Excitement was in the air the next day. I couldn’t sleep because I just kept thinking about what mama said yesterday. “You are going home.” Where is home? Is that where my mother went to when she left Xahri and I again? Maybe it was a surprise and she didn’t want to ruin it. I can’t wait to see her. Mama had gotten a bus to come take us home. We all got in and mama said a prayer before we embarked on our journey home. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I heard was “Everybody get down!” I was frightened because it reminded me of when stern face came to take us. The difference now is that mama was the one who was saying it and the other kids were chattering away with excitement. I looked out the window and it didn’t look like my home, I was a little disappointed but then maybe my mother didn’t want us going back home, maybe it’s a new home since the old one has many sad memories.
There was a building right across from where the bus parked. Mama ushered us inside. It was a very big building but it wasn’t completed. The walls weren’t painted and it looked like nobody had been in there for a while. We were asked to sit in a room that looked like a dining hall. Mama asked Joshua to come with him and they had to go talk to the elderly man who welcomed us in. All the kids were talking from excitement. I was looking out hoping that I will see my mother. Xahri said he needed to pee. I didn’t know where the bathroom was so I just took him down the hallway opening any door that resembled a bathroom. We had gotten halfway down the hallway when I heard mama yelling at the man who welcomed us in. She was asking him what he wanted her to do with all the children. He was trying to calm her down. He was saying something about no funding from the government, and that because they were far away from the city, it was difficult to get private institutions to help. He was using a lot of big words that I didn’t understand like “embezzlement”. That word sounded familiar because I had heard grandma and my mother talk about it a lot. I decided to go in the room to ask grandma where the bathroom was but she stormed out and we bumped into her. She tried to hide her tears and immediately put on a smile. She told me to go back to be with the other children while she took Xhari to the bathroom.
On my way back, I started to think of what they were talking about. What was going to happen to us? Mama doesn’t want us anymore and this man cannot allow us stay here. Where is my mother? She will definitely want me and Xahri. Maybe she can take some of the other children too but they are too many to stay with us or maybe this man can let us all stay here and with mama’s help, my mother can take care of everybody. I got back in the room with the other children and they all looked happy. I didn’t want to be the one to tell them that this place wasn’t to be our home. I’m pretty sure they will all rather go back to be with mama. She had taken care of us since the incident over a year ago. She read to us, taught us about mathematics and she made us happy. I sat down and prayed that my mother will show up soon, then I fell asleep.
…I didn’t like this idea from the beginning. I knew it was a terrible idea but nobody wanted to listen to me. I don’t know how I got separated from my team but now I’m all by myself looking for this cave. I’m pretty sure I am off track because it shouldn’t take this long. It was supposed to be an hour but it’s an hour and a half and I see no cave in sight. Maybe I should go back up but I can’t guarantee that I can find my way back up though. My phone has no signal. This is just like the movies. The exact time you need to have phone service is the exact time it disappears and you get killed by a wild animal or worse off, you get kidnapped. But wait really though, which is worse? Oh wait, I can see some houses, thank God, at least they can take me back to the bus or the cave. I hurry down as fast as my tired legs could carry me. And to top it off, I really need to pee. I finally get to the bottom of this “forever” hill and I see a bus parked outside this building. It looks half completed. Well I hope that the completed half has a bathroom because I really need to pee. Well there is only one way to find out – go on in.
