Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Smile That Broke My Heart -December 6, 2009

n the midst of a beautiful South African dinner last weekend, surrounded by about 125 other Canadians with a passion for serving the poor and vulnerable in Africa, I saw a photo of my little friend, Eva, that both lifted and broke my heart in the space of just a moment.My sister in law, Kim, and I were in the midst of watching the photos from Hands At Work in eight different African countries. We could pick out friends that were volunteers or children we had met during our time in Zambia. A photo of my friend, Jayme Chotowetz, came up on the screen and immediately, I recognized the split wood walls of the school in Mulenga. Jayme is pictured with several little children in front of the school, and before I even registered it, Kim leaned over and asked if I recognized who was front and center in the photo. It was the little one who told me her name was Eva. I could hardly believe it was the same little girl because her face is joyful, a wide smile and happy eyes, her body language animated. At once, I just was so relieved to see her this way. She has one of the most beautiful little faces I've ever seen. My eyes were drawn to her eyes, so different than when I met her in August. And then it hit me...this smile and joy was recorded before I met her. I emailed Jayme and asked her about this little one and she said that she was joyful and goofy and followed Jayme around tugging on her skirt to play.It's been a week since I've seen the photo and it's the last thing I think about at night, it's there when I wake in the night or work in the day, and it's right there when I wake up in the morning. I'm not sure why it's so hard for me but maybe it's the fact that I imagined her little life had always been difficult and sad and perhaps somewhere my mind convinced my heart that perhaps she didn't know any different. These photos dispel the lies I told myself in order to reconcile the difference between the life I lead and the lives that these children are enduring. As beautiful as our time in Zambia was, there were many things that I'm not ready to share that I heard or saw that were anything but beautiful. I knew at the time that I was holding children that were hurting or hungry or alone but I felt that I was making a difference by showing them love. I still believe that love certainly does make a difference, much of what we brought to Zambia was a reminder that we are together. They are not alone, nor are we.I
And yet, in the span of six weeks, something took the bright, animated joy out of a little girl and left her quiet and clinging and lonely. It could be hunger, sickness, or grief. She may have been abused or abandoned. She may have lost someone close to her. She may have lost her only family members and be without a caregiver. There are too many things that could cause these little ones to go from childlike joy to the quiet despairing child I held. Something changed this little girl from one who engaged with visitors and was playful and animated to the little girl I had to have patience to meet. At first, I only glimpsed her little face and hands as she peeked around the side of the school at the children and teachers and all of us who had gathered there singing and playing. It took a long time and a trusted teacher's introduction for her to allow me to hold her hand and then it was only a short time before she was clinging to my neck and arms and I was unable to put her down. Each afternoon when it was time to leave, I had to get one of the teachers, Sheila or Olantah, to take her out of my arms so that I could leave. All I can hope is that when Jason arrives in another six weeks, she will have recovered some of that joy, knowing that there are those who love and remember and pray for her. I'm not sure what to do next with the tears and anxiety and love I have for this little girl other than to share her with you and ask you to pray with me for her. My greatest hope right now is that when Jason arrives in Mulenga, he'll recognize Eva from Jayme's photos easier than he would have from mine. And I sure hope she invites him to play.

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