On the third day of my April 2018 visit to Humanity Home, we went to the kids’ school. Four of our kids were in the preschool classroom. We enjoyed a few songs and some preschool exercises in English, like colors, animals, and letters. When we were leaving, I had a quick hug with each of our kids. As I turned to go after hugging four-year-old LJ, she burst into tears because “Daddy” was leaving.
I didn’t know what to do. Recalling a time last summer when a bewildered Judy texted me asking what she should do about a three-year-old crying on her first day of pre-school not wanting her to leave, and being told to “Just stay with her,” Judy told me: “It’s your mess. Deal with it!”
The child known by us as “LJ” came to Humanity Home less than three moths earlier with her older sister. Their parents are deceased, and older siblings struggled to provide for a large family. LJ had not been attending school because she was expected to look after a younger sibling. She arrived at HH scared and withdrawn, and would not talk with Judy or other adults. She had become much more sociable during her short time at HH. She has a smile, a giggle and a squeal of delight that would melt any beating heart. In other moods, she has a soulful, piercing, pensive look.
When LJ sobbed in that classroom because I turned to walk away, I was overwhelmed by the magic of whatever remarkable force in the universe can bond a sixty three year old mzungu (white guy) with a four-year-old African little girl. In the following two weeks, LJ became the poster child for whatever it is that draws me to the children of Kenya.
At every opportunity, LJ would seek me. I was always delighted to see her, making faces, picking her up, tossing her around, all the dad tricks. That smile, that giggle, the shrieks of happiness. At story time, she always found her way to Daddy’s lap, quickly melting into that complete relaxation and rhythmic breathing that tells you a child is sound asleep.
On day six, we took the children to a dentist in Kisumu. LJ was petrified. The only way to persuade her to let the dentist examine her was for Daddy to sit in the dentist chair and put her on his lap.
Ten days into my visit, LJ was not herself. She lacked energy and spiked a fever. She would not eat and began throwing up. Suspecting malaria, which is rampant during the rainy season, we took her to the hospital. Kids can die from malaria. LJ, burning with fever, curled up on my lap for the forty-five minute car ride. She stirred only so we could pull off to the side of the road so she could vomit.
The hospital was a series of waits. Wait to check in. Wait for the doctor. Wait for the lab technician to arrive from somewhere. Wait for the results. Wait for the doctor. Wait for the pharmacy. Some four hours of waiting. The chairs were as uncomfortable as an airport.
This four-year-old child, scared, sick and miserable, found comfort only in the embrace of this mzungu visitor. I could feel her sweaty little head, the fever
breaking due to the medication she was given, her close-cut fuzzy hair, her dark brown fingers clutching my hand, my arm around her limp body, her warmth pressing against my chest, her racing heartbeat. My God, I love this child. So help me I do. I held onto her like life itself. I softly sang in her little ear every soothing song I could think of. She couldn’t understand the words, so she didn’t mind if I repeated the same lines over and over. She didn’t care that I was off key, or even if it was country music. For me, the hours of waiting were precious moments.
What miracle brought me here, to this place, at this time, with this precious creature, to provide comfort to her and somehow, her to me? There were few people in the waiting area and few hospital workers moving about. Perhaps they would not notice the tears streaming down my face. It’s not like there was anything I could do about it.
The lab results were positive for a severe case of malaria. The prescription was for IV medication. The best I could do was keep LJ turned away from the fearsome needles brandished on the doctor’s desk. Within two days, Little Judy was feeling much better, and within three days she was back to being herself.
On the last day of my visit, in the midday heat, I sat down by myself on the sofa in the HH main room. LJ soon spotted me and clambered onto my lap. Within minutes, she was asleep. Her softness and her steady, quiet breathing relaxed me, and I fell asleep too, despite the commotion of the other children all around us. No story books, no Daddy antics, just a little girl and an aging grandfather. Bonded. Our way of saying goodbye.
When they woke us up for lunch, I hugged her tightly one more time and gently kissed her cheek, just in front of her ear.
And so it is with the children of Humanity Home.