Now You Know

July 18, 2009

Another week passes but it still hangs in the air like a memory that won’t let loose of me.  The experiences – the sights, sounds, smells – all begin to run together, and it’s like tar that I can’t scrub off my body.  As one individual working to understand all that I witness, my own resiliency is critical.  If you are in hopes of “sweet” news, you won’t find it here today, as I am devoted to reporting my experiences without sugar-coating the truth.  I see no purpose in that, as it only serves to keep us comfortable and shielded from the reality of life in other parts of the world.  If we stay “asleep”, there is no need to face our own obligations to bring about change, to evolve, and to own our part in teaching future generations to care for one another.  We must acknowledge – and also move beyond – the color of our skin and the origin of our birth.

It is not only about encouraging awareness that I write this; I also hope to shine a light on how we can offer gratitude when we are in positions of power and privilege.  For me, and I hope you, these experiences put life into a broader perspective.  My desire is that we all will be kinder to one another, appreciate the simple things that we take for granted, and begin to raise the frequency of the human race so that all children have a reasonable chance at a life of safety with their basic needs met.  Aren’t all children entitled to at least that?  We can weave our individual strengths to become part of a collective effort that brings about change.  Talk about it, pray about it, do something about it, but please – don’t act like you don’t know about it.

I went to check on a girl that had been raped at the age of 14 and had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl.  The perfect baby was 3 days old and both of them were staying in a home for pregnant mothers.  When I walked up to the house, I was sickened by what I saw.  Bars surrounded the tiny front porch area and peering through the bars were 5-6 toddlers, all filthy.  There were 4 big dogs on the porch, knocking the babies over as they struggled to keep their balance.  5 bird cages hung overhead filled with several parrot-type birds . . . droppings everywhere.  The toddlers looked like they had been wearing the same pajamas for months.

We entered the house through the back door into a living space that was tiny and dark.  Once my eyes adjusted to the lack of light inside, I saw that there were more babies (I can’t even remember how many), a few 3-4 year olds, 2 severely disabled children (one shoved into a corner that I didn’t even see until we were leaving), and a gravely ill 2 year old lying on the couch.  The white woman who ran this Christian home came in and introduced herself.  No other adults were in sight to help with the children.  I asked the woman what was wrong with the 2 year old and if I could hold her, as she was limp, clearly suffering, and close to the end of her very short-lived life.  The woman said “of course” and then told me her story.

The child had recently been raped, at age 2, and was tragically wounded to an extent that I cannot describe.  I picked her up and looked into her eyes, which seemed to deliriously hold so many nightmares at such a tender age of 2.  She was burning up with fever and I laid her on my chest, hoping my heartbeat would soothe her.  It seemed to, as she soon fell asleep and remained there, draped on my body until we left.

I still wonder about that baby.  Is she still alive?  Is she better off if she’s not?  Even an hour after we were driving down the road, I could still feel the imprint of her little body on mine.  What had she ever done to deserve such pain?  Nothing!  She was born into ill-fated circumstances by no fault of her own and was literally left on the side of the road to die in a garbage bag to die. I later found out the child died.

Upon further investigation that same day, we uncovered that the woman running this Christian home was threatening the young mothers and forcing them to give up their babies.  It remains unclear if she was selling the babies or what she planned to do with them, as they were obviously not being cared for.  We returned the next day and picked up the 14 year old and her then 4-day-old baby and moved them to a temporary (but safe) placement. The 14 year old wishes to keep her baby.

Both of the 14 year old’s parents are dead.  She has no job, no family, and nowhere to go but she does have a dream: to go to school and take care of her baby.  How can anyone tell her she isn’t entitled to have something to live for?  I can’t.  Would the baby be better off with suitable parents?  Probably.  Is there an answer to turn this into a win-win situation?  Maybe.  We have 3 months to figure it out at which time her temporary placement will run out.  We are getting together to brainstorm these cases and make a group effort to come up with solutions.  We will.  We must!

I went to a conference on Human Trafficking, which is a thriving industry in South Africa.  Children, babies and young adults are kidnapped and sold, then used for prostitution, Internet pornography, slave labor, organs, body parts and/or adoption.  People from around the world (yes, even the USA) are the kingpins.  South Africa is a target because of porous border control, lack of police protection, and the numbers of children on the streets.

What is the good news?  Through all their adversity, the children still smile.  They are fascinated at having their photo taken.  It takes little to thrill them: a piece of bread, a donated piece of clothing, teaching them a new game, and hugging them.  They are beautiful.

On Wednesday, we piled into the car on our way to Tree Clinic.  The Zulu women began singing.  It was soft and sweet and brought tears of appreciation to my eyes.  When I asked them to translate, the song was about God’s love being so pure, and vast like the ocean.  They sang with passion and heart and it was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.  They are grateful.  They are spiritual.  And they are determined to help others.  That, my friends, is the good news for the week.  These woman have taught me about being a powerful, proud woman and I will forever be grateful to them.

Signing off from South Africa on Sunday morning.  Please be kind to others.
Peace and blessings. Amen