Nov 022013

I am feeling a little bit like I am waking up before my dream has finished.

My final few days were crammed with unplanned events and emotions and a lot of reflections.

For three days our planned trip to go home home visits were rescheduled due to carol, the social worker’s increased work load. The night shelter had sent home the housemothers while an investigation ensued. This caused carol to have to pick up their duties plus manage her normal duties. She was trying the best she could but she needed help beyond what we could provide. This meant our planned home visits that would allow us to meet the families that the night shelter children came from was postponed… Eventually to the day after my departure. Thus leaving a gap in my understanding the wholeness of their personalities.

But as the events unfolded the final few days I became convinced that I was intended all along to stay onsite.

the final convincing event was the scariest. On Monday morning the high school kids were starting their month long end of term national exams. I equate it to Stars, taks, or for old school Texans, the TAAS test. At about 10:30 that morning a saw a high school girl being held by 4 peers and a teacher following behind. No one else seemed to notice nor care. By this time it didn’t totally surprise me to be the only one rushing to them to see what had happened. I cant tell you how many injuries i was the only one to tend to during my time here. Upon reaching them I noticed the girl was completely limp and unconscious. I helped bear some of her dead weight as i continued to ask the teacher and others carrying her questions. All I got from thEm was that she had fainted. No one knew or could translate into English much else. We held the unconscious girl for at least 30 more seconds until I realized there wasn’t a plan but more teachers had surrounded us Without helping bear the weight or assist in finding a flat place we could put her. I immediately took on the directive role. I asked for a table to be brought out from a room… I got an old tattered mattress . We started to lay her on the mattress when she suddenly awoke with a shrill and began contorting her body in a way I had only seen in movies about possessions. I quickly regretted taking on the directive role for fear this was beyond my CPR and first aid training. But snapped out of my fear just as quickly when I realized the dire state she seemed to be in. She was reaching for me and grabbing my shirt tightly. I ran to grab a cold rag because of how hot she seemed. When I returned, with Mariana in my footsteps, she still seemed out of it but had calmed slightly. She was grabbing the side of her stomach dramatically. Immediately I thought of My friend Nicole when her appendix had ruptured. I began telling the teachers we needed a doctor. They seemed to be ignoring me and they listened to her cries in Swahili. They explained to me it was just menstrual cramps and quickly became less interested in helping her. We ran to get her water and ibuprofen from my bag, as the teachers had asked. When I returned there were only two of my favorite teachers remaining with her and she (Naomi) was awaiting the pills they promised her I was bringing. I questioned them with fury now that this was all it was because I have never witnessed someone having a reaction to cramps like that and grabbing the side of their body. I expressed my concern of giving her meds without a doctor diagnosing her but clearly the rules and regulations we live by in the US are not copied here. I gave her the pills and they continued to reassure me it was just cramps. She had calmed down at this point And took the pills between grasping her side and moans. I placed the cool rag on her neck and rubbed her back. the two teachers had yet to reach down and try to sooth her. They merely questioned her a good 3-4 feet away while standing above her on the dirty old mattress on the dirt ground. I could not be processing this correctly. A child under their watch could not have just had this medical episode and no one seemed to think much of it. I know the medical world is different in Africa, but I still would expect the human inclination to help one another receive medical attention would be the same. But nope. they dismissed me and my medical assistance. They said naomi was going just lie there until she could resume exams. Resume her exams-what?!?! But I left. I knew I had let them know enough of my feelings on how they were handling it and even my two favorite teachers weren’t hearing my pleas to seek outside medical assistance. So I left.

