We made our way to White Sands without any problem. The sun was high above us and the sky clear when we got there. There is an open space where we could leave the car and from there it was a few minutes walk to their hut. Wearing shorts, the long grasses tickled our legs as we made our way on the short pathway of trampled weed to the now familiar wood-and-zinc hut. A few pieces of planks were strewn throughout parts of the pathway which makes for an easier trek, especially since it was heavily raining that morning and parts of the pathway were covered in puddles of water.
She warmly welcomed us into the hut, which was raised a few feet above the ground on wooden stilts. 6 beautiful smiling faces of her 6 young children welcomed us as we entered and sat down, excluding the youngest who was asleep in a swing-cradle. They were expecting us.
I still remember the first time I met them 3 months ago… This time, it was a belated visit as I had been silently meaning to go back there ever since that afternoon in November, even more so over the recent Christmas season…
Previously, they had been told to vacate the squatter area but as of this visit, they do not know yet when (if ever). Hopefully, at least not until the government-assisted housing for them is completed, or until they have a better place to go. Apparently, their neighbour, the elderly couple whom we also visited in November, had since been taken in by their enstranged children – hopefully for the better as the old man was paralyzed waist-down and his condition got worse prior to the move… In any case, that meant the population of White Sands is now down to 11 families from the previous 12.
Meanwhile, the children were busy entertaining themselves with the goods we brought with us. I vividly remember the children’s ages from my first visit but this time, I had a name to go with them. Then, 10-months-old would now be 1-year-old Florena and 3 y.o. Kissina, 4 y.o. Kissima, 6 y.o. Catalina, 10 y.o. Wilson, (I forgot the 11-year-old’s name so I’ll just refer to him as Owen for now) and, 17 y.o. Sandra.
We had brought with us, among necessities like rice and eggs, a box of assorted drinks and treats (jelly, sweets, biscuits, chocolate, candy, etc.) and this made for a great game of “finders’ keepers” among them – each hiding their “treasure” in their shirt, away from the hands of their other siblings. I was amused by their antics and at the same time saddened that they could not have these simple treats as easily as most children their age.
Owen was the one who was hiding away from us on our first visit – the one who punched the wall when Sandra said he was disabled [mentally]. Being able to have a closer look at him this time, indeed, he is more special than his siblings in a way but nothing a specialised approach to education cannot handle. Among all the assorted drinks (mostly carton drinks) in the box, he discovered a can of soft-drink and triumphantly exclaimed: “F&N!!!” but it was his brother, Wilson, who discovered the prize candy – a big heart-shaped rainbow-coloured lollipop, which he promptly licked (still with the transparent plastic wrapper on) which I figured was his way of marking possession, before promptly hiding it in his shirt.
The younger girls, Kissina, Kissima and Catalina, were equally adorable when they discovered treats they liked, but they were more often just giggling or laughing at the antics of the boys. Only Sandra, the oldest one of them there was silent, fiddling with some fancy plastic wrappers that the treats came in with her hands, and occasionally looked up at her siblings with a small smile forming over the sides of her lips. I could only wonder what must be going through her mind…
All this was happening in the background while we were catching up with their mother, Lia:
It was good to know that she had found a job at a coffee shop just walking distance from their home. She works from 8 to 5 and while she’s at work, Sandra is there to look after the younger kids. They are still waiting for the children’s identity cards, which they were told would be ready in a few months. Having that would greatly increase the chance of a proper education for the children.
“Love!” exclaimed a small voice, suddenly stealing our attention. It turned out to be one of the younger girls, probably Catalina or Kissina/Kissima (even their Mom had trouble telling who was whom), and she was referring to the big heart-shaped rainbow-coloured lollipop that Wilson discovered earlier, which was now in her hands. The plastic wrapper was off now and she was visibly enjoying the treat. It was then that I realised that instead of hogging the lollipop all to himself (as I had thought earlier), Wilson shared it with the rest of his siblings! Oh bless these children.
“I love you!” she then continued, as if to complete a sentence with her earlier word.
We were suitably impressed but when my friend asked her to repeat what she had said, she just said “Snack” or “Candy”.
We were praying together with the family before bidding our goodbyes when Florena woke up from her afternoon nap – promptly crying when she saw us until Wilson took her out from the swing-cradle and into his arms. In spite of that, it was, I believe, a fruitful and memorable visit.
No, it was more than that.
It was a second Hello.