Many of you have asked me about my trip and it's so hard to describe what a trip like this entails in just a passing conversation. Most of you know that and understand that the trip will unravel itself in coming weeks and months but at the same time, I have that urgency to get the story out. There's so much to tell, so much that I experienced...I'll begin somewhere in the middle and bounce around from there but tonight, all I can think about is Eva. In previous posts, I've told the story of how I met Eva and she was my silent little friend for days. Her hand found mine in the midst of crowds of children and she was happy to be carried around, clinging to my shoulders and quietly watching all that went on around us. In the midst of a large crowd of singing and dancing children, she gave me the faintest nod and eyebrow lift that was my first acknowledgement that she knew I had her safely in my arms. We stood in the midst of many activities like that...her quiet, and still...hardly moving...while the chaos and laughter went on around us.A few months later, you may remember I saw a photo of her while my friend, Jayme, had been visiting months earlier than my first meeting with Eva. In the photo was Eva...dancing and smiling. I knew that face although it was very different in its expressions from the quiet, still girl I had held. When Jason went to Zambia, he had been told that she had been taken by an aunty to live in a nearby town.He wasn't able to find out much about her and it really unsettled me not to know how she was or if she was well cared for.I still had my heart set on seeing Eva again.I was afraid to say out loud how badly I wanted to see her. I knew the odds were slim...particularly if she had moved away with an aunty. The teacher with whom she had a connection with was no longer teaching at the school, so I wasn't even sure if anyone else would know her. The first few days I spent in Mulenga, I had a photo of her with me and asked many of the children if they knew her or if she was around. Some said they knew her but hadn't seen her lately...which could have meant any span of time really. I asked the volunteers and they suggested some names and homes but as we came across these girls, none of them were Eva. Sukai began looking into the faces of many girls in yards on our walks through the village, "Is this her?" "Is this" and none were. I just put it out there to God that I really, really wanted to see Eva and make sure she was doing ok. I tucked away the photo and concentrated on the many, many children that I was able to see and it was a beautiful week in Mulenga. My final day in Mulenga coincided with the last day of classes for the children for the term. I spent most of the morning at Loveness' home which is also the feeding point for 60 small children.Another volunteer, Elizabeth, feeds 60 older kids at her home just up the road. It was an amazing morning, just hanging out with the kids and really just enjoying my time with the ones I'd gotten to know through the camp we had done the previous year. As school convened, many of the volunteers and I made our way to the school with the children. The volunteers were going to hand out some donated clothing and items that a Canadian school had sent along. As they were handing out the clothing, the volunteers kept asking me to come to the front with them. I was feeling conflicted...I was trying to help but at the same time, I felt that the kids were thinking I had brought all the clothing, which I hadn't...so I kept gravitating towards the back of the school. Several times, the volunteers motioned me forward to be part of the excitement and slowly, I drifted back again and again to a wooden desk at the rear of the class.The volunteers were finishing their work and I was saying goodbye to some of the children in the schoolroom. I was across the room from the open door and I looked up and there she was...Eva! Standing in the doorway, taller than when I'd last seen her...staring straight back at me. At first I thought I was making her up...that it was another girl but I was just wishful in thinking it was her. I stood up and started to walk towards the door and she smiled and waved. I went outside to find not only Eva...but her mother and her small brother as well. I had the photo with me that I had taken last year and I showed her and she smiled and showed her mother. One of the older girls outside translated for me as I told her mother how I had met Eva last year and how I have been praying for her and wondering how she is everyday since. Her mother, who told me her name is Dorothea, smiled shyly and thanked me. I gave her the photo of Eva and I to keep and wrote a little message on the back with my address. She introduced me to Joshua, her little brother, and I asked Dorothea if I could take a photo of them together. She said she would like that. All the while, Eva was holding my hand and smiling and telling her mom that I was her friend. It was the most I'd ever heard her say and it was beautiful.
Eva and I had our photo taken together and then she led me into the school, where she showed me the desk where she and her friends sat. It was the desk I had been sitting in. I took a few photos of her in her desk and she was very proud to tell me that she was enjoying school. I was so glad to have these few moments with her - and to meet her mother and tell her how much I loved her little family.
I told Loveness and Sukai to remind Dorothea when they see her that I remember her and pray the best for her and her children. It's very obvious that Dorothea is very sick, she's thin and moves very slowly. Her eyes are tired and she looks like the burdens she's been carrying are many. Once again, my friend Sukai, in her simple, beautiful way...spoke to Dorothea and established a bond that I know will grow long after I am back home. I am so glad that I was there to watch this connection between Sukai and Eva's little family because now I know that I share this little family with her and she will be watching out for them. As I said goodbye and hugged my sweet girl, every doubt I had about returning to Zambia...every fear, every excuse...was gone and I was right where I was supposed to be in that moment. I think that in our lifetime, we don't often stumble into the right place at the exact right time, but when we do, it erases the millions of doubts, fears and inconveniences it cost us to get there. For me, those few moments were the final brushstrokes on the centre of a canvas that until then had looked like a beautiful abstract...bringing clear definition of my own image in the middle of a focused picture of who it is I was created to be. I am going to carry that image with me for as long as I can to remind me of who it is I want to be. It's an image that a camera can't capture or words don't do justice to,but they just may give you a glimpse...and a desire to find that clearly defined version of yourself as well.