Tonight, after dinner, I walked over to greet the kids. I was very thankful that I had remembered my torch (translate: that's a flashlight in British English), 'cause the moon was but a sliver in the sky. I wouldn't've been able to see the bumpy road at all, had it not been for my light. Not that I've not walked the road in the pitch dark before. It just goes much slower then, especially in the parts where I know the potholes are. :)
It seemed like crickets, frogs and a plethora of other bugs were going at it tonight, singing their hearts out. I could even hear the river. Across the river, on the hill, neighbors were burning their field, preparing it for planting new maize soon. Both the sounds and this sight reminded me of but a month or so ago when you could hear emergency cries throughout the village, and it wasn't fields burning but homes.
Most of the older kids were in evening study hall, so it was just the young 'uns in their rooms. "Hodi?" I'd call at every room. "Karibu, Adele!" they'd shout and get up from the table in the center of the room where they were reading.
The kids here pronounce my name funny, so to imagine their little helium voices, you've got to say it like they do: Ah-tel!
And then, one by one, they'd give me hugs.
"Habari zenu?" (How are all of you?)
"Habari ya shule?" (How's school?)
And so on and so forth. You have to ask about everything. School. Your brothers and sisters. The dorm parents. Their exams. Then bring greetings. From their friends at Ilula, especially. Their little faces lit up every time I told the different room that their brothers and sisters in llula send greetings, that they've been praying for them, that they miss them. And that I've missed them, too.
"Even us, we've missed you," they'd say.
But unlike at Ilula where the kids are much more used to me and tend to ask a million questions (this past weekend's questions included "Why is Israel attacking Palestine?" "How does inflation work?" "What's the smallest country in Africa?" "When are the Kipkaren kids coming to visit us?" "When will you be coming back to see us?" "Will we see a movie then?" "Can we see the Bushmen movie again?" "Where were all your classmates from?" "Is there a war in Angola?" "Have you been to Angola yet?" "How long can the South African president be in office before he has to retire?"), the Kipkaren kids wait for me to ask them questions.
It could simply be that the bigger kids who can actually hold a decent conversation in English are usually at study hall when I go to visit, and since my conversational Swahili is more limited than their English, we don't usually visit too long.
"Welcome again," they'd say when I leave. "Karibu tena!"
It seems like such a futile practise, really, just popping in for a while, chatting about their homework, looking at their test papers, giving out hugs, but every mom I ran into afterwards was telling me, "The kids told me you came to visit. They are so excited." I guess it's the mere fact that someone not in their direct family circle cares enough to come and say good-night, to come and give out hugs.
Ziporah, one of the moms I ran into, invited me in for chai. I promised to come back later in the week as I had already told Emily that I'll come for chai. I want to go and visit with Ziporah. She told me briefly about life the past 2 months, about her family having lost their homes in our area, about how painful it is to walk past where her mom used to live and see only the charred remains of their home, to see neighbors wearing her brothers' clothing...
Later, after chai at Emily's, I pop my head into the last home to say good-night. The older kids are still at school. It's shortly before 9. "What are you going to do now, Adele?" one kid asks.
"I'm going to study," I explain. The little ones giggle. They cannot imagine me having to study at night. (And really, I do have to read at least a few chapters from one of my texts tonight. Just wanted to be sure to write an update first.)
When I walk back home, the stars starting to fill the sky from horizon to horizon, it is with a song of praise in my heart for these little ones, for little Dennis who wanted to read me every word on his test page in his raspy voice, for Rooney who giggled when I recognized him in the dark, for Eulita who just about knocked me over she ran so fast to hug my legs.
For a long time, I didn't want these kids to get too close, to take the space in my heart of my kids in Ilula. But more and more I realize that there truly is space for all of them. All 200.