For the protection of identity the names in this story have been changed.
The next morning when I stepped out of my bedroom, I couldn’t believe my eyes, the child’s parents were sitting in my lounge…..
They had changed their minds and they asked me if I was willing to take care of little Paulo.
Of course I was overjoyed. But when I asked what prompted the change of mind, I was shocked by their response. They explained that while they had been toing and froing from the hospital, their 4 month old baby Precious (while supervision of their 8 year old daughter) fell. She had consequently sustained a head injury and she too had been confined in hospital under observation. They needed someone to care for Paulo while they attended to Precious.
As the mother Mercy looked around she said to me, “Oh!! You have kids of your own? I thought you just wanted Paulo because you had no kids!” I assured her that I didn’t need more children, I was merely concerned for Paulo and wanted to help. I promised them that they wouldn’t be losing their son but we would make sure he had regular visits with his family as soon as he was strong enough. This was clearly a relief to the father, because Paulo was their only son.
It was all systems go. I arranged for some of my workers to help with the “bantay” shifts and I went shopping to get everything needed for our new POC family member. Our children’s house was not properly established at that time, but our workers were quite eager to have another baby around and were willing to make any necessary sacrifices.
Greta was particularly keen as she was a single mother with 5 girls and had always longed for a son. She and I went to the hospital laden with milk, bottles, kettle, water (of course!!!) clothes, toiletries, nappies (diapers), bedding and an electric fan. Greta kindly offered to clean him up as he clearly hadn’t had a wash in weeks and the stench was quite nauseating. Can you imagine the combined smells of sweat in an overcrowded hospital ward with temperature in the 90’s, no fan or air-conditioning, 90%+ humidity and a child who hadn’t bathed in weeks with diarrhoea and infection? If you have that smell in your imagination, then multiply it by 10 and you might be close!!! That was the state of poor little Paulo. But we all loved him.
Of course we gave some financial assistance for the medical needs of Precious.
Slowly but surely, Paulo began to improve, until he was eventually discharged. I remember taking him to the outpatients department and holding him tightly as they lanced his buttock and extracted a full bowl of pus (nana).
It was months before he was strong enough to sit up on his own, but we all rejoiced at every sign of progress.
True to my promise to his parents, as Paulo got stronger we arranged to take him to visit his family.
Mercy agreed to wait by the highway to accompany me to their home. She took Paulo in her arms, sprung to her feet and led the way up the hill. She stepped over rocks, skipped from one stepping stone to another, through the brook and balanced across logs as if she was Tinkerbell, while I scrambled on all fours trying to keep up without putting my life in danger!!. When we reached their house I thought it small and there was no bathroom but least they had a bedroom upstairs for the kids. The downstairs bedroom/lounge/kitchen had just a mud floor, a wooden bench for a bed, and a clay stove in the corner.
There were no chairs, so I sat on the bed and we discussed the children’s progress. She told me that Precious was ok (though I observed her to be unusually quiet, unresponsive and often raised her little hands to her head as if in pain, but she uttered no complaints). Paulo on the other hand was already gaining strength quite fidgety (malikut) and always looked for milk and biscuits!!
As we chatted, water started to pour down from the ceiling. Mercy started to giggle and then she told me that was pee. The family living upstairs had a baby and couldn’t afford diapers, so every time their baby peed (or worse) they got showers of blessings below. So that tiny, wooden house without a bathroom or running water, was home to two families, and the bed where I sat was shared by a family of six!!!
Paulo’s dad was not home that day as he was at work. We often saw him walking the streets with the polystyrene box of ice lollies that he hoped to sell in order to support his family but often returned disappointed.
It was clear that Paulo was stood a better chance of full recovery with us and the parents were content knowing that they would get to see their son regularly.
The next time I saw Mercy, there was no sign of the baby.
Watch out for my next blog and find out what happened to Precious and finally how I was 'bitten'.