14 kids from 3 different orphanages arrived three days ago at our make-shift, backyard camp. The tents were
pitched, the firewood stacked, and lots of food was waiting to be consumed. The smiles were bright, the laughter loud, and the competition during the games was mostly friendly.
I've participated in many a Romanian camp over the years. I've played tag to my heart's content, made more friendship bracelets than I could ever wear at one time, and endured so many goodbyes with the kids that I was pretty convinced this camp would be the same ole' same ole'.
Of course I was wrong.
I hadn't anticipated seeing this face:
Mihaela is around 12 years old. She looks maybe 7. Mihaela is a tiny princess, with dainty features and a round face that is quick to smile. She knows her manners- says please and thank you- and is considerate of other kids around her. She has seven brothers. Six of them are older and live in the orphanage with her while the youngest is home with their mother. The story is that their mother wrote her phone number on a piece of paper, handed it to her children and dropped them off on the steps of the orphanage. You would never know this child has faced such stark abandonment from her demeanor though. Throughout camp, Mihaela would crawl into my lap, or ask me politely for a friendship bracelet. As I was taking photos, she peered through my camera, with the strap around both of our necks. She leaned her back against me and would sweetly peer up at me whenever she took a photo.
Then there's this face:
Marga is 11 years old. She and her brother have lived in the orphanage for most of their childhood. They have been fortunate to have been kept together and are very close. Marga decided I was 'her person' at camp. I'm not exactly sure how it happened- one minute I was running crafts or calling the kids to dinner, and the next minute I had a little girl wrapped around my waist. Constantly planting kisses on my cheek and never out of reach of my hand, Marga followed me around during camp. Our last day of camp, we swam with the kids at the Team House pool. Marga's tiny voice was constantly calling, " Anna! Watch me swim! " "Now watch me swim again!" "Did you see me??" I 'bravo-ed' and 'forte bined' as much as I could and she would look up at me with that crooked grin. After swimming, she climbed into my lap and pressed her cheek against my face. She wrapped her tiny arms tightly around my neck and refused to release me. When I finally pried her fingers open she glanced mischievously up at me and then buried her face into my shoulder. As the time for the kids to depart drew nearer, Marga became even more weary of letting go of my hand. She kissed me repeatedly, and continued to subject me to more gut-wrenching hugs. We finally made it out to the van where we deposited her bags in the back. She kissed me again, and hung from my neck as I lifted her off the ground in a bear hug. She took her seat in the van and immediately buried her face in her hands as fat tears streaked down her cheeks. In the commotion of loading the other kids, I couldn't get back to Marga for a few moments. In those moments, I realized that once again, my heart had broken for a little Romanian girl. The crowd at the van calmed down a bit and I was able to lean in, give Marga one last kiss and tell her goodbye. As they drove away, Marga chanced one last glance at me and offered a tiny smile. I made sure to stand in the road and wave until the van turned out of sight.
Tomorrow a new group of kids will come to camp. Same ole' same ole? I don't think so...