Still waiting around on carol for our planned home visits, I stepped outside about 40 minutes later only to hear the girl walking and throwing up repeatedly from her classroom (clearly they had taken her back to work on her exam) to the detached restrooms. A teacher watching from afar Yelling in Swahili at the girl. Maybe they were words of comfort, but the tone sure didn’t seem that way. I rushed in to get a bottled water for her and rushed back to her side. My mind still not processing how I could be the only one showing concern and assisting this poor girl showingphysiological symptoms     That needed a doctor’s attention- not just mine. I also kept thinking what would happen if I weren’t here. These poor kids. Who just leaves a child like this on their own to “work it out”?!? I tried not to focus on my disbelief and return my focus to Naomi and assist her in finding comfort. She made it to the restroom and spent a few minutes in there before reemerging. Her teacher only greeted us to usher her back to her exam room. Again I tried to tell this newly involved teacher my concerns and she asked me if I had given her pain killers-as if it were my job. I explained I had previously after she had fainted but now that she had thrown up I wasn’t sure if she had kept them down (this teacher didn’t even know she had Fainted previously). on naomi’s behalf I was getting quite upset at the lack of care, attention, and communication… So I took over. The teachers weren’t in charge anymore- I was. I told the teacher I needed her to boil water so we could create a make-shift heating pad to relieve her cramps. I told her while the water was boiling to get me the mattress and move it in the shade. We laid her down at the top of the stairs on the mattress. Almost immediately she fainted again. She was out for over 40 seconds this time. Her eyes were twitching- it was real and I was left alone with her once again. Those 40+ seconds seemed too long. I was not a doctor and I was getting more and more upset on her behalf and my own for being put in this situation after I had repeatedly insisted they get a doctor but was ignored. When Naomi awoke, she again was very out of it and immediately grabbed her stomach. Within another 30 seconds i saw the principal, Richard climbing the stairs. Thank goodness I thought.. . He will take notice of one of his students having fainted for the second time. But to my horror he reached out and grabbed her hand and said, “come on Naomi. It is exam time. God will give you strength-stand and trust in him.” What the heck was I witnessing?!? I believe whole heartedly in god’s ability to heal but I had never seen something so appalling. He saw my horror on my face. I explained to him that she literally JUST awakened from fainting and something was terribly wrong with her and she needed a doctor. He then said to me first, “but she has exams.” Then turning back to Naomi and grabbing her hand  again to pull her up and said, “it is exam time. Show me you believe in god and that he will give you strength. Stand Naomi! God performs  miracles for those that believe. Exams are most important right now, you will be ok.” I couldn’t take it. I held her shoulder down and said “this is not right- miracles are not performed on command and right now her health is most important, not exams. She is in no state to take exams.” Then to make him listen to me more I started speaking above his head in medical  terms about her pulse, heart rate, neurological possibilities… He started to realize I wasn’t as young as I looked and I was more knowledgable than he. He couldn’t argue with what he didn’t understand. But he tried. He told me it was all psychological due to stress from the exam. He knew from my face how stupid he sounded… But he continued. He told her she was going through what every girl deals with… Again I almost started my nervous laughter out of pity for how silly he sounded. I wasn’t letting her up, but they weren’t giving up… They brought her exam to her!!! They told her she could lie down and take her exam. This is when Mariana came out to see what was going on. I explained it to her and she too said Naomi was in no state to take an exam right now! They said “look she is doing it”, and pointed at Naomi obediently laying in pain writing in her exam book. I was clearly disgusted by their actions.

Then Priscilla walked up- she was the director of the board that ran the school. When she saw that Mariana and I were involved and we explained what had occurred and advocating on behalf of the well being of one of her students, she knew she better take our side and told the principal that Naomi was going to a doctor and she would resume testing once she was better. Priscilla knew she had to take this stance… There is a lot of back story here that I have not written about.

so Naomi was rushed to the hospital and unfortunately I haven’t heard an update. If this had been a teen movie Mariana and I would have ended with a jumping high five, but it isn’t… We merely walked past the principal and back to our room discussing what the heck they would have done to her if we weren’t here. Not that we are saints or heros, and they are bad.. . It isn’t that at all. They just have a long way to go culturally to understand the importance of taking care of ones health. They don’t even have a small first aid kit onsite. I am leaving them mine. The amount of bandaids and alcohol swabs I have used since I have been here is alarming. I firmly believe that the American culture can be over cautious and demanding of a third party to do the looking out for oneself instead of taking the responsibility on yourself but there seems to be a need for a meeting in the middle between these two cultural ways… Especially dealing with children. I hope it was just cramps. I hope I was over reacting and being overly protective, but I also hope they learn to be protective of those in their care.

we never made it to home visits.

but I got To read the case files on each of the children staying at the night shelter. Folder by folder. Child by child. Case by case I realized how important every person that comes into these kids’ lives is and the necessity of good people is to the way these kids will ever learn to trust adults and others again. I have learned long ago that children are the best undiscovered and often ignored detectives. They are masterful interpreters of the human vibe. They may not comprehend the evils grown within the ages of adults, but they easily identify the good guys from the bad guys. The kids at the shelter were no different. When I arrived I realized The poison of fear hung and sneakily lingered in the air There. But the kids knew… They had an extra protector that floated into their lives for 5 short weeks. I provided them an extra hug, an extra kiss good night, and a nourishing and foreign “I love you” before bed. these were simple acts I had taken for granted by my parents but gave easily and naturally to the children at the shelter. They knew I loved them… I hope even before I said it, but I know how reassuring the words can be So I said them religiously and spontaneously during my nights with them.

As I get to know these children better and love them more, my willingness to be a passive participant in the unveiling of their shredded innocence becomes frayed in the middle and it was only a matter of time before the whistle was blown.
As i approached my final days, I felt an ache. Not an ache of loneliness, emptiness, or returning to a life and reality that doesn’t feel meant for you, but an ache that stemmed from fear for what the future holds for someone so precious that you would lay your life out on the line for their safety and future well being. That unknown fear is shrouded in darkness and consumes the mind while your heart is overtaken with love. This might be the description of parenthood. And for 5 weeks I was privileged to be their parent.
During my time here i saw first hand that The wealthiest children wore tattered clothes and had no shoes but held the hands of a loving mother and father as they lived a life in the slum. I I held on tightly to the kids of my night shelter not just for protection, but in hopes that my loving touch would be imprinted in their palms and felt on nights along after I leave.
The innocence of a child will bring you a shield of joy to protect yourself with. I feel mighty protected myself By the joy given to me from all 19 kids in the shelter.

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