Day 23: Christmas in Africa
Psalms 68:5 - “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”
Copyright All images & writing © 2018 Charis Seed Photography All rights reserved
The light was streaming through the mosquito net. I opened my eyes to see a small lizard crawling up the wall. The jetlag hadn’t allowed for much sleep. That and the feeling that there were bugs under the covers. I rolled over to look at our Christmas tree. There it was in all its glory. All two and half feet of it standing on the table. It was the only size that would fit in our suitcase. 7,000 miles away it was still Christmas Eve in Michigan. But here in the Congo it was Christmas morning.
My wife has been laying awake for a while. I decided not to mention the lizard. “Merry Christmas” I said with a smirk. We were there to visit our sons. Sons that were supposed to have been home in the U.S. by then. We were in Africa because politics has kept us apart. It was legal for us to enter the Congo, but it was not legal for our adopted sons to leave. So, we decided that instead of spending another Christmas in a lonely, childless house we would make the long journey to share the holiday with them there in the capital city of Kinshasa. They would spend Christmas with us in a hotel. And after New Year’s we would get back on a plane and fly home. Without our sons.
This is the first day my wife would hold her sons. I had come to visit the summer before, but my wife had never held them. Christmas would be the day my wife would meet her sons for the first time. The minutes were already stretching into what felt like hours. We were in a city of 10 million people, yet because it was a holiday the streets were nearly silent. We waited.
I think the weight was harder for me. I knew those two little boys. I still had vivid memories of the past summer. During those 9 days, I was a single parent to two preschoolers that did not speak English. And I did not speak Lingala. Still we managed. “Zumba” means poop. “Zoopa” is pee. And the most important word is “LEE-pa” which means “bread” or in a pinch it can mean food in general. My boys constructed a two word phrase early on during my past visit, a simple command, “Papa, Leepa!”
That first visit affected me in many unexpected ways. It tore me apart to come home without them. I had rocked my younger son to sleep each night in the sweaty darkness of the hallways. Sometimes singing softly in his ear. And after I came home, for weeks anytime I picked up an item that was close to my son’s weight I could feel the form of his small figure against my chest. And something in my heart longed to hold him again.
And they were almost in my arms again.
A car door shut. “Papa!” I heard my oldest cry. I came around a corner into the courtyard as fast as I could. There was my oldest with the biggest smile his face could hold! Behind him my younger son was acting shy. My older son was not as shy. “Helicopter!” said the eldest. I grabbed his outstretched hands in mine and spun him around me a few times his giggle trailing in the morning air. Then, his younger brother followed suit.
After our little game, I pointed to my wife and said “mama!” Silence. Their eyes darted back and forth between my wife and another woman that was standing with a smile on here face. She was wearing a formal outfit made from African textiles. See, my boys had no father in their lives. That role was open and ready to be filled. But they did have a woman in their lives they thought of as mama. A proud and kind soul that was a foster mother to them in our absence.
The foster mother bent over and spoke to the two boys gently in French. I couldn’t make out much, but the word “mama” was said several times while pointing at us. The boys tiptoed up to my wife and offered “Hello, mama!” She bent down and scooped them into her arms. Small tears forming at the corner of her eyes.
After a brief conversation with the foster mother, we were left alone with our two sons standing in eighty degree weather on Christmas Day. We took them inside our temporary home. They were still a little shy, but the sight of presents broke the awkward silence nicely. Presents were unwrapped with gusto. Toys were fought over in amazingly rapid French. We had a Christmas feast of tuna out of a packet and some rice on paper plates. Then there was a rousing game of pretend-to-lock-dad-in-the-wardrobe. And festive bubble blowing. And finally, for the grand finale, a smiw in the hotel pool. Then, leepa. Always leepa.
And lastly, what my heart had hoped for most that Christmas, I held my little son in my arms for the first time in six months and rocked him gently to sleep. It was our first Christmas together as a family!
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Copyright All images & writing © 2018 Charis Seed Photography