I love kids.
There is something about the simplicity of life, the joy in play, and the innocent imagination of children that wraps me up and melts my heart. The children here are gorgeous and have my heart hopelessly trapped in their little fingers. As I bike the half an hour or so ride to Lewanika hospital I pass throngs of children calling out in their sweet high pitched voices "Makua!Makua!!! How are you?" They jump up and down in just barely contained excitement and collapse into giggles when I respond "I'm fine, how are you?", to which they respond "I'm fine, how are you"; this goes back and forth about 3 times. The little toddlers peek out from behind their older siblings back with big eyes, while nearby children come running when they see that I have stopped to say hello. When
I pull out my stickers I have about 20 children clamoring for one, which they proudly display on their foreheads. Sometimes, if I have enough time I'll pick up the older ones and twirl them around. The younger kids get over their fear and cling to my legs until I have one child hanging off every limb. I am getting STRONG!
At the hospital I am in both a piece of heaven and a personal hell. Strong words, I know, but I can't describe in words how helpless you feel when you gaze on a skin-and-bones baby that is struggling for every hard breath and passes away from malnutrition, knowing that another child will, if the last 3 week trend continues, pass away tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And still, work goes on. You have to pull yourself together because the other 30 children need you, the families need you, and if you wallow in grief nothing would ever get done.
And so, Alexandra and I COVER childrens faces in sparkley animal stickers, blow up balloons and toss them around, sit on childrens cots and teach them how to make animals out of plastercine. Babies that have never seen a white person before cry at the sight of us, but we win their hearts over with blowing bubble after bubble after bubble. We hand out colored paper and crayons to the terribly bored children with their limbs immobilized in traction. When the hord of 8 nurses/doctor/students clad in white do rounds, Alex and I sometimes stand behind them and make funny faces at the overwhelmed child. Already some of them have learned to stick their tongue at the doctor! My favourite is greeting the children by waggling my eyebrows at them, and now they do the same back to me every time I see them.
I wish I could post pictures of some of the children. There's the little girl who dances with us/ The boy with his whole face burned after falling into a pot of scalding water-who can't see because his eyes are swollen shut but who delights in stroking the teddy bear I gave him-the first toy he has ever been able to call his own. There's the 13 year old who can't walk because a disease has attacked the bones of all 4 limbs, but loves having me sit with him and learning secret handshakes. There's the baby girl with a head the size of a watermelon from encaphalits, but smiles the sweetest smile when I stop to play peek-a-boo. There is the 12 year old girl who is so hard to look at as half her face is burned off, but who I tickle and hug to let her know that she is still loveable. I don't know the words to say this in her tribal language, but I think my touch communicates this-her laugh lets me know that I am loved as well.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking how hard it is to work here, catch myself getting homesick for the supplies and nursing ratio and policies of KGH. It's hard to smell stale urine every day, knowing there are not enough clean sheets to go around, to see bugs crawling on the walls, to not have pain medication ordered or available to children in agony. But then there are nurses who step in and clean along with us, doctors who have shown me how to palpate splenomegaly without needing to use an ultrasound. People are so resourceful around here and I am embarrassed at how much I waste back at home. I am learning so much here. My heart gets bruised at times, but it is growing and able to love more than I ever have before. And at the end of the day when my shift is over, I find myself wanting to go back to the pediatric ward and hang out with the children. Sometimes I do!