Somehow the month Sweet Tea stayed with us flew by. A few days before her flight home, I helped her pack her bags. The hosting agency told us to pack ahead of time for two reasons: 1) to make sure every single thing fit and 2) to give the kids a chance to process the reality that they are leaving.
The first was easy. Everything fit into her large rolling duffle bag. She wasn’t so sure about the large bag but after two phone calls to the translator/chaperone we were able to communicate that the bag would be checked in; she wouldn’t have to carry/roll it through multiple airports and layovers. Sweet Tea put a few things into her new backpack for the flight: a book, markers, a drawing pad, candy, nuts and granola bars, etc.
The second was not so easy. Sweet Tea hid in her room with her head under the covers.
I sat on the floor next to her bed until she peeked out. I translated how are you feeling, are you ok and she just shrugged. I asked a few different ways and still the same shrug. So, I translated, “Just tell me one word. Just one. How are you feeling?”
She reached for the phone and translated, “Sad to say goodbye.”
With just a few days left, Sweet Tea finally told us how she was feeling. And there really wasn’t a thing we could do to make her feel better. Maybe we would see each other again, maybe not. Orphan hosting is full of uncertainty including whether or not the kids get to come back.
We had to be at the airport at 5am. I don’t remember what time we set our alarms…3 something. It was early, whatever time it was!
We waited with the other hosting families. Some of the kids were already crying, dreading saying goodbye. Sweet Tea wasn’t.
We walked to the security gate, the spot where we had to stop and Sweet Tea had to go on. Dave translated, “The time is soon to say goodbye. We hope that you fly safely. We love you and will miss you greatly. We hope to see you again.”
And that’s when all of Sweet Tea’s resolve went out the window and she wept. Dave held her for a long time. She turned to give me a big hug. She reached down to say goodbye to Hope.
She looked at Lauren and they both burst into tears.
After more tears and more hugs, Sweet Tea walked through the security gate.
We waited, watching as Sweet Tea made her way slowly through the long line to the X-ray machines. Each time she moved forward she turned around to smile at us, watching us.
One of the other host families sent us this picture.
We stood by the gate until we couldn’t see her anymore and then we turned and left. And felt like a truck had run over us.