Here is a post that I shared today on my blog, A Fresh Chapter, about my recent adventures in South Africa. I can't believe it has been one year since my double mastectomy and since I started to put the pieces back together in my life. I hope you will continue to join me on my current adventure...To read all of my latest posts, please click here:
Tiny brown pants bunch on top of his dirty white runners. Spindly legs stick out from under his bright yellow sweater.
The other children jostle around him, fighting over their turn at one of the four potties on the narrow wooden bench. The daily rhythm of life at the Educare in one of Cape Town's Townships continues: Lunch. Potty. Nap.
I turn back to the plastic bowl in front of me and spoon mushy beans and cornmeal into a bird-like mouth as five other children sit on little plastic stools, ogling the bowls of food and waiting for their turn to eat. When I look back over, I expect to see him flash me a grin as he scampers towards the rickety classroom, ready to claim a sliver on one of the gym mats for his daily nap. Instead, he stands frozen. His mouth crammed with his last two spoonfuls of lunch. His chocolate eyes begging for rescue.
I leave my perch on the tiny stool, walk over to him and motion for him to pull up his pants. He shakes his head and a little tear trickles down his upturned cheek. I look closer and am about to pull them up for him when I realize what has happened. "A running stomach" is the polite term for an accident of this magnitude and smell. He shivers and I see the shame in his eyes. I hate that I have no Xhosa words to comfort him.
I thought I was having a bad day. This morning I woke up with thoughts of a year ago pressing up heavy against my heart. One year since I checked into the hospital, donned a drafty gown, and prepared to lose my breasts forever. One year since I lay on the operating table in hysterics because I didn't want to go through with my double mastectomy. One year since I woke up to a gruelling recovery and apprehension about my future.
As I kneel down and pull off his shoes, the fear in his eyes makes me wonder what the nurses must have seen in my own. I slide the soiled clothes from his small frame and once again feel like I am in over my head. My eyes scan the crowded courtyard and I finally lock eyes with the one woman who speaks English. I explain what has happened and she simply says that he doesn't have his own towel or cloth. She suggests that I take him into the bathroom of the tiny house, adjacent to the school. She doesn't tell me what I should use to clean him and I see relief on her face that I discovered the accident before her.
I take his hand and he pads barefoot behind me across the dusty cement. When we get to the bathroom, I notice his puffed out cheeks, still full from the lunch he can't bring himself to swallow. The pain in his eyes is tangible. I have never felt so helpless as I settle for holding up a wad of toliet paper to his mouth. The sobs finally come as he spits the leftover lunch into my palms.
The tap attached to the dirty bathtub gushes only cold water. The fear in his eyes escalates as he realizes that I am going to make this moment worse. I do my best to block out his cries as I clean him as quickly as I can without hot water or a proper cloth and then I gather his wet and shivering frame onto my chest. I thank God for the relative warmth of this fall day as I carry him out into the brick courtyard and set him on my lap.
I wish I could whisper to him that it's ok. That even though in this moment, he is sick and scared, that he won't always feel this way. That he shouldn't feel ashamed. That I am honoured to take care of him. That even if I end up with a terrible stomach flu, this moment is worth it. This moment where I can comfort someone else in the same way that one year ago, a nurse with beautiful hazel eyes, looked up at me over her scrub mask, held my hand, and told me that I would be ok.
Later, as I drive away from my placement, I can't help but think of one of my favourite Desmond Tutu quotes, "My humanity is bound up in yours. For we can only be human together."