03 September 2013

Strong Enough to Cry

I finally had malaria.

Well, it's quite possible I've had it before just never got tested or treated . . . but after a week of symptoms that weren't getting any better I decided to let the vampires prick my finger and take my blood.

Sure enough, it was positive.

To be honest, it wasn't that bad.  The mild fever came and went, the achy joints didn't start until the evenings, and so far, all that remains is the fatigue (lets just say I'm sleeping . . . a lot).   It's kind of like having the flu, but with little parasites in my blood instead of a virus.

I'd been told I wouldn't be a 'real missionary' until I earned my InfectiousDisease MeritBadge . . . call me crazy, but I'm glad it was malaria, as opposed to typhoid, cholera, leprosy or Japanese encephalitis.

But, like I said, my case wasn't that bad.

You see, I take prophylaxis . . . and I have a mosquito net over my bed . . . and screens on my windows and doors . . . and I prepare and eat my meals indoors . . . and I have a good supply of OFF . . . and I have electricity so a good portion of my life doesn't happen outside.

But my little friend, B. couldn't say that.

Not quite two years old, B. is one of the kiddos whose club-feet we corrected in our weekly clinic.  His Mama is one of our most dedicated and actually has referred other kids to us for the same treatment.

If you happened to walk past the therapy gym at 3 o'clock on any given Thursday afternoon, you'd be convinced we were inside performing Chinese Water Torture.  And B. was one of our loudest screamers.

Until his fourth week of treatment.

When Mama handed him to me for his plastering, B. didn't make a sound.  I laid him on the treatment table like a little rag doll.  We were able to stretch and cast his feet without a fight.  No screaming or crying or flailing; B. stared up at me with his big brown eyes, too weak even to shed tears.

As we finished, I returned him to his mother's arms and referred him to our Under-Five Clinic where his fever could be treated by a doctor.  He underwent treatment for his malaria, but was still weak the following Thursday.

Over the past two months, B. hasn't been himself.  His eyes are hollow and doesn't have enough energy to engage.  A few weeks ago, I talked to Mama about coming and staying at the CREN (our nutritional rehab center for kiddos) . . . she had a lot of excuses: she has five other kids at home (who will take care of them??) . . . a few months ago her husband took on a second wife (if she is gone the established dynamic will change and she can lose power in the house) . . . her husband may not support it (she will have no money for food or transport to get back home) . . . she already tried a food program near her village (he qualified for Plumpy'Nut and milk powder donations, but she could feed all her children a millet porridge for the profit she made selling what was rationed for just one).

For us, it was simple solution; for her, it was a complicated problem that needed careful navigation.  She knew it was the right thing for one of her children, but she still wasn't convinced it was best for the whole family . . . or that she would be allowed to care for him in this way.

Last Thursday, she came back.  This time, ready to stay.

After my Malaria Weekend Lock Down, I was going a bit stir-crazy and thought, since my fever was gone, I'd venture to work on Monday . . . bad idea.  Needless to say, I didn't last long.  Went back this morning a little more realistic about my goals: make it to 10 o'clock coffee break.

On my list of patients to check in on was B. down at the CREN.

As Mama pulled B. from her back, it was clear that just a few days of Plumpy were already paying off.  He looked around at each of us, alert and engaged.  Mama, too, had noticed a drastic change in him and announced that she wanted to go home.  We were able to convince her to stick it out a little bit longer until gained a few more kilos (he had already gained 1kg -- 2.2lbs over the weekend).  While we were talking, she rested B. in my lap . . . but, as has been the case over the past two months, he didn't even whimper.

Mama decided she needed to go back to the CREN (a short walk from my office) for something, and without thinking, left B. with me.

And that's when the most beautiful thing happened.  He started to scream.

Now don't get me wrong . . . I don't actually like making babies cry and don't typically refer to two-year-old hysterics as 'beautiful', but in this case, it meant B. was finally on the road to health!!  With a few tears trickling down his cheeks he howled so loudly, a group of women perched beneath a nearby tree could hear him over the sounds of a neighboring cement mixer!

Two months after his malaria and he's finally strong enough to cry.  His belly is finally full and his body is receiving the nutrition he needs to grow and thrive.


Hannah Knausenberger said...

Beautiful Deb. Brought me back to Galmi. I think of you often and admire the ongoing work you do... and intend to return sometime soon. Keep it up! Praying! xx

Maryann said...

How quickly we forget how a "simple" answer to us may not be so simple to someone in another culture. It is the grace of God to withhold some feelings when you knew you had the means to heal B. I am sure it was the still small voice of God pulling on Mama's heart which finally convinced her to bring him back for treatment despite the risk she would face. Deborah, thank you for sharing.

Linda Thomas said...

You have an amazing ministry. I love reading your blog posts and pray for you each morning.

Deb. said...

Thank you Maryann,

I actually struggled with writing anything about his mom, because I was concerned about the 'western' reaction to her hesitance to bring him . . . so thank you for the grace, empathy and compassion you have extended, and the judgement you have withheld.

That is one of the big challenges of working in a context such as this one . . . learning not only 'how' an other culture functions but also 'why'. I was once asked by a group of Nigerien Christians if money was evil . . . when I answered him with the words of the Bible and explained my understanding of them, one of the men stood and just before he turned to walk away said to me 'When you have gone without food and have watched your children starve, then we will discuss this again.'

I came to Niger with strong opinions against plural marriage, child brides, traditional medicine, oppressive treatment of women, and other deep-rooted cultural scenarios . . . and while I still hate it all, I am learning how to step back and consider it from the Nigerien point of view . . . one daughter sold into marriage means the rest of the family will survive a famine . . . I cannot condone it, but I cannot be so quick to judge shoes I've never had to walk in.

Deb. said...

Thanks Hannah! We'd love to have you back!!

Maryann said...

Yes, I certainly understand your hesitation. I worked at Ohio State University for 30 yrs. This university has a vast population of international students. I recall one young woman who called,. Her voice was giving me definite clues of distress. She wanted to drop classes for the term but it was after the final deadline to do so.
Her anxiety grew and she voice shook. I explained she could meet w/an adviser to discuss a petition. I explained she did not need to worry about sharing any specifics with me and that we wanted her to feel safe when she did disclose the situation with her adviser privately. God gave me a huge dose of wisdom in that moment. Immediately she opened up and told me her mother had attempted suicide. And then I knew this was more than just a deep concern about her mother's well-being but how her culture must view suicide.
I confess I have far more tolerance for the international population here in my community than for those w/in my own. God, please continue to teach me that my ways are not your ways. I stray from them often.

Give me a heart like Yours, Lord. Whether "the lost" are those who speak a different language or the same; those who have come from another land far away or people in the next town. Father, You alone can grow us to become "of one mind, intent on one purpose", just as Paul spoke in Phil 2.