, she takes the little card with our little picture, shreds it into ribbons, throws it on the ground. Stomps her foot, glares at me.
Sophonie is angry, shouts things I don’t understand. Then shakes her head, narrows her eyes, and and then protests in English, “No friend! No friend!”
“No,” I say. “It’s okay. She’s upset. She’s sad. Yes, friend.”
Chilanchi runs off. I start after her, but the others grab onto me. “Sandy, stay. Stay.”
And I’m torn. I stay. Maybe Chilanchi needs a little time.
I don’t hear or see her come back, but when I glance to my right, she’s seated next to me. And she’s doubled over in quiet sobs.
I no longer care about what kind of bug I might contract. I pull her close, wrap my arms around her, kiss her cheek, lay my head in her hair, rock her. “It’s okay,” I croon. “It’s okay. I love you, Chilanchi.” And my own tears flow.
And then we draw some more and play hand-clapping games and laugh. I make a mental note to bring a jump rope next time.
Later, Chilanchi disappears again. The girls say she’s hiding behind her bed, so we go to her room, and I coax her back out.
We take photos. I can always make them smile with photos.
“Sandy, photo!” They pose and pester. I can’t snap fast enough.
When it’s time to go, Sophonie and Chilanchi walk me back over the bridge and to the van. Other team members have already piled into the truck.
I draw the girls close for final hugs, but they stiffen and hold back. I tear the rubber bands from my hair and give one to each of them. They slip them on their arms.
Sophonie pulls me to the van, points to the door. “Go,” she says. “You go.”
I force a smile and wave goodbye through the window. They don’t smile even when I hold up the camera. I’m pretty sure I see a tear.
I’m pretty sure I feel a tear, and the ache in my heart threatens to crush the joy.
And for a brief moment I wonder if for them (and me) the pain of leaving is worse than the pain of not coming at all.