Welcome Back

I got the silent treatment this morning from two of my kids.

I’m referring to the kids on my street who (usually) come running up to greet me every time we see each other and either hug or high-five me. Oh how I adore these kids! And oh how I’ve missed them!

Over the past couple of weeks, I haven’t seen much of them at all as my exhausted body and the rainy weather demanded less walking. So I’ve only caught glimpses of them as I rode by on the back of a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) or waved to them from a car window.

Today, though, the sky was clear and I headed out, excited to see my kids again.

I was totally surprised when the first two kids I encountered didn’t come up to greet me. Instead, Vianey walked away from the road. The young girl with him followed his lead. I called out to him and walked over to where he was fiddling with something at his mom’s samosa stand (she wasn’t there). All I could get from him was a mumbled hello and downcast eyes. What was going on? I got the sense it was not the time to inquire further, so I told him I would see him later and moved on.

Further down the road I got tackled in hugs by my other gang… Rashid, his twin brothers Hussain and Assan, and their younger brother whom I call Baby (he is less than two years old, waddles around and loves stroking my legs and pulling on my skirt).

Assan came running at me and I picked him up and swung him around. Baby wanted me to do this for him, too. Oh, the joy of seeing them again and getting to play and connect in these simple ways that make my heart burst!

On my walk home tonight, it was getting dark. My gang of brothers wasn’t out to greet me, but the women outside their compound wall were roasting corn and I exchanged greetings with them.

Further down the road, where I’d received the cold treatment earlier, my second gang of kids came running out of the dark to greet me. “Magen! Magen!” they called out. Oh the joy! Gregory, Maria, Maria’s younger sister whose name is escaping me, all the faces of kids I know, all beaming up at me, hugging me and wanting me to give them high-fives. Vianey was there too, and while he stayed on the outskirts of this love fest, I could tell he wanted to connect.

After several rounds of high-fives (they never seem to tire of this) and conversation, I called out to Vianey and asked him to come closer so I could ask him something. He hesitated but then came over. “You didn’t talk with me this morning… what was going on?”

He took a step backwards and said, this time making eye contact, “You’ve just been riding by on the boda bodas…”

“Oh… were you upset that I haven’t stopped by to visit?”

“No…” he said, but I could hear the truth in his voice. The truth was, yes.

“Oh… can I tell you something about that?” I asked and squatted down on the ground. All the kids leaned in more, including Vianey.

“I’ve missed you all so much and I’m so sorry I haven’t stopped and visited with you. You wanna know why I’ve been riding the boda bodas so much?”

Heads nodded. They were curious.

A car drove by and the headlights flashed on Gregory’s eyes. He stood right in front of me and was now at eye level with me. He was staring right into my eyes and in that flash of light I got to see the depth of those brown eyes even more.

“I’ve been really tired and my feet hurt and I just couldn’t walk so much. And then it was so rainy, and the road was all muddy… it was hard to walk on…”

I’m not sure who understood all of what I said, or why it felt important to me to tell them this, but what I got, very quickly, was that the words themselves didn’t really matter. What mattered was that they felt my heart… they felt my care for them and my desire to connect. And that, right there, closed any remaining gap between me and Vianey and anyone else who might have felt slighted by my lack of engagement the past two weeks.

I stood back up and there was more play and conversations and group hugs. Eddie came prancing up to us in a huge jacket which made us all crack up. It took at least five additional minutes to extract myself from their arms so I could head home.

I walked onward, a huge smile on my face. A few minutes further down the road, I passed a man who said, “Welcome back,” and his simple greeting brought tears to my eyes.

This is how I’m greeted when I walk home along this red dirt road after a day away. “Welcome back,” people call out to me; some of them I know, others I haven’t yet met, yet they all know this is where I live and that I’m returning home.

Tonight, after reuniting with my kids, these words took on even more meaning for me. “Welcome back.” I’m being woven into the tapestry of daily life around here and I like it. A lot.

(This picture was taken in October yet I’m sharing it again so you can see some of the kids I’m referring to in this story. Vianey is the boy in blue. Gregory, standing right in front of him, is his younger brother. And Eddie is standing right in front of Gregory.)

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