The front door is open so I just walk in, “Hello, is anybody here?” “Hello, I really need to use the bathroom, can I come in?” I walk a little further into the house and I hear some people arguing. I wanted to go inside that room to ask for help when I looked to my left and there was a bathroom. I was about to go in when I heard a woman shout “What am I to do with these children?” “They need to go to school, they need healthcare, and I can’t do it alone” … I see a little girl about 8 years old and a little boy with her probably 4 maybe five years old and I’m wondering if they are who this woman is talking about. I wanted to hear the rest of the conversation but I really needed to pee so I went in the bathroom. I was about to flush the toilet when someone knocked on the door. “One second!” I answered. I wash my hands quickly and open the door. There’s the woman holding the little boy I saw in the hallway. She looked like she had been crying. I moved aside to give her room to go in the bathroom. I wanted to ask if she was okay but I felt like I would be prying. I can’t ask her for help locating the bus or my friends because that would seem insensitive too so I just walk away and go towards the room where I heard the little commotion earlier. The door was open and I could see an elderly man seated behind a desk. I knock on the door to get his attention. I greeted him and he smiled back at me, I explained my dilemma to him and he told me that this sort of thing happened a lot and that he would get someone to take me to the cave. I was very relieved that I had found help. He offered me seat and walked out of the room to find someone to take me to the cave. From my position, I hide a little view of traffic outside in the hallway. The woman I had met had on the bathroom was walking outside with another child, this one was a teenager, probably fifteen years old. I heard her tell him to get the bus driver ready that they were going back because they couldn’t get help here. She also asked him to get some food from the bus so the children could have lunch. I didn’t know when I got up and was walking really close behind them. I wanted to say something but the words wouldn’t come out. I knew that I needed to say something but for some reason, my mouth couldn’t say the words I was thinking probably because my thoughts were going a million words per minute. I wasn’t anticipating her stop so I bumped into her and she turned around. “I am so sorry” I said to her. “It’s okay” she responded. I thought to myself that was my opening, I had to say something else but she immediately turned back around on her way out. I just blurted out “I can help you with the children” she turned around with the “what are you talking about look” and I proceeded to answer her question. I apologized for eavesdropping and told her how I had overheard her conversation with Mr. Arden and I might be able to help her if she needed help with her children. I went on about how difficult it must be being a single mother raising three children alone and I had to stop because her expression didn’t show that she was feeling what I was saying. I was thinking I must have really over stepped and began to apologize profusely and proceeded back to Mr. Arden’s office when she said “fifteen” I turned around to look at her and she said “I have fifteen children”. I was shocked, yes she looks like she’s in her late 50s but did she spend her whole life having children? What man would so that to a woman? Maybe they are different men. My mind was spinning and I figured she realized what I was thinking and she went on to tell me the story of how she came about having fifteen children. She told me what Mr. Arden had told her. The lack of funding, mismanagement and how their location put them at a disadvantage to get help form private organizations. I couldn’t believe what she was saying. My mind couldn’t comprehend the coincidence. This has to be more than a coincidence. It has to be fate. I had been looking for how to help and here I was, right where I should be. With everything I had hoped for, all the hours I had put in studying those books for my online classes. Mr. Arden brought me back to reality when he came back in with a young man – Feratt. I looked at Mr. Arden, then at this woman I just promised to help then at Ferrat. Mr. Arden didn’t know what was going on and he gave us this bewildered look and I proceeded to “unbewilder” him. He ushered me and the woman who Mr. Arden referred to as “mama” into his office. He asked Ferrat to wait outside for a little while. Mr. Arden’s eyes lit up like he had won something, something really big like a car or I don’t know an all-expense paid trip round the world maybe. We sat down in his office for hours trying to come up with a plan. I tried to explain to them a million times that I didn’t have an NGO, that I didn’t know of anyone that I could recommend and basically my experience was from taking free online classes and a couple of years volunteering with different non-profit organizations but they weren’t having any of my excuses.
By the time we were done, a lot of time had passed so I decided that going back to the bus was a better idea than going to the cave for fear that the crew would have headed back to the bus. The route Ferrat took us through was a lot shorter than the one our tour guide had taken us. We were back by the bus under an hour. I was exhausted from the day’s adventure. The crew hadn’t returned yet. As soon as we got near the bus, my phone started to go off. I had so many missed calls and messages from my friends, they were all worried. Immediately, I called Shaffie and I don’t think she let the phone ring before she answered. They had been worried sick about me and had threatened the tour guide to get him to confessing kidnapping me. I thought that was a little extreme but I sure was happy to know that people cared about me. I assured her that I was safe and by the bus and of course to let the tour guide go promising to fill them in on “Tehrani’s adventure”. We ended the call and I gave Ferrat some money for his help.
I was fast asleep when I heard the noise from the crew. I got out of the bus and Shaffie ran towards me in the biggest bear hug that almost toppled the both of us over. The crew was excited to see me but were mad that I kind of ruined their fun at the cave. I apologized and promised to make it up to them. Though I wasn’t sure asking their help in completing the house for the kids and asking for donations was the way to repay them. I told Mr. Arden and Mama that I was coming the next day with my friends so we could help with completing the house, buying furniture and help in any capacity needed to ensure that the children had a safe place. I knew that wasn’t enough but it would be a good place to start.
