On we walked, with our young guides reassuring us that it was close by. Sophie had a picture of the house in her head– a rectangular house with two front doors and a round children’s hut off to one side. When we entered a clearing and were pointed toward a house, Sophie said, “This looks different. I don’t know if this is it.”
Little children stood in front of the house looking at us curiously, and soon a couple of ladies appeared as well. We said Julianna’s dads name again and they said he wasn’t here. We still weren’t sure if we had the right spot, but then an older lady spotted Julianna and burst into tears, shouting and running into our midst and hugging and kissing Julianna. A younger lady ran into the house and quickly emerged with an album.
The album I’d sent to them from America years ago full of pictures of Julianna.
This was most certainly the right place.
Then the pandemonium began.
Someone told us first that the lady kissing Julianna was a grandmother on her dad’s side, but later dad said his mom was not living, so we think now it may have been an aunt. Another lady, a neighbor, kissed Julianna with equal enthusiasm. Children ran to get Julianna’s father and sibings, and now Julianna’s step mother hugged and cried over Julianna.
People ran into the house to get chairs, and insisted we sit down in the shade under the trees while we waited for Julianna’s father to come from the fields. When finally he did come, I don’t think I have seen anyone happier this side of heaven.
When Julianna’s grandmother, the mother of her mother appeared, sobbing hysterically, I was immediately in tears too. She couldn’t stop looking at Julianna’s face and hands. Oh the tears. Oh the joy.
The crowd grew as more and more family and neighbors appeared. I had brought my computer so I could show a video of Julianna playing the guitar and singing. I knew that she might be subdued when meeting many strangers, so I wanted them to get a glimpse of the real her– a child who actually is far from subdued. Everyone pressed close to glimpse the video.
In a bit we gathered family in the front of the house to try to get some pictures. The crowd pressed in, and I got a piece of paper and tried to write down names of actual family, so we could maybe later identify people in the pictures.
And here is much of her family, except for some sisters close to her age who had not yet arrived.
This photo is of Julianna’s great grandmother on her mother’s side. What a gift, to see so many generations together.
Hana (in the brown top) is a year or so older than Julianna, and Conjit (in white and pink) is probably another year older than her. Julianna’s father was radiant with happiness to see so many of his children together.
Soon it was evident that preparations were being made to feed us. Sophie and I were both concerned that they might be killing animals, and making more of a production than they could really afford, and we wondered if we should leave. But we had come from such a distance that I couldn’t bear to leave so soon. And then I was told that they were cooking corn. This seemed to me like a reasonable feast with it being corn harvest season.
We settled in to stay awhile longer. Soon corn was brought out to us– tougher than American corn, but fairly sweet. We quickly began copying Hana’s way of eating the corn, picking it off the cob kernel by kernel. Julianna’s dad gave a joyful speech, and then the uncle did. With the help of the translator, I was able to tell Julianna’s dad thank you and to pray for all the assembled family and neighbors.
They wanted to hear Julianna’s voice, but she was shy. So we thought of questions to ask her, and soon she warmed up, telling people about her life in America. The crowd was huge by now, but any time she spoke, everyone went silent, hanging on her every word.
Julianna’s grandma asked if she could bring her some milk, but we told her that would not be good for Julianna’s tummy. They coaxed us to eat more, and Sophie said we’d be expected to eat all the corn. But when Hana saw Julianna was struggling, she snatched the ear of corn out of Julianna’s hand and set it back on the table. I broke mine in half and gave it to a couple of the little children.
Finally it was time to go. We slowly and reluctantly gathered our things together and walked back toward our van. Many hugs were shared at the van door before we all waved goodbye. Oh, it was hard to leave. But what a blessed visit it had been.
Julianna has many, many people who love her on both sides of the world.