this is why I still write

23 April


I’ve been reading old posts from my blog, and I can’t believe I’ve been reduced to this: Sentimental angst-driven lines on how I can’t move on from something (someone) I should’ve left behind months ago. No, I am too harsh here. It’s not drivel – all this was necessary writing: this is how I heal. But it’s time I remind myself of the real reason why I picked up a pencil in the first place.

Let us start with a story.

This story was passed on by a doctor who works with the World Health Organisation. He wanted nothing  more to do with the stories of abandoned, unloved, unwanted African AIDS children which are ever propagated by the media. No, he told us, no, this is not always the case. And it brings such disrepute onto the parents of those who truly love their children.

He knew one such case – oh, everyone in the hospital knew that this child was going to die. He had sores all over his body, and no matter how much all the nurses in his ward wanted him to live, a childhood of poor nutrition and harsh living conditions had brought his defence system to an almost stand-still. As he lay in the hospital, everyone knew that he was just waiting there, a tiny lump under soft warm blankets gifted by some NGO, waiting to die.

It was a miracle that he’d lasted into his seventh year, but everyone in the ward agreed that it was because of love. Ever since he’d been admitted, his mother had come in every single day, from the first minute that visitors were allowed in, till the last second when even the most persistent family members were pushed out. Eventually, the doctor overseeing that ward (the very man telling this story) had ordered the nurses to allow her to come in when and as she wanted (he used the word ‘ordered’ but eventually the nurses would have let her in anyway). And since that moment, this mother, beautiful even with heavy eyes underscored by bags of unshed tears, and a skin drained of life, had rarely budged from her post. Every little gesture the little boy made, she was there. Every little cough or cry the little boy made, she was there. The nurses had long stopped trying to look after the boy themselves. They instead taught the mother all the little chores – how to turn his little body over every few hours to avoid bedsores, how to wash him clean, how to change his tubes. Very rarely, (the teller paused here) would this be allowed in a modern city hospital, but this hospital… this was a hospital where love was revered.

All this was the reason why he would never forget the day a distinguished visiting doctor came in with a group of international interns. American, French, Canadian, he couldn’t remember – it didn’t really matter as all the international students had been fed the same stories of neglect and abuse. One by one, the interns were given a chance to diagnose the conditions of the various patients, and he remembered chuckling softly under his breath as some highly unusual diagnoses were made (African sleeping sickness? Please. It was as rare in Africa as it was overseas). Fortunately, the visiting doctor was well-respected in the medical world, and rightfully dismissive of the more outrageous claims.

He remembered tensing as the group of 5 or 6 went to stand in front of the bed where the little boy lay. He cast a worried look at the mother, who’d shifted to an empty bed nearby – respectful enough of the white coats to give them space, but close enough to be there if her child needed her. If he hadn’t known to look for her, he wouldn’t have noticed her at all – she moved as quietly as her little boy lay.

The visting doctor nodded to a young intern, brunette, slim, hair cut into a thick fringe that stopped just-just above blue-rimmed glasses, who stepped forward towards the bed. After one quick glance under the blankets, the intern coolly gave a diagnosis of Aids (right), but then continued on. Cold, cutting words of neglect, of abuse (which one could see from the bruises all over the body, and the emaciated skeleton), of ill-care poured out, and god.. judgemental words that were all too clearly understood, words that found their mark in the mother who’d been sitting apprehensively, watching this group of foreigners approach her beloved, words that slit open her veins and tearducts until she sat there, sobbing (oh so quietly, because these were doctors, and foreign doctors, oh how right they must be), forgetting about the handfuls of grain she’d scraped together and hadn’t eaten so that her boy could eat, the long hours she’d trudged to the single tap in the district to get water to clean his fragile body, the days spent watching for any sign he was still alive. All this she forgot, as the intern’s words rang in her ears neglect… shocking… uncared for… disgraceful…

He would never ever forget that image – the pale stranger in a white coat, standing in front of a hospital bed covered over with a baby yellow blanket, while behind, a shadow-thin body hunched small, trying to keep her sobs oh so quietly to herself. It was for her, and for that little boy, that he kept on telling this story.

Now this story has also become mine. And this, and all the stories like this one, is why I must keep on writing. There are too many stories that hurt when they are told for the wrong reasons neglect… shocking… uncared for… disgraceful. Instead, let us add to the stories that hurt for the right reasons devotion… care… heart… love.


~ by translating for peas on April 23, 2010.

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