Friday, February 15, 2008

Love and Joy(ce)

Today is Valentine’s Day and I miss Minh. After a day of working with TAKS and Paper to Pearls, I decided to head to Joyce’s house for a short visit. After all, there is no one in Gulu I love more! I walked in from town and turned down the dusty road toward her home. Four small boys raced bicycle rims past me, pushing the metal circles with sticks and shouting playfully at the funny “muno” (white person), in their neighborhood. In a moment, another child raced out to the road, and seeing me, ran back from where she came, crying “Abalo! Joyce! Abalo! Joooooyyyyyce!!!!!” I slowly made my way up the path, but within another instant there were the children, flying toward me, a tangle of arms and legs and ripped dresses and toothy grins. Joyce was toward the back, but pushed her way up to the front of the pack, and before I knew it she had leapt into my arms, her head on my shoulder, panting and out of breath from the sprint. Her small hand played with my hair for a moment before I put her down. The other children ran ahead to tell Carla that I was there, but Joyce stayed by my side chit-chatting in Luo, so much to tell about the day’s activities!

I spent the rest of the afternoon playing with all the children outside. There were many rounds of the perennial favorite: “everybody jump,” which is exactly as it sounds, and which we transformed into a type of “simon says” hybrid. They all sang their ABCs and several nursery songs, and I began teaching “You are My Sunshine” and a version of “London Bridges Falling Down”.

For me, though, the best part was watching Joyce return every so often to Carla, just to make sure that she was watching. Carla, preparing the evening meal would smile and nod at Joyce, acknowledging her performance and games and antics, and Joyce would continue, right in the game with the other children.

I have thought of this scene all evening long. The truth is, many people have come together in order to ensure the brightest possible future for this special child. We can provide food and shelter, the very best education, mentorship. We can support ultimate self-sufficiency. We can care, adore, pray, and even love Joyce. But this kind of love, this kind of support – the genuine, constant, non-wavering, daily, deeply rooted love of a mother is not something we could ever, ever give her, no matter how much we wish it possible (and if you know me, you know I have wished it possible!!).

There was never a question in my mind that Joyce needed to stay in Gulu, with her family, with her people. Despite this knowledge of my mind last year, my heart spoke differently. I wanted her with me. I loved her. Not a day passed in the US when I didn’t think of her, speak of her, yes, at times cry for her. And I think that this is mostly because, although I knew she was being cared for, I hadn’t seen her loved. Carla has changed that. Joyce has a real family now. She has someone who is constantly looking out for her best interest – not because she is obligated, but because she cares, and she loves.

I will always love Joyce, but I can already feel a change. Maybe it is the sadness and heaviness lifting. Carla told me that Joyce is “here” – and she placed her hand over her heart. I understood, maybe too well. But the most beautiful part is that Carla is also here, in Gulu, beside Joyce as she goes to sleep and wakes up, prepares for school and returns, suffers from her sickness and succeeds in staying healthy. She is here, and will continue to be here as Joyce lives her life and grows.

In as many ways as I can be, I will be with her, too. I will love her in all the ways I can. But now when I am at home in America and I think of Joyce I will see her in my mind’s eye running over to Carla for assurance and a smile and then returning to me, for an afternoon of games.


Lisa said...

Though we talk almost every day while you are in Gulu, hearing your written "voice" is the best birthday present ever! Warm greetings to your friends (does anyone use the Swahili "Jambo" for hello?). Knowing that Joyce is thriving makes so many of us here who care about her so happy.
Hugs and love to you, dear daughter....Mom

Anonymous said...

you're truly amazing in your honest words...i miss're doing exactly what you should be doing...


plainy said...

What a weeper of a post!

It's a relief and a joy to hear that Joyce is thriving. Your words about Carla and Joyce would be moving even if you were a complete stranger, but knowing you and how much Joyce is always on your mind and in your heart I just want to give you a long-distance hug.

Danielle said...


What a GIFT this post is to anyone who knows Joyce or knows you and how you feel for her. I feel some heaviness lifting too ---- who is this amazing Carla? Do I know her? and am so so happy that you are there --- I think this trip sounds like it will provide some closure for you (at least on the heavy heart side of things)....

excited for you to bring back ideas for our project... do email with your thoughts when you can!

love to you and joyce and all of atanga...

you are a terrific little angel!

ohevet, too,