Living far away from family is difficult, especially now that we have Leon. I often think about how much fun he would have with all his cousins and how much they would love him, and it makes me a little sad to think that he has so many cousins that he hasn’t met yet. To be honest, I dwell on this more than I should, but I am also reminded regularly that even though he isn’t around his family that lives far away, he is growing up in very unique circumstances, and is getting an experience that he wouldn’t have anywhere else. His cousins may be far away, but Leon has an entire family at CURE.
Every Friday morning I take him to the hospital. It’s our little ritual. He loves going and as soon as we pull up to the hospital gates he screams, “Opisol!!” (which is how he says hospital). He has so much fun playing with all the patients and they enjoy having him visit. They love playing with him, and love getting visitors, but also, they like him because he’s different. He is kind of a novelty to them. Many of the children here in Niger are so quiet and reserved, and he is pretty much the exact opposite of that. He is a bundle of energy – hyper, loud and spastic, and they think it is hilarious.
It makes me so happy that he has a big group of kids to play with whenever we come to the hospital, and it kind of serves as a play group, but it’s so much more than that. Leon is constantly interacting with other kids who are bandaged up from burns, or have limbs in casts, or have metal bars (external fixators) protruding from their legs. Since he has been coming to the hospital regularly for as long as he can remember, when he sees these things he is not surprised by them. Seeing all kinds of physical deformities is commonplace for him, but that does not mean that he doesn’t notice them, for he most certainly does. He always says, “Mama regard, ça fait mal!” (Mama look, that hurts) as he points to a leg or an arm. He’ll then lean in to whoever he’s looking at and say, “Bon guerisson” (get well).
You can see the real look of concern on his face, but he is not scared and does not shy away from them. He doesn’t treat them differently and look down on them or overlook them or avoid looking at them by averting his gaze. He doesn’t treat them differently because he hasn’t learned to do that yet. He is innocent in the best possible sense, and I hope he stays that way. Maybe he will, since he is learning it from such a young age. Maybe that is what it takes to inoculate people against the cruelty and discrimination that seems to come so naturally to us all. Leon sees these kids and realizes at his young age that they are hurting, but he also realizes that they are getting better. And most importantly, he realizes that they are fun to play with!
I love the fact that Leon is growing up with this as his normal.
Recently, he’s started to enjoy praying. He likes to pray around the dinner table, mostly because he loves to shout “Amen!” as loud as possible once the prayer is over. But he also likes to lead us in prayer. He will put his head down and mumble for awhile, tossing in a few words here and there, like, “thank you…(mumble)… papa…(mumble)… mama…(mumble)… food…(mumble)…eating…(mumble)… Amen!” The last few visits to the hospital, Leon has insisted on praying for some of the patients. He may not fully get the concept, but the fact that he wants to take the time to acknowledge the patient’s situation and “pray” for them is, I think, important and good. It’s as though he recognizes that their situation deserves some level of respect and reverence (to be punctuated, of course, with a loud “Amen!”).
So even though we aren’t around our family, I am glad that Leon has his CURE family, and that he is learning what it means to love and be loved. He is learning what it means to care for others, and he is learning to see everyone as they are: a child of God worthy of dignity and respect.
Leon (1 year old) walking with his friend, Larwan
Leon (1.5 years old) pushing Aramatou in her wheelchair
This was last week. Leon asked me to take their picture and wanted everyone lined up on the wall.