Lydia Aluma paced back and forth Wednesday at the Regina International Airport — keeping a careful eye on the arrival area. She exuded nervous energy, yearning to see her family.
Her eyes lit up when she spotted her husband, Ponziano, and their two adopted sons, Benedict and Emmanuel, approaching.
She stood with clasped hands, thumbs fidgeting, and waited.
After an international adoption process full of hurdles and spanning years, this would be the first time the four were united on Canadian soil.
Boys' mother 'disappeared'
Ponziano is uncle to 11-year-old Benedict and nine-year-old Emmanuel. Ponziano's sister gave birth to Benedict in 2008. She was struggling with mental and physical health challenges around that time, he said. Two years later, she gave birth to Emmanuel.
Then tragedy struck.
The Alumas shared tears and smiles at Regina's airport on Wednesday. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)
"That was the year my sister disappeared and we never found her," he said.
Ponziano first considered sponsoring the boys to go through school in Uganda, but he quickly realized that wasn't enough.
The boys had been split up — one was in an orphanage and another with relatives who were facing their own challenges. Ponziano, 59, wanted them to have a solid sense of family.
He and Lydia were pondering retirement at the time.
"Having to start a new family was not part of our plan," he said.
Ponziano is already a father to two adult-aged children. However, he said he and Lydia became committed to the idea, inspired to help through God and scripture.
The legal, financial and emotional challenges of the long adoption process have been taxing, he said. Still, they persevered.
"Even though we met a lot of challenges on the way, we never wavered."
He said their first application to adopt the boys in 2013 was denied by social services.
Ponziano said that they tried to fight the denial in court but lost the case. Ponziano even wrote a book to help raise money for the adoption. They were supported by community members in Regina and from afar.
Then they tried to bring the boys over as international students and submitted an application to federal immigration.
"We had hoped to come back with them in 2017, but at the last moment our hopes were dashed," he said. "It was such a hard time, leaving them behind."
The Alumas applied yet again in 2018 to sponsor the brothers as orphan members of Ponziano's family. They were finally successful.
'A bright future'
Benedict and Emmanuel's shy smiles became beams as they marched off the escalator Wednesday in matching outfits. Ponziano followed close behind.
The trio were welcomed into Lydia's wide embrace. Both she and Ponziano burst into tears as the four held one another. Finally, they were united together in Regina.
"I couldn't hold back my tears because finally, finally what you have worked hard for — it has come," Ponziano said.
"That deep satisfaction, deep gratitude really is the reason for the overwhelming joy.")
The boys giggled as they ran circles around the luggage carousels, only taking brief breaks to rub their curious and tired eyes. Ponziano dabbed smeared makeup from Lydia's damp face.
They were met at the airport by longtime friends Luisa and Kim Graybiel. Ponziano first met Kim on a plane as he, a 27-year-old Ugandan refugee student, flew from Toronto to Regina in 1987.
"We're over the moon," Kim said, as they watched the Alumas take photos together at the airport.
Ponziano and the boys were some of the last people to trail off the plane from Toronto.
"The reason we were late is we were in the cockpit," Ponziano explained, adding the boys have been chatting about their dreams.
Benedict wants to be a pilot and his younger brother Emmanuel wants to be a pastor.
"I know children sometimes change dreams 10,000 times before they will settle for one," he said, grinning.
For now he's excited about the opportunities the boys have ahead.