I let the crew settle in a bit before I asked for their attention. I explained my whole ordeal to them and told them of my promise to Mama and Mr. Arden. Their response was amazing. I knew my friends would help but I wasn’t expecting much the other party we came with but to my surprise, they were as enthusiastic as my group of friends. They went as far as planning to go back into town to find ATM’s to withdraw money to help. It left me in tears. I never thought that my dream was so close by. There were days when I thought I was wasting my time preparing for a day I wasn’t sure would ever come. I even thought I was crazy at some point. I knew that we were far from being successful at this project but the faint idea that I would be helping provide a chance for a better life for these children who are victims of this cruel world is all the success I need. For those who couldn’t contribute financially, they promised to commit their time. I had little sleep that night. I spent my time coming up with different strategies. We decided to stay the night instead of going back and coming the next day. It wasn’t the ideal plan but it worked. I started to think of all the lessons I learned in my classes and how to apply them here. There was a lot to be done but we can start with giving the children a home.
…”I know you all have been through a lot, many adults have not been through half of what you all have experienced in your little time on earth but I tell you, you have to fight for yourself, fight…” That sounds familiar. I have heard something like that before but where and whom did I hear it from? She says it again “fight for yourself” “Grandma!” That is what grandma was trying to say when there was all that “red” around her. I thought she said “Fight yourself” but she meant fight for yourself. This woman must know what she is talking about if she is saying something grandma said to me.
When we woke up that morning, there was a lot of activity going on. Mama came into the make shift bedroom Mr. Arden had made for us. She sounded very excited. She told us to get up and go take a shower before we had breakfast and that there was a guest she had for us. For a second, I thought it was my mother. Maybe she had finally come to surprise Xahri and me. I wanted to tell Xahri that mommy was coming to see us and take us home but I didn’t want to ruin the surprise for him so I decided against telling him. I got up quickly and took Xahri outside to give him a bath before having mine. We hurriedly ate our breakfast and went to sit in the hall we sat in the day before. We were chatting away when a couple of people came into the room including mama and Mr. Arden. A young woman introduced herself to us as Ms. Tehrana. She introduced some other people as her friends. Xahri and I were seated in the back so I couldn’t get a good view. I was stretching to see if our mother was in the group of her friends but she wasn’t there. I was disappointed and refused to listen. I hadn’t cried in a long time, even when I saw my brothers and sister drop to the ground, even when grandma had all that red around her. I didn’t even cry when my mother came to see us and left us twice but this time it hurt. It hurt because I was beginning to think that my mother was never coming back. But why would she leave us behind? What could be the reason? I don’t want to cry like the other children. I want to be strong like Joshua and the other big boys who didn’t cry. They sometimes made fun of the kids that cried too calling them babies. I am still fighting to hold back tears when I hear something familiar …”I know you all have been through a lot, many adults have not been through half of what you all have experienced in your little time on earth but I tell you, you have to fight for yourself, fight…” That sounds familiar. I have heard something like that before but where and whom did I hear it from? She says it again “fight for yourself” “Grandma!” That is what grandma was trying to say when there was all that “red” around her. I thought she said “Fight yourself” but she meant fight for yourself. This woman must know what she is talking about if she is saying something grandma said to me. Maybe she knows my grandma, or maybe her grandma told her the same thing too. It must be sad if her grandma went away the same way mine did but I will like to talk to her. Maybe she can help me find my mother. I decided to listen to her and she talked about building us a playground and a school and that we would be getting books and new clothes but it wouldn’t happen right away but will take a little time. She had to convince some other friends to help us. We were all excited about all this new stuff we were going to get. For a moment, I wasn’t thinking of my mother. I wasn’t sad about her leaving us. I was just happy that we were going to get new clothes and shoes. We were going to go back to school too. At the end of her speech, mama asked all the kids to go back on the bus because we needed to leave the building so that it could be completed. Auntie Tehrani and her friends had gotten brick layers, carpenters and electricians and many more people to help finish the building. They were going to give us beds too. I couldn’t contain my excitement. We would get real beds with mattresses and no longer sleep on mats. They were going to build a borehole too so we wouldn’t go to the stream to get water. All of the kids were very excited. I saw Resa and Joshua dancing in the corner of the room. It most definitely was the best day since mama let us into her house. We were going to a place called the “Steaming cave”. We didn’t know what it was about but I don’t think anyone cared at this point. We were too excited to be bothered.
