by Julie Hahn
‘Are you excited yet?’ we asked Otoli, Ariet and Jackson two months ago.
The immigration papers for their family to come from Dadaab Refugee Camp, in Kenya, were in their hands. To us, it was evidence that our prayers of four and a half years were being answered.
But to our question, ‘Are you excited yet?’ their answer was ‘No, not yet’.
Over the past couple of months, that question has been asked of them many, many times. When we knew that the medical checks had been passed; when the children had safely returned to the camp from their long and dangerous trip to the Australian embassy in Nairobi; when bribe after bribe had been paid to officials; when the International Organisation of Migration had accepted payment for the airline tickets; when the flight schedule arrived in an email …
Still their answer was ‘No, not yet’.
How could they dare to get excited, when for ten years they hadn’t seen their children? The children had been left with their grandmothers in Ethiopia when Otoli and Ariet had run for their lives, carrying little Jackson in their arms. They hoped then, that by splitting the family, at least one of them might survive.
‘Are you going to have a party?’ we asked Otoli in the few days before the plane was scheduled to arrive.
‘No. I would rather give thanks to God. And I want to thank the people at the church.’ He explained that at times when he felt as though he should give up hope that he would ever see his children again, someone from the church would ask, ‘How are things going? Are your children coming soon? We’re continuing to pray.’
When he looked forward to having their children come here a couple of years ago, there were not enough humanitarian visas available to meet every desperate cry for help. When it looked like they could come, Australia had a change of government and a change in policy; when it looked like they would come, a grandchild and husband were added to the equation (so that the process had to begin again). Every time his hope had run out, Otoli was comforted that others were praying. And he was encouraged to hope again.
Even as we stood together, watching the first of the passengers walking from the plane onto the gangway and into customs area below us, Ariet’s answer was still ‘No, not yet’. Otoli’s smile, though, grew wider and wider.
‘My heart is going boom, boom, boom inside my chest!’ he said. Jackson, now fourteen and taller than his dad, maintained his Aussie-teenager