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little madam

Posted Apr 22 2010 2:29pm
There is much to tell and sometimes words feel so inadequate. It's so hard to explain just how it feels when I walk into the ICU to find baby Maurius nestled in Chantal's arms, a small dressing covering the hole where his trach used to be. Granted, he sounds like an anemic duck when he breathes, but each hour that passes is a triumph that none of us counts lightly. I wish you could know how it feels when my heart catches in my throat and everything gets a little blurry and through it all my heart is singing, singing, singing.

I wish you could be here to see seven-year old Aissa discover the world of MagnaDoodle. The way her eyes grow wide with wonder when she realizes that the magnetic letters on the wall can be used to draw, too. I wish you could feel the weight of her on your back, limp after her latest tantrum, her latest test of our love. Aissa is a little motherless child from Cameroon, abandoned by both her parents and hurt by so many people in her life. And so she pushes, screaming and hitting and doing everything she can to drive us away, and I can't help thinking it's because she figures we're going to leave her anyway. So why not get it over with?

The thing little Aissa doesn't realize is that there's nothing she can do to make us stop loving her. We've known her all of a week, and little Madam has already found her place among us, cemented ever more firmly with each little chirp in her tribal language in response to our English questions. We have no idea what we're saying to each other, and yet we play all day long, batting around balloons, painting boxes to hold little dollies and having long, drawn-out conversations on calculator phones. (The fact that they don't work as such makes no difference, given the rather profound language barrier.)

Aissa is going to the operating room tomorrow to have her face rebuilt, because where her right cheek should mirror the plump one on the left, she has nothing but a gaping hole, teeth and gums exposed. She is one of about ten percent of children who even survive a battle with noma , an infection that's treatable with simple antibiotics but which, if left unchecked, will literally eat away at the flesh of lips and cheeks and face. If you've never heard of it, it's because it doesn't exist in the developed world. Here in West Africa, it's a different story, a story where little girls face lives as outcasts because there just aren't any doctors.

But my heart still sings, because tomorrow Aissa will be made whole again. And as we care for her, our prayer is that the God Chantal prays to every single day will reach out through our actions, translate them into words to speak to Aissa and her Uncle Jean of the Love that will never leave her.

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