• Among the Poor

    Sunday, August 24, 2008

    I have known over the last months the need for me to write this post about my experiences among the poor of Nigeria. I must admit my own fears on writing my thoughts; a written thought on any given topic seems so final. Please understand that all I have to write about is still very much changing me. Before I started on this world adventure I was very sure of my self, my answers and my God. Call it the ignorance of youth or the arrogance of my heart. I come before you today a person who has lost all sort of certainty; the tears have not left the corners of my heart. I am no closer to any answers about life, freedom, home, and religion.

    Nigeria has had a way of exposing my weaknesses, tearing my pride from me. Even my strengths seem too small to make a difference. I have been helping in a very modest way at a motherless babies home three or so times a week.

    It is named IFE Aloua. It is a small rundown building with the heartbeat of God pulsing through its rooms. Not a corner of the building or land is wasted. Every inch of the place is used to serve the needy. Every week I find out something more Mama Teresa (the founder) is involved with.

    A maternity clinic is run on the bottom floor, thirty to fifty women are seen and cared for in a week. On average the midwives and nurse’s deliver ten to fifteen babies a week. This a very humble three-room clinic, un-painted concrete floors and walls, make shift wooden seating, two small birthing rooms with only a sheet for a door. Very humble. The second floor is being renovated into a surgical and recovery room, to offer C-sections. The third floor is Mama's home and the babies room. Two nurses care for the babies each week. There are two sets of nurses one team works two weeks a month the following works the other two weeks. In the back yard is a small shed type building that is a school for over one hundred and twenty children. Mama asks the families if they can, to pay for tuition. For a month it is two thousand naira, that is less then twenty dollars Canadian.

    Mama shared with me that less then half of the families bring tuition. Mama is ok with that, she simply will go without. She allso gives home and food to women who have nowhere else to go, many are pregnant and have other children. Just last week I was cuddling a sweet little baby while having a visit with Mama. When a young women, in full pregnancy and toddler girl came in. She and Mama conversed in Nigerian for a long while. Mama then gave this lady one thousand naira (about ten Canadian dollars) and a pot to cook with, then ordered some one to bring this lady and child to the 'apartment'. After that lady had left, Mama, explained that women will come to her when they have nowhere else to live, Mama then says they must go to the courts and swear they have no one else to turn to. After this step Mama will take them in and give them a roof and one thousand naira a week (ten Canadian dollars) for food, she will also help them find work and if they come with children she gives them a spot in her school.

    The story of the lady I had just met was; she was married and had her first daughter (the little girl, very beautiful, two and half years. Her and Marion played, she was wearing only an underpants and worn T-shirt, her eyes were bright she was a very captivating little girl) shortly after the birth of her daughter her husband left to fish, she never heard from him in over a year. She thought he had left for good, un-sure about her or her daughter’s future, hungry and with out money she found another man and became pregnant again. Her first husband found out about this and returned casting her from him, her new man also appalled at been fooled into believing she was a free women also scorned and left her. She is now abandoned by both. She has told Mama she will leave her baby at birth, as for the toddler she will try to find a way. If she is un-able the little girl will also be left. As I drove home I was faced with so many questions, the loudest being WHY? And WHAT can I do? The following visit I gathered some close from Marion's closet, shoes, underwear, a toothbrush, some books, puzzles, crayons and such. Like any four-year-old Marion was a bit resistive to giving her things away. I asked Marion to remember the little girl she had played with, I asked Marion to remember what she was wearing. "Underwear" Marion replied. I then asked Marion what if when Mommy say's go play all you had to play with was these few books and colours, no dolls, no little kitchen, no books? What if when Mommy said go get dressed all you had was a worn T-shirt and underwear, no dresses, no shoes nothing, and Marion what if you did not have a Daddy? Marion's eyes filled with tears Mommy I would be sad, I said yes Marion that is why we need to share our beautiful things with that girl, Marion ran off and returned with a arm full toys and her favourite pink dress! She can have these! Yes I thought she can have these!

    What I love is going and cuddling the babies. Sitting on a small stool holding lovely little babies. Let me tell you some of their stories. On one morning I was compelled to go alone to the orphanage (I always take the girls) upon arrival I found that one of the nurses had to leave, so it was a lone nurse in care of half dozen infants! Glad to be of help I got to work. Then Victoria (the nurse) calls for me from the bathroom. As I entered she handed me some gloves and seriously says 'I need your help' at that my eye caught some movement from a black garbage bag shoved inside a box. There tucked in the bag was a newborn baby.

