‘Twas the night before traveling

I’ve been singing songs from the movie Annie all week and I couldn’t figure out why. I wondered if it was because I had seen the previews for the remake but that was a month ago. Then it dawned on me—we’re heading to the Congo to visit our son in the orphanage and Annie is my messed-up idea of an orphan.

Don’t get me wrong; I love that spunky, little girl with the red afro. She’s all grit and gumption. She stands up for the small (whiny friend Molly) and helpless (filthy mutt Sandy). She’s taken to Daddy Warbucks’ mansion and immediately starts to roll up her sleeves. She assumes she’s there to clean, not to take tennis lessons and lounge around in the swimming pool. She eventually scratches through Daddy Warbucks’ gruff exterior to help him realize how much he loves her and would do anything for her.

She’s an uncomplicated kid. Becoming an orphan has had very little effect on her self-esteem. In spite of Mrs. Hannigan’s seemingly lax care for the girls in the Home, she apparently fit tap dancing and singing into their curriculum so Annie is able to express herself in dance and song. It all looks so easy. That is, except for the whole ex-con Rooster chasing her up a construction crane or a railway bridge…something high and scary with blinking lights…where she dangles until Punjab, the guy from the 7-Up commercials, rescues her with his turban. (When I was a kid and Annie came on TV, I always watched that part through the holes in the brown and orange crocheted throw so I can’t be sure exactly what happened. I watched The Wizard of Oz the same way. I still haven’t watched the Wicked Witch of the West scenes in their entirety.) Other than that, it’s just meeting FDR, being on the radio, and a big, carnival, dance number finale.

What is waiting for us in the Congo will not be that simple. Living in an orphanage on the other side of the world is a 3-year old boy who knows very little about us or about the outside world. He never knew his parents or extended family. He doesn’t know about birthday cakes or Christmas trees or bedtime stories. We pray he knows what it feels to be hugged and cradled and praised. But we can be sure he knows hunger and he knows fear.

Our plan is to meet him and take him to our hotel to spend a week together. “Hey little boy who speaks no English. We’re a couple of white Americans who don’t speak Lingala and we are…brace yourself…your parents. So why don’t you jump in our van and leave behind everyone and everything you know for a few days. It’ll be cool. I promise.”

Best case scenario, at the end of the week we get to take him home to America. That’s the way it would work if not for the suspension of orphans leaving the Congo that’s been in place for over a year. Instead, we’ll bond with him, no doubt fall in love with him, and then leave a giant, bleeding chunk of our hearts in the Congo with him. We’ll board the plane like blubbering babies and cry for 24 hours. It’s not quite the Hollywood ending we’d prefer.

Maybe the “Daddy Warbucks Plan” is the best idea for us for this upcoming week after all. Maybe the best we can hope for is to take an amazing, deserving kid from a bleak situation and give him five days of fun and hugs and good food. At the end of the week, if we have to say good-bye to him, we hope there will be smiles all around, a genuine one on his face and reasonably fake ones on ours.

Heavy sigh.

Pray for us, friends. I’ll update more as the week unfolds. Until then, I’ll keep practicing my introductory greeting to my son: “Nazali mama. Nalingi yo.”

I am your mom. I love you.

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