For those of you who have been following my writing for awhile, you know well that each time I head to Mulenga, my prayer is that I can continue to build relationships with the care workers and the kids in the community. There are a few care workers and children over the years that if I were to be honest, have become as important to me as my own friends and family here in Canada. I've told you stories of my dear friend, Kennedy, who I met back in 2009. Over the years, I make a point of trying to spend some time with him, however long, to just remind him that he is loved and prayed for and missed by me. Last year, we were able to spend quite a lot of time with Kennedy because we were staying in nearby Kitwe, and that meant that we were able to visit Mulenga fairly regularly and see him. Life is getting more and more difficult for Kennedy. This time, I only saw him for just a few minutes. I was in a crowd of children at the care point, when suddenly his face appeared right in front of mine. His spindly arms were around my neck and I hugged him and held his hand just for a minute or two. I asked him how he was doing and he shrugged and said he was fine. He didn't look fine and I know, from reports from care workers and from Pastor Blessings, that life is anything but fine for this boy. We sat down beside one another for a few minutes and I pulled out the photos I had brought for him, taken on our last visit. I gave him photos of him and the boys together and then one of he and I together. He looked at the photo of us and told me I was his mother from Canada. This from a boy with no mother or father. I feel so connected to this boy and he to me...yet we're miles apart and his life's circumstance continue to decline. He looked at the photos and went to give them back to me and I told him that they were for him to keep. He thanked me and sat looking at them while other kids clambered around us for a peek. He told me to wait and then ran off with the photos, returning without them. He stood for just a minute to one side, waved and then ran off. I didn't see him again and I wonder if he knows how much a part of me he is. He's the face I see when I pray for the children in Mulenga, because he is one who has been cared for and loved by the care workers but he is constantly pulled away by the need to survive on his own.
Each time I go back to Mulenga, I feel like I have to prepare myself not only for the beautiful welcome and love of our friends there, but also for the fact that for kids like Kennedy, life goes on...and it's not always beautiful. Harder still, returning to Mulenga, and missing the chance to see Annie or others, because for them, life hasn't gone on. I knew that Annie had passed away and so in my mind, I was prepared for her absence in the community. What I wasn't prepared for was the way it has reshaped her family's life. Her sisters are doing well and taking good care of one another but they are doing it with a burden of grief. When I sat with Prescovia, she was full of fun and laughing, even a little hardened, if I'm going to be honest. But at the moment I mentioned how sorry I was to hear that Annie had passed on, her heart was on her sleeve, tears were near the surface and her voice softened. We spoke just for a few minutes about it and I could tell that a year later, her grief is still fresh. A sister gone. A space in the home unfilled. An absence felt.
On my last day in Mulenga, I met up with Reuben and asked him if we could please go visit Eva's mother. I was sure Eva would be at her school and I wouldn't be able to see her, but I wanted to see her mother and pass on some photos and a few little gifts my co-worker Gloria sent along for her and her family. Eva has a very special place in my heart. I love this little one so much and it's been such an amazing experience to watch her grow and thrive over the past few years. As we approached her home, I was excited to see Eva out front, sweeping the step with a course brush. She stopped and stood and smiled when she saw me. Dorothy, her mother, saw me coming and greeted me by name. We went into their little house and for the first time, I was able to see where Eva is living and growing up. She sat across from me, smiling shyly. She accepted the small gifts and photos that I had brought and she was excited to show her brothers, Josh and Calibo. Josh is growing and in grade one. He's only 5 but he's very smart and Eva teaches him her school work so they are learning together. Calibo has just turned two and is bright and active. Eva is still very quiet, her mother told me, but she's a happy girl and helps much around the house. Natasha, the first born, is now living across the river with her grandparents, so that she can attend the government school there. Eva's mother is expecting another baby in the beginning of May. We talk for quite a while with Reuben interpreting where necessary. I learn that her husband has found some consistency in working and that for the most part, relatively speaking, life is good. There is food for the children on a regular basis right now and the kids are able to attend school. Before we leave, Dorothy pulls out a plastic bag protecting photos of her family. There are not many, most are ones that I've taken over the years, but we look through them and like mothers everywhere, compare how the children have grown. I show Eva a photo of her and Easton together and she laughs and points. She remembers the day we came to her school and pulled her out of class for a quick visit and to say goodbye on our last day in Zambia last year.
Again, this is my last day in Mulenga for who knows how long. Often, on these trips, I scan the faces of children everywhere to catch a glimpse of my sweet friend, Eva, or her siblings. And, once again, as was the case on my last solo trip, I only see her on my last day in the community. I've come to think that God saves the best for last, sending me home with the memory of her fresh in my mind and in my heart.
Upon arriving back in Saskatoon, I opened my email on a blizzarding Monday and there was a quick note from Dorothy. She had taken my email address and then passed a message along via a friend who had access to a computer at work. And once again, in the midst of a snowstorm, I'm back in Mulenga, heart and soul. Just like that.