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
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.