Where are you?


“Papa, waar ben je”. Joseph’s slightly disconcerted voice breaks the silence in our living room, where Matthew is playing and I am quietly lying on my back for a moment. We have just arrived back in Rotterdam and a truck full of toys seems to have exploded on our floor. Matthew is delightedly checking whether all his toys are still present and after touching each and every piece he moves on to the next. Just the knowledge that everything is still in place, seems to be comforting. Joseph does not find comfort in toys at all. Everything he sees, is new for him, so we -his family- are his only comfort. He has found a practical way to deal with that. He just ensures he always knows where we are.

It is a magnificent and moving sign of trust that Joseph keeps checking where we are. Although he has been saying for a few weeks that we are going “naar Nederland” we cannot presume that this means more than a repetition of what he hears us say. The Netherlands means very little to him and it is fine as long as we are staying close to him.

Joseph’s checking our whereabouts started in Nairobi as soon as Sandra took the suitcases out of the wardrobes. He stuck around her legs and for three days we heard him say: “mama, waar ben je” up to 20 times a day. “In the kitchen”, “in the bath room, Joseph”, “in the living room”, were the basic answers Sandra gave him, followed by the small, bare footsteps rushing through the apartment.

Two years ago, we were anxious to see how Matthew would respond to his new environment. Now we are of course still interested and alert, but we are much more comfortable that Joseph just follows us around where we go, because of the relationship that has grown. The 20 “where are you’s?” per day are a simple confirmation that the five and half months have been fruitful in getting to know each other.

One of my first calls back in the office on Monday 5 September is with a colleague who does not yet know that we have returned from Kenya. “Where are you?”, he asks. “In the office”, I am inclined to say and I instinctively turn to look at the door to see whether I can see the bare feet rushing in. As nothing happens, I turn back to the screen to realize that another response is less exact, but more appropriate: “in the Netherlands”.