It has been one year since I wrote about Francois d’Assisi, the little boy I live with, and almost two years since we first met. It has been another year of piggyback rides, tending our growing garden, singing songs in English, French, and Kinyarwanda, doing our secret handshake, evening walks around the soccer field in front of our house, making popcorn over our wood burning stove and baking banana bread, playing Candyland, and reading a battered copy of Goodnight Moon before going to sleep at night.
Even though I am happy at the thought of returning to America and seeing so many family and friends I’ve missed dearly these past two years, I can’t stop myself from crying when I think about D’Assisi, even now, as I type this on my computer. I will miss a lot of people in my community, but I will miss D’Assisi the most.
I will miss the way he runs toward me with excitement when I come home from work. I will miss his little self in his little school uniform. I will miss both his playfulness and his caring nature that’s far deeper than his five years.
A few weeks ago, both of us were sick at the same time. After a sleepless night spent vomiting, he knocked on my door and asked if I slept well. I said no, and asked how he slept. He admitted he didn’t sleep well either, then took my hand and said, “Don’t worry. We’ll get better together.” It was a remarkable gesture, not only because of his obvious compassion, but because as an HIV positive kid, he gets sicker more often and more seriously than I do.
One of the nuns, D’Assisi, and I visited the grove of banana trees where he was abandoned as an infant. D’Assisi wanted to play hide and seek among the trees, and he’d stand behind trees, giggling and calling my name. I walked slowly around the banana trees, and tried to imagine what his parents must have been going through five years ago that led them to abandon their newborn son. Maybe D’Assisi had brothers and sisters, but another baby was more than his parents could manage. Perhaps his mother was a young single HIV+ woman, forced to drop out of school when her headmaster found out she was pregnant, rejected by her family, and judged by the stereotypes and double-standards of her community, a story that’s all too common in my village. I wondered if his mother is still alive, somewhere. Then D’Assisi tugged on my hand, pulling me back to the shady grove. And I felt nothing, I thought about nothing, except gratitude for his life and for the joy he has brought so many people.
I want so many things for him. I want him to go to good schools. I want to be able to pay for him to have surgery on his legs so that he can finally walk normally. I want more time with him. I wish I could be in two places at once. I wish I didn’t have to let go, even for a little while. I want him to be mine. But more than that, I want what’s best for him. What is most unbearable to me is the uncertainty of all of it. I will always remember D’Assisi, and I will always love him. But will I be only a distant memory to him?
Friends and family, of course, have tried to be helpful in dealing with what is obviously a difficult and complex situation. There are lots of kids you can adopt in this world. You’ll move on and forget about him. Or, more hurtfully, he’ll move on and forget about you. Don’t limit your own potential just for him. It’s too complicated to try to adopt an orphan/HIV positive/African/etc. etc. child. You could just give money to support him! You don’t have the money to take care of him. You’re not ready to be a parent. He’s in a good situation now with the nuns, and you shouldn’t remove him from that. You don’t really know what you want, or what you’re getting into. Don’t get too emotionally involved; it will be easier to cut ties later.
Some of these are valid points that deserve a hefty amount of consideration on my part. Some of them have been incredibly painful to hear.
I know that there is a possibility that I may live to see him become far sicker than he currently is and perhaps even die, with all of the emotional baggage that this entails.
I know that the nuns can’t take care of him forever, and that in a few years they will look for a family to adopt him.
I’m well aware that I’m 24 years old and three years out of college.
I don’t want any kid. I’m not looking to save the world via adoption, to become the next Angelina Jolie. I have met thousands of kids, and many of them in a similar situation to D’Assisi here in Rwanda. There is an orphanage a forty-minute walk from my house, where there are more than two hundred amazing kids. But I don’t want any kid. I only want one, and I have never met a kid like D’Assisi.
I also don’t want to just give money. That’s not, and will never be, enough for me. Of course, I want to be able to provide for him. But I want time with him more than anything. I want there to be more than the 120 or so days that I have left with him.
I understand it is difficult to be a parent in general, exceedingly so when single, and when adopting an HIV+ orphan from another culture (albeit one that I have lived in for two years). I realize that adopting a child is not like adopting a pet. D’Assisi is part of a culture. He has emotions and intelligence. He has ties to this place.
I also realize that as of right now, it’s illegal for foreigners to adopt Rwandan children. Without gaining Rwandan citizenship (which requires 5 years of residency), or without Rwanda changing its adoption laws, this is all just a pie in the sky. I recognize that in a few years, he may have strong opinions of his own, and they may not agree with mine, and I have to respect that.
So the next four months, I will be soaking up every hug, every piggyback ride, every reading of Goodnight Moon. I will be trying to hang on, while trying to let go. In the back of my mind, I know that I may not be able to come back to Rwanda for at least a few years, with graduate school looming on the horizon for me.
And for the next few years, I will have to live in this incredible uncertainty, wondering if I will ever be together again with the kid I love so much. Perhaps this is all there is. Maybe our story ends here.
I hope and pray that it doesn’t.