Today was another eye-opener. A little boy of about six years old is watching me now as I type this (the hospital is full of children). He’s looking at me with what I assume is a mix of apprehension and fascination. I’m not sure he’ll be brave enough to come over and see what’s on my computer screen.
La Paix is a hospital that is difficult to describe; unlike Canadian hospitals, it is fully acute but does not operate 24 hours a day. There are 120 beds and various out-patient clinics. If patients don’t get treated or admitted, they come back the next day. When we arrived this morning, there were hundreds of people waiting to be seen. I expected the chaos of the city streets to extend into the hospital grounds but was surprised by the orderly triage. For a people to have suffered so much, I am in awe of their smiles, their laughter, and their dignity. Every little girl I’ve seen today has had her hair perfectly done with colourful ribbons and braids. Please don’t take my sentimentality the wrong way – these people are suffering and are living in conditions I find hard to comprehend. But there is a spirit in the air I did not expect.
The little boy has lost his nerve and has moved further away from me. He’s sitting with his mother now. She is holding a baby girl who is obviously very sick. In a move of tenderness that has me close to tears, he’s lovingly stroking her arm – a little boy with the kind of unconditional and selfless love that is a hallmark of children everywhere I guess. Now he’s making faces and trying to tickle her in an attempt to make her smile; to provide this sick little girl with some basic human degree of comfort. It is an image I wish I could share with you but am content to have it burned into my memory for what I hope is eternity.
Today has been an orientation day for most of us, particularly for those who have never been to La Paix before. For me, I’ve tried to simply keep busy. For the others, all with medical or technical training, they’ve spent the day making things better. While progress has been slow for some, it appears to me that they’re leaving the hospital a bit better than it was this morning. This is a fine, fine group of people and I am humbled by their vocation.
I try to entice the little boy, who by now I have named Simon in my head, to come over and have a look at my computer with the offer of a new green pen. I wave it. He smiles broadly. I motion with my hand that he can have it, but he is too shy. I reconcile in my head that I will never speak to this boy, this tender big brother in a country so desperate for tenderness. We will remain strangers, but he has impacted my life remarkably. I leave the pen on the chair as a gift, gesture to him that he’s welcome to it, and I walk away…