As I was heading back to the cabin just now to put Zoe down for a nap, we happened to pass the blue stairs at just the right moment. The patients were all coming inside from their time on Deck Seven, and the first little face I saw belonged to Kadiatu. We stopped to say hello and shared an enthusiastic handshake with her papa, who (of course) loudly proclaimed my nickname to the passing crowd. Ali Tumba!
As the patients passed by, one after the other, we formed our own little baby receiving line right there at the top of the stairs going down to Deck Five. Smiles brightened each face as they caught sight of Zoe, and one by one, each one reached out to hold her hand or touch her cheek while she accepted their love with wide eyes and a few tired smiles of her own.
There were many happy faces when I confirmed that, yes, she was in fact my baby. One man requested that I give her to him so he could take her home, but since I'd never seen him before I figured it wasn't the best idea. Another woman gave Zoe's cheek a good squeeze and then reached down to do the same to my left boob, nodding her solemn approval before continuing on down the stairs. I'm really not sure whether it was cheek or chest that she found so satisfactory, but the interaction was pretty much par for the course for me and West Africa.
Towards the end of the group came Fodi and Marietou, two of the patients you prayed for during the twenty-four hour prayer vigil a month ago. Fodi said hello in English, something he's been learning during his time on the wards, and I heard Marietou's voice for the first time since her trach was removed when she greeted us quietly in French, her eyes smiling above her new nose.
The last of them disappeared down towards Deck Three, and Zoe and I turned the corner into our own cabin, full of the love that the people here share so effortlessly.
I think we might just plan to be there at 3:30 every afternoon.