"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

the day wasswa vincent came home from the clinic

Wasswa stayed at the clinic for three days. His sister, Rosemary, and her "bestest" friend did not leave his side except for periodic treks to the orphanage for porridge - and one day, salt and bottled water.

The two girls cared for Wasswa the way a good mother cares for her child. They washed his soiled shorts and shirt and made sure the thin blanket was covering his body. They neatly lined up the few things he'd accumulated (milk biscuits, water, a cup and a plate) on the table next to his bed. They walked him to the toilet. They slept in the bed with him each night.

The high fever he had left Wasswa with horrendous blisters on the inside of his mouth, on his lips and on his tongue. When he could no longer eat, they came to Melissa's house searching for salt (per doctor's orders).

The day he was released, his mouth was so swollen he could barely speak. His small frame was way too fragile.

The nurse administered the final dose of intravenous meds for his malaria and pneumonia. This took place in the hallway. (A new patient had taken over Wasswa's "Bed One" and now there was someone in "Bed Two" making the small room quite crowded.) Kato, Wasswa's best friend had joined the girls by now. The band of youngsters, an attentive adult from SMK and I boarded boda-bodas for the trip back to the orphanage. Wasswa blinked hard into the sunlight.

Upon our return, Kato lifted his friend onto his back and carried him to Melissa's house. She escorted them to her shower, and there Kato helped Wasswa bathe. 

Afterwards, Wasswa managed to utter a few words to me: he was hungry and wanted bread and milk. I carried him to a food stand down the road from Mel's to make a purchase, then on to his dormitory. There, he sat on the ground, folded his thin legs underneath him and poured small portions of the milk onto his plastic plate, slowly drinking one after the next. He carefully negotiated the tiny sips his took, so as not to disturb the blisters in his mouth. He indicated that he was full and wanted to save the bread for later. I suggested he put it in his case. That's when I found out he doesn't have one.

His friends showed me the place under his mattress where Wasswa stores his few belongings.

Nothing about being a young orphan in Uganda is right or fair.

Everything about it is heartbreaking.

I took Wasswa's sister, Rosemary, aside and told her what a good big sister she was. I told her how proud I was of the way she had cared for Wasswa at the clinic. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was that at the age of 12 she had to take on such messy responsibilities. I gave her a long hug. When she pulled away from me, her face darkened and it looked like she had something urgent to say - something she'd been practicing in her head for days. She reached up to whisper in my ear:

"Mama Gloria, I have only one pair of knickers." (underwear)

Like I said, nothing about any of this is right or fair.

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