Mr. Arden helped us get local skills men to help with our plans. We had limited time there and we wanted to make the most of our time there. We had to get the children basic needs within such a short time frame. The carpenters made double-decker beds, everybody had a task and knew how to execute them. We worked like a well-oiled machine. My volunteering and studies came in very handy. What impressed me the most, was the willingness of people to help. Even the locals impressed me too I was very amazed by their enthusiasm to help. Why didn’t they do all this before our intervention though? They needed someone to lead them I think. They didn’t know where to start or how to help. Some of my friends volunteered to go with the children to the cave. I wanted to go too but I had to be at the house to make sure everything worked according to plan. I still had a lot of work to do. What would happen when we leave? Will help continue or will all this hard work go to waste again? I have to figure out a way to make sure that this place gets the resources they need. They need teachers and a doctor, and many other professionals. I’m very sure they would need a psychologists to help the children process their feelings of loss and other emotions they must have suppressed over time. I’m not going to get over my head. I’m going to focus on the next two days since that’s all the time we have for now.
By evening time we all get back to the house and the first thing we notice is that there are light bulbs on in and around the house. The transformation on the inside though is totally awesome. We have bedrooms now with actual beds. There is a kitchen with a refrigerator and a freezer. We all run in excitement picking out our beds. I pick one for Xahri and I but mama told us that we can’t be in the same room because the rooms have to be for one gender so I have to go in the girls room to pick a bed. It was really exciting to even have a bed so although I didn’t want to leave Xahri, I was happy to stay in a room with an actual bed and a door that closes. Xahri wasn’t happy about leaving me. We have always done everything together since the incident. He followed me everywhere and I had gotten used to it. It was normal to have him around mw all the time. I went to comfort him and make him feel better when Ms. Tehrani came over to sit with us on Xahri’s new bed. She asked if we liked our new beds. I told her I did but Xahri didn’t respond and she asked him again but he didn’t answer her. I explained to her why he was upset and she tried to make him feel better. She reached into her purse and brought out a pack of biscuits. The same one that our mother had given us when we were in the compound with the lone tree. She must know my mother or grandma. First she says the same thing that grandma said to me before she went away and now she knows what type of biscuits we like. Ms. Tehrani must know something about us. Maybe that’s why she’s talking to us. I decided to ask her about my mother. She said she didn’t know her. I asked about my grandma and she said the same thing that she didn’t know my grandma either. All of this doesn’t make any sense, how can she talk like grandma and know what Xahri and I like without knowing either of them? She must have sensed my thoughts because she asked what I was thinking about and I told her about what happened to grandma and what she said to me while she was laying in all that red. I also told her about my mother leaving us twice and I’m not sure what happened but Ms. Tehrani asked if she could leave us for a second and I said “sure”.
“Oh my God”, “How can this little girl have the strength to breathe?”, “How can she say that story with so much composure and totally devoid of emotion?”. I tried really hard to keep my emotions in check but a single tear escaped the corner of my eye, rolling down my face. She didn’t even say her grandma died, she said “she went away’ and “red” that’s blood Lord. I am not cut out for this task Lord. This little girl is broken. These children are broken. She saw her siblings get shot and her grandma bled to death right in front of her. And how am I supposed to tell this little girl that her mother didn’t leave her like she believes but that she had been dreaming about her this whole time? Her mother must be dead. There is no way her mother would leave her. Everything she has told me about when her mother came to meet her sounds exactly like a dream. Each time she visited, she was asleep but I guess to an eight year old, it seemed pretty real. Lord, how can I tell Ravvit and Xahri that their mother is never coming back? That’s like breaking an already broken heart. I am not qualified to do this. But what do I do? I was crouched in the hallway when Xahri came to me saying “Ms. Tehrani, it’s okay, you don’t have to cry, I like my bed. I will sleep in the boys room” I wiped my tears away and looked up at him and gave him a hug. Ravvit came to meet us outside and she asked why I was crying. I thought to lie to her. To make her happy. I thought to shield her from the pain but I thought about it, what would hurt more? The pain she already knows or the anticipation of what is a lie? I can’t have her continue to believe that her mother left and worse anticipate her return. One that was never going to happen, well at least not in this life. I must talk to mama first. I have to figure out the best way to handle this situation. I told Ravvit that I was crying because I was sad about what happened to her. She gave me a hug, telling me it was okay and that everything was in the past. She told me that because of me and my friends, Mr. Arden and mama, she was going to be happy forever. I couldn’t believe the strength in this eight year old. She could still condone the idea of “happiness”. I had let go of the idea of happiness when my father died. I didn’t think I would ever be genuinely happy. I knew that there were days when I would laugh, feel excitement and all but I never thought I would be truly happy but here I was learning faith from an eight year old who had her world torn apart when she was seven years old, left with nothing but her four year old baby brother and the hope that her mother would come back for them. I promised them that I wasn’t going to cry any longer and went to look for mama. I told her what had happened and she confirmed my suspicions. Ravvit had been dreaming about her mother this whole time. Mama told me of the time when Joshua, one of the older children had to come get her because Ravvit was shaking violently in what appeared to be one of her dreams. H ehad tried to wake her up but wasn’t successful in doing so. She had been talking in her sleep. Talking to her mother, begging her to wait so she could go get Xahri. It was heartbreaking to hear. Mama said other children woke up in cold sweats too. Children screaming in their sleep and some of them having trouble communicating. I was more determined to help. I was ready to do whatever needed to be done to help these children have a chance at a better life. I would take as many courses I needed to take. I would get as many degrees as it would take for me to help.
