July 3, 2012 § 2 Comments
Last night was my second to last night in Moshi. Dr. Greg, his ladylove Shannon, the three volunteer girls from Alaska, Giorgio and I spent it having dinner at Greg’s house.
On of the subjects that came up was what was going to happen to some of the sick children. The orphanage cares for two young children, ages three and four, that are HIV positive. There are only two lines of medication available in Tanzania for HIV. One of them, Tyson, is already on second line meds, meaning that once his virus develops a resistance to his current medicine, which will happen eventually, it will stop working and he won’t have any more options in Tanzania. The same will eventually happen with the littler girl, Brightness. For an HIV patient, once there are no more lines of medication, there are also no more options and death will shortly follow. Tyson and Bright are both playful, funny and sweet. I call Tyson, “Chura,” Swahili for frog, because he likes to jump up to me like a frog and then jump into my arms for a hug. Bright looooves to be tickled and she’ll often sneak up behind you and tug gently on your hair or softly poke you under your arm to try to provoke you into tickling her.
There is another little boy, whose name is Meshak but we lovingly call Tappo, who has juvenile diabetes. Dr. Greg says that it’s pretty much a death sentence in Africa because the diet here is so terrible and it’s a high-maintenance health concern even in the States. He’s also four, I believe. His insulin levels every day around hover around 400. I don’t know much about diabetes, but I’m told that 400 is very bad. He is deeply shy and quiet, but incredibly sweet. Whenever I take a nap in the afternoon, Tappo will quietly come in and curl up in my arms in bed to join me. He rarely speaks or makes eye contact, but he smiles his shy smile very easily and loves to be cuddled and kissed.
Shedrack is the other boy with health problems. He’s fifteen but is smaller than most of the nine year olds. His Sickle Cell Anemia prevented him from growing normally and he is functioning on about half the blood volume of a normal person. He’s intelligent, reserved, sweet and very dignified. In school, he’s one of the best students and in life he has the best attitude of all the kids. It’s always Shedrack that comes to mind when trying to think of an older kid that you can count on to come through. Greg says that Shedrack is a perfect example of how suffering is a choice. Shedrack’s condition is a daily struggle, but he never complains and is the most cheerful, wonderful kid. It’s unlikely that he will live past age twenty-five.
For all of the children, the reality is that their lives may, probably will, end early. Their illnesses are difficult to treat anywhere, and in Africa, if it weren’t for Dr. Greg, some would likely have passed already.
Terminal illness in children is something that, up until this point, has blessedly never touched my life. Now I’ve come to love four beautiful children that will almost certainly die young. When I arrived in Moshi a month ago, I knew these children had health problems, but I think I thought that because Dr. Greg was this amazing doctor (and seriously, he’s so amazing) these children would live normal, fully realized lives. Last night it was explained to me that no, they won’t.
This morning I looked out my window and saw Tappo and Tyson playing with their toys in the yard. They are the sweetest boys, as are all children, and trying to understand why children are brought into the world to be sick and then die young as it relates to the big, universal picture is beyond me. Maybe they are here to remind us about the brevity of life? It seems unlikely that children would be used to cruelly by the universe to teach adults a spiritual lesson. Maybe they’re almost at the completion of their cycle of lives on Earth and only needed to come back for one more quickie before they evolve to the next level? Maybe, I guess, but that seems awfully convenient of an explanation. Maybe there are just parts of life that hurt and are desperately sad and that we have to try to understand, embrace, love and let go? I suppose, but it still doesn’t explain the “why”. But then, I guess we don’t really get to have that many “why’s” actually explained during our time here, do we?
It hurts enough that I am leaving today and am not sure when I’ll return to see these children again. It may be a few months or it may be many years. It is devastating to realize that some of them may die before I am able to return. The truth is that most of the children at the orphanage are young and, even though they bonded with me while I was here and I with them, they will mostly forget about me after a few weeks or a month. Children are resilient, especially orphanage children who are much too used to adults coming and going from their lives. That doesn’t provide any comfort to me, however, since I feel guilty for being another one of those brief, inconsistent presences in their lives and reinforcing for them that loving adults appear and vanish constantly. It also doesn’t soothe the ache that comes from feeling real love for them and sadness about leaving. I will try to stay in touch, but given how hard it is for computer-savvy me to get on the internet here, I don’t have any unrealistic expectations about them keeping up with me on email in any meaningful way. Maybe I’ll have to finally overcome my aversion to postal mail. Or maybe I’ll just have to start saving now for my next ticket out here.