    Victoria explains the garbage men just brought the baby in. She says we must be very careful because we do not know if he has AIDS. He was still covered in the blood and mucus from his birth, as we uncovered him we found the umbilical cord was never cleaned and infection was setting in, this let us know he was a few days old. We bathed him three times over to get the germs off, soap in eyes, mouth and ears. Victoria was cautious not to get too close to him until we saw if he had AIDS. She also explained we need to wash him all over because his bag was covered in rat fesies. Finally he was cleaned and passed to me, I held him close. Kissed him. Named him Daniel. Told him I loved him. Found him the cutest outfit I could among the small pile of clothing available, wrapped him in the softest blanket and fed him. As I was feeding him, he started vomiting, this awful bright yellow vomit, I called Victoria, "what is happening!". She said it was poison! A common thing for an abandoned baby, to speed up death! For the next hour I forced him to vomit, until no poison came out. After all that, I re-bathed and dressed him, wrapped and fed him. I then rocked him to sleep, leaving him to his crib and in the hands of God. As I was leaving Mama told me he did not have AIDS! Wonderful! He will have a future!

    The next morning I was their to check up on him early. My focus was on him, and it was not till after I had a good cuddle with Daniel I realised another baby, Elizabeth was struggling to breathe. I asked what was wrong? Victoria said the baby had been sick all night. Victoria seemed to be working with baby Elizabeth so I left it. Twenty minutes later I put Daniel down and went to check on Elizabeth, shocked to see her fighting for every breath. "What is wrong with this baby," I asked again. "She is lactose intolerant," Victoria told me. Puzzled at her answer I kept questioning the nurse; I was growing more concerned with time as I could see this was clearly not 'lactose intolerance'. "This baby needs to see a Doctor right now", I said maybe too gently. After some urging Victoria brought her to see the doctor who was visiting the clinic that very morning, great I thought! The Doctor said that the baby needed to go to the hospital! Ofcourse I thought! Elizabeth is in my arms this whole time and it is a very eerie feeling life leaving a newborn. I can feel her body dying in the folds of my embrace. With the doctors orders in hand I thought the nurses would move fast but nothing goes fast here, they were also going to walk to the hospital which was a days walk away! Certainly not! I said my driver will drive you! Elizabeth was fading fast! I know talked a bit sharp but my heart was racing, a baby was dying in my arms. I spoke sternly and said you have five minutes to get in the car or I am taking this baby on my own! At that I walked down to the car and sat there till the nurses came five minutes later. I needed to be dropped off at home as I am not allowed to go to that part of town without security. It was awful saying goodbye to Elizabeth. I knew her life was at its end.

    I returned home to my healthy daughters, listening to Vivaldi, reading, learning, living! Why, why am I the mother who can offer her children every possibility, why am I not like many young African mothers whose cries to God, any god, for food, for hope, for breath for her child. And in desperation would leave her children so they could live and then I get to hold their babies in their first and final moments on this earth. That night Elizabeth died from assumption an infection in the intestines that spreads to the lungs. Her death made me face to face with the creator of this earth. Who is this God who screams love and hope and beauty at us, why was Elizabeth’s life a faint moment of time, her life on earth is remembered only by a few pictures I have stored on my desktop! Was she born so I could hold her in death? Did God born her to throw me into his rapids? I have always loved God, but I have never really wanted to know him enough to ask the questions that shake everything that seems fare.

    A fellow compound neighbour said that after awhile the need here in Africa blurs and you can settle back to 'normal living'. For half a second I was tempted with relief, but should I try to escape the realities of a hungry world? Should I try to flee something that challenges everything that I know and have excepted as okay. Do I want to run from the very thing that is leading me to my creator, my saviour, my God? Questioning my humble existence has put a burning need to hear from God, teach me Lord to never turn a moment of my life into waist, for that moment, God, was yours to love others with.

    In the weeks, months that have followed Elizabeth’s death, God has captured me in my pain, left me their to learn how to trust him and love others. He comforts he with the picture and words of his lullaby, he whispers to me that Elizabeth is in the safest place for her, the arms of her creator.

    Every baby I hold, every mother I meet at the clinic, they have a story that grips and tears at my heart. A story, that leaves me with the wondering of my good fortune.
    Just this week I got to hold and care for a premature baby, only three pounds. So little that if this baby was born in Canada it would be in ICU for months. I am privileged that I get to be involved in the lives of these babies, these people.
    I know the Lord will catch my tears in a bottle, to hold weight for the sorrows of this world. May I cry for every baby, may my soul be heavy with the needs of my neighbours, may the privilege of my prosperity be returned to God, humbly and fully.

    I do see the sorrows of life here in Africa but I have felt the joys, Daniel was adopted before his first month. He has a family, he does not have AIDS, he will live and I pray he will know love. Mama Teresa has a very good reputation and her babies get adopted fast. Among the mud, poverty and death there are glimmers of Christ through people who show love.

    Little Daniel's first day.

    Victoria (the nurse) and Daniel

    Children at the school.

    Baby Blessing. Most babies come here as newborns, but Blessing was over a year. It usually takes longer for older babies to get adobted, but God found a family for Blessing in a few weeks.

    Baby Elizabeth.

    The Lekki Market area where Ife Oluwa is located. This is reclaimed land so when it rains, it usually floods.

    The neighborhood around Ife Oluwa

    Ife Oluwa from the outside.

    Front entrance to maternity clinic.

    Marion gave some toys and clothes to this little girl.

    Marion and Baby Felicia. A Nigerian family from America is coming to adobt Felicia.