Hula loves yellow. We've been certain of that fact since the day we met. From dresses and markers to food and bath towels, yellow is her preferred choice. I've always loved that her favorite color so closely reflects her personality- bright and strong- but had never put much more thought into it than that. Then I looked through photos from our trip, and saw something that made me pause and catch my breath a bit. It's possible that it's just a fun coincidence, but it's also possible that it's yet another beautiful detail in our daughter's story.
Let me back up just a bit to our second day in Johannesburg. As I mentioned in my last entry, I woke up very early that morning to find our darling girl sprawled between us in some very damp sheets. After stripping the bed (and cursing myself for not putting a "nappy" on her the night before), we all snuggled back up on top of some quilts. While Ryan and I had a hard time falling back asleep, Hula quickly made herself comfortable again.
After getting up, we enjoyed an amazing first breakfast together thanks to our new friends at the Ilali House. Hula had fun exploring the dining room and all the fun things to do in there- watching the water in the coffee pot boil, taking the lid on and off the butter dish, buttering a slice of toast... with every new discovery she would giggle and say "Look!" She also ate her weight in scrambled eggs!
After breakfast, we got a phone call from our social worker, Anna, confirming that we would be able to visit Ethembeni Children's Home later that day. Ethembeni is where Hula spent the first year and a half of her life, before going to live with a foster family. We were eager to visit, since we knew that being there would help us to better retrace Hula's life before us. We were also hopeful that we might be able to meet someone who had known Hula during those early days. While we waited for Anna to arrive, we colored and played in the courtyard.
Anna picked us up at noon and drove us to Ethembeni, which is situated in an inner-city suburb in Johannesburg. Anna explained that many immigrants who come to the city take up shelter in that neighborhood - some in small apartments, some in government-provided housing, and some in abandoned buildings without electricity or running water. Amidst all the concrete and chaos stands Ethembeni, a visibly bright and happy home that provides hope to the community it serves. Upon entering, we were instantly greeted by the staff. We explained why we were there and shared our daughter's name, but initially the staff shook their heads, saying they had no memory of a child with that name. We kept repeating her name, insisting that yes, she had been there. Finally the woman behind the desk turned and said, "Wait a minute...do you mean ______? (insert her full name, with a very long and pronounced rolled R)" We nodded yes, and they all started to buzz around us excitedly.
Soon Anna led us upstairs, where all of the children live. Ethembeni cares for children from birth until age 3, and the children are divided into rooms based on their age. Anna led us down the hall towards the room where Hula spent the first six months of her life.
As we walked down the hallway, we passed by several curious caretakers who smiled and said hello. Two of them stopped us and asked Hula's name. When we responded (rolling the R this time!) one of the women gasped out loud. The woman (who I later learned is named Precious) grabbed my arm and repeated Hula's name excitedly, then turned to the other woman and started talking a mile a minute in her native language. Precious turned back to us, laughing with wide eyes and her hands clasped over her mouth in disbelief. She then took off running down the hallway, yelling into all of the nurseries. Soon all of the caretakers were gathered in a circle around us, calling Hula's name and reaching out for her excitedly. It was clear they not only all remembered her, but also that they all loved her dearly. One was so excited that she reached out her arms to hold Hula. Terrified by all of the commotion, Hula burst into tears. We all then tried to shuffle our way towards the infant nursery while talking excitedly and trying to soothe Hula.
I remember taking a deep breath before entering the infant nursery. Our daughter had been carried through the same doorway nearly four years earlier, as a tiny one-month-old baby just released from the hospital. Ryan took this photo of the sign on the door:
The Daffodil Nursery. Hula's first home--the place where she was loved and cared for during the first six months of her life-- was a large, sunny, yellow room. And in the middle of this bright room, the caretakers pointed out a crib. Hula's crib.
I laced my fingers around the blue metal bars, trying to imagine our sweet girl as a little baby, curled up inside. All around me babies were cooing, sleeping, and staring with wide eyes. Although it was hard to see so many little ones living inside this room, without a family to call their own, it was also humbling to see the love and care that these women were pouring into the children.
As I was looking around the room, Precious came up beside me and excitedly held out her cell phone. I looked at the photo on her phone, then back up at her with eyebrows raised. "Yes! It's her!" she nodded proudly. There, on her phone, was a baby photo of Hula-- a photo, which she told us, she had saved "all these years." At that moment I turned into a crying mess. To have this photo, and this story, for Hula as she grows is just huge. Such a beautiful gift.
Through my tears I managed to thank Precious. We then visited the other rooms, and stopped to play with the toddlers for awhile before leaving. As we were standing on the terrace outside, one little girl with a head full of braids came toddling over to Ryan. She walked right towards him and buried her head in his legs. He rubbed her back for awhile and tried to talk to her, but she just stood there with her arms wrapped around him. Before leaving, he had to pick her up and hand her to one of the caretakers. Seeing the look on his face, I knew in an instant that we would be back - maybe not to Ethembeni, but that our family would continue to grow through adoption. There are just so many kids waiting. And so, with Hula clinging tightly to my neck, we headed back down the stairs, out to the car, and on to our second night as a family of three.
You can learn more about Ethembeni Children's Home by watching the video below. If you feel inspired to support their work, you can click here to make a donation towards nappies, medicine, toiletries, or to sponsor a bed for a child in need.