Mama and I decided that we both tell Ravvit that the times she saw her mother had been in her dream. We asked Resa to find Ravvit and Xahri and tell them to come into mama’s room. I don’t think my heart could beat any faster than it did while we were waiting for the children. I was certain that mama and anyone else who came into that room could hear it beat. They both came in the room and we asked them to sit down. Mama looked at me, signaling me to go ahead. I was hoping that she would take the lead and I would just be there for moral support, a shoulder to cry on you know. I thought about my father and how I got the news that he had passed on and got my strength from there. I looked into Ravvit’s eyes and explained everything to her. She just stood there, motionless. I called her name but she didn’t respond. She didn’t even blink and just before I called out her name again, tears raced down her cheeks. She still didn’t move, didn’t make a sound. She just stood there, with the tears streaming down. I looked at Xahri and he was looking straight at me too. I was beginning to get scared. Had I broken these kids finally? Was this the final straw? Maybe the thought of reuniting with their mother was the only thing that kept them going. I asked him if he was okay and unlike his sister, he answered. He said “I already knew she was never coming back”. That got Ravvit’s attention because she turned to look at him, and he said he saw her drop to the ground just like Ravvit had seen their other siblings drop to the ground. Ravvit asked him why he never told her and he said, “the only time you look happy Ravvit is when you tell me you saw mommy”, “You are always very happy telling me what she said and how she is coming back”, “I want you to be happy forever”. I didn’t think I could feel any worse but as soon as Xahri was done talking, Ravvit crumbled to the floor. I can’t say she was crying because that will not explain the sounds that came out of her. I would say this though, the sounds she made was like pain leaving your body, gut-wrenching sobs. She was curled up like a ball and made guttural sounds. I was trying to hold it together but the sight of her broke me. I knew her pain. I have been exactly where she was but the difference is that I was thirty two years old when I experienced it she on the other hand is eight. I go on my knees beside her and hold her. I notice that she didn’t resist so I just carried her and rubbed her back. She was shaking all over. I looked up at mama and she was holding Xahri who was in tears too. “Dear Lord, how do I help these children?” “Please tell me what to say to them” “Help me remember something from my books that can address this situation” but there was no answer. All I felt I needed to do was to hold her. After about an hour, mama and I had succeeded in calming them down. They left mama’s room to their rooms and behind Ravvit’s eyes, I saw the pain and brokenness. She was a trooper though. She said to me “my grandma told me to fight for myself and that’s what I’m going to do”. She thanked me and went away with her brother.
That night was one of the longest nights of my life. Here I was thinking I had to work with Alliance for Help (A.H) to make a difference. I had always thought that my fulfillment in helping others would never be achieved if I didn’t work with the A.H organization. I never knew that what I had been looking for this whole time had been inside of me. I don’t have to work with A.H or any other organization to help and fulfill my passion. I can do it within my resources. Here I was, learning strength from an eight year old, I learned faith from a five year old. If all of what happened to Ravvit, Xahri and all the other children had happened to me, would I be able to believe like they do? Would I be able to get out of bed? Would I even be alive today? I accepted the challenge that night. The challenge to help in my best capacity. I felt a new fire inside of me. All of my dreams came right before me. I didn’t need anyone to start living my dreams. I had to start myself and invite others into the dream. I know that it would be a while before I can make the impact I hoped would better the lives of these children and others to come but tonight, I take the first step in that direction – belief. Belief that it is possible and it will be done. I had been preparing for the future I dreamed of without even knowing. I had been praying for something God had already given me. All that I needed to do was “DO”. I no longer need my own pain as the strength to carry on. Ravvit, Xahri and all the other children are all the strength that I need to carry on.