What do you say to a child who you thought had died and to grandchildren you never knew existed? Sometimes, it's best to just show them.
DENVER-- Amira Ali is hoping her nerves don't get the best of her.
"Oh my God, I can't believe it," she said.
Her anxiety builds with each passing minute. It's taken nearly a quarter century for her to stand at Denver International Airport awaiting a very special arrival.
"The dream is coming true," she said.
It is a dream Ali didn't think was possible 24 years ago. It was 1990, during the height of the second civil war in Sudan; a war that killed two million people.
Ali lived in a village with her family, including a daughter named Tina. One night, their village was raided. In the chaos, Ali lost sight of Tina. She said she walked through the desert for four days with her other children and finally reached a refugee camp. After more moving - and months in two other countries - the United Nations helped Ali seek asylum in the U.S.
"America saved my life," she said.
Twenty four years passed, Ali gave birth to two more children there. Last year, a friend encouraged her to sign up for a Facebook account, in hopes of finding lost relatives.
Sure enough, Ali's sister, who she thought had also died in the conflict, saw her profile.
She told Ali that Tina was alive, and she had raised her as her own daughter, after the village was raided. Ali said she fainted.
"I fall down. I go to the hospital," Ali said.
She kept the news to herself for a few days and then confided in her English teacher, George Brown. He runs the Colorado African Organization, one of the groups that helped make Ali reunion possible.
"She came to me one day last fall and said, 'My daughter is alive. I found her through Facebook,' Brown said. "I remember, I was in the middle of doing something else and I just stopped and said, 'wait a minute; wait a minute; let's back up.'"
Tina had become a nurse, and was 30 years old with three children of her own - grandchildren Ali didn't know she had. More conflict in South Sudan had forced Tina and her family to flee, too, ending up in Libya and then Egypt. Coincidentally, their application for asylum in America had just been approved. They were able to get permission to move to Denver, so Tina could be closer to her mother.
Now - after so many years - Alie's heartbreak over her daughter is about to end. As part of her custom, she plans to offer a cup of water to Tina when she first sees her before they embrace.
"A long time ago, I bring it with me," Ali said of the small wooden cup. It was given to her by her grandmother years ago in South Sudan and is said to bring good luck.
Even the best intentions, though, can be lost in the moment, especially one as emotional as the reunion between Ali and her daughter. What do you say to a child who you thought had died and to grandchildren you never knew existed? Sometimes, it's best to just show them.
"I'm so very, very happy," Ali's daughter Tina Deng said. "It's a long time with my mom-like a dream now when I see her. I can't believe it. But I'm happy."
"I'm very happy. It's a good day for me," Ali said. "God bless America and God bless my kids."
Ali is now taking classes in order to become an American citizen. The Colorado African Organization helps African immigrants in Colorado adjust to living here.