Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Travel log, Day 2: At the Orphanage

I think this is the part that most people are more interested in so I'll get right to it. After a very interesting ride through Port au Prince, and some time spent on a road that would be more suited to our four-wheelers than the beaten up Jeep Cherokee that we were riding in, we arrived at the gates to the orphanage. Roberto, my driver, had an affinity for honking the horn and pulling up to the gate was a perfect excuse for him to start honking. Because the honking started well before we stopped outside, we only paused for a moment before the gate slid open and we entered the orphanage grounds. Once stopped, I quickly exited the Jeep and headed inside. The concern for my luggage that was so consuming at the airport had all but vanished and been replaced by the need to meet the boy whom I had only seen pictures of for the past year.

At the end of a long hallway I entered his room and was instantly greeted by squeals and raised arms of about a dozen two-year-olds. They had obviously prepped the kids for my arrival because they immediately starting yelling to Nedi (Noah's Haitian name) and pointing at me. Along with a couple of other kids who seemed to be more interested in their toys, he slowly looked up but didn't seem too eager to see what the commotion was about. After some prodding from his nannies, he walked towards me and I got down on the floor to give him a huge hug. The nannies told him that I was his mama and he still wasn't too excited about it. It's okay though because I was excited enough for both of us. Prior to my trip I had some concern about how I might respond to this little guy who would soon by my child. I didn't know if I would feel anything more for him than I might feel for any other toddler that I might encounter. As soon as I saw him though, tears came to my eyes, and I immediately felt that connection that I had hoped for. He, on the other hand, was anxious to get back to his toys after the interruption so I let him go and he ran back across the room. I stayed on the floor and tried to give some attention to a few of the other kids who were so desperately wanting it, but I didn't really take my eyes off of Nedi. Sitting on that floor with all of those kids touching me and climbing on me and laughing and squealing was a bit surreal. Two-year-olds that I have been around in my normal life are usually more reserved with strangers and less inclined to give hugs and kisses to anybody who will take them. The thought occurred to me that this group of toddlers could provide a great ego boost to any adult who might be needing one. You can't possibly go into a room like that and not feel pretty great about yourself.

After being gently prodded by the nannies and reminded that I was his mom two or three more times, Nedi started to seem a bit more interested in me. I had been warned that if I wanted to spend any quality time with him I would have to remove him from his room and all of the other kids, so after about a half hour of dividing my attention, he and I made our escape. I took him to my room and gave him the car and the dinosaur that Adam had picked out for him. He loved them both but was particularly excited by and immediately attached to the car. We played for a little while and got to know each other somewhat and then it was time for lunch. He impressed me with his ability to eat a rather large plate of rice with gravy and fruit without it ending up all over the floor. Although he still looked pretty skinny to me, especially in his legs, he obviously had a good appetite and was healthy. When we returned to his room the greeting from the other kids was pretty much a replay of what I had experienced before. This time, however, I think Nedi knew that I was there for him and he wasn't as interested in sharing me. He had the car in his hand and as the other kids tried to reach for it, he let them know that it was not up for grabs by kicking at them. He also showed his displeasure when I tried to put him down to pick up one of the other kids. It was very apparent that he had already started to bond with me and for the rest of the time I was there he didn't need any encouragement to come to me.

We played with the other kids for a little while and then it was nap time - for all of us. I was still exhausted from the flight so they told me that I could take him back to my room and we could nap together. It was so hot down there that I had a hard time sleeping, but I did manage to close my eyes for about an hour. Even though sweat was building on his little face, he wasn't at all deterred. He slept for close to three hours. Adam has always been a good sleeper, so I'm hoping that the long nap for Noah wasn't a fluke. He awoke only after I started moving around and making some noise. We shared a few M&M's, played with the car a little bit, looked at some pictures from home, and then decided to head back out. He didn't make much noise the entire time, but he was more than willing to repeat anything I asked him to say. I don't think the English thing is going to be a problem for long, at least not for him. I really, really wish I could have understood what he was saying when he did talk though.

The rest of the evening was much of the same . . . in and out of his room, playing in my room, and just hanging out. It was a very nice time for us and I loved just being with him and getting to know his personality a little bit. Phil is understandably nervous about making the return trip to pick him up and bring him home, mostly because travelling with a two-year-old across the country isn't fun under the best of circumstances. When you add the fact that they don't know each other and Noah will be entering a whole new world full force, it could be a rough trip home. I was very reassured after spending a couple of days with him though. He is a calm and gentle little boy. The orphanage director told me that he is one of her favorites because he has such a sweet, easy going disposition. I'm sure she has reasons that each one of them are her favorites, but I can see how anybody could just fall in love with this little guy. He was very content to just hang out with me, even though we weren't doing anything all that exciting. There was a time or two that he wanted to leave the confines of my room and he would say "allez" (I think he was saying "let's go") but other than that he was just along for the ride. I'm under no illusion that it's going to be all fun and games once he gets home though. I just think that in the circumstance of the orphanage, all of those kids learn pretty quickly that being too demanding doesn't get them very far. I'm sure that once he gets home and starts to feel secure with us he will test all kinds of boundaries. Even so, I think he's going to be pretty good natured.

After handing Noah off to one of the nannies for bedtime, I sent an email home and then I went to bed myself. The humidity in Haiti in August made me long for the misery that I experienced during the long, humid summer in east Texas. Between the heat, the crying babies in the next wing of the orphanage, and the rooster under my window who was overly anxious for morning to come, I spent most of the night in a semi-conscious state. I'm sure I had a slight smile on my face too, knowing that my boy was near and that we were one step closer to bringing him home.