Today was straight-up fun. I didn’t think that was something I would say about a day spent at the Home for the Dying – maybe rewarding, fulfilling, beautiful, etc., but fun? But it was. So fun. In fact, so fun that I just want to write about it and remember.
I got up early this morning and headed to the Tor Hailuch circle to get a minibus across the city. After 3 minibus switches, I finally made it to the circle where I walk to the Missionaries of Charity home. The entire trek takes about an hour. As I alternately walked and rode buses, I privately thought, This trip is enough to make anyone want to stay in bed. God, knowing me and my nature, so ungrateful for his blessings, showed them to me a little extra today, I think just to make me regret that thought. And I totally do.
When I walked into the room for handicapped boys at the Missionaries of Charity home, I was greeted by several hugs from T’azo, a tall, zany boy who wears no pants, but will literally hit you until you hug him, probably once every 10 minutes. I think I hugged him at least 50 times today. Wondwossen, the physical therapist, and the ladies who diligently work there every day, threw smiles at me over their shoulders as they changed diapers and sheets, already hard at work. I went to a few of the beds of the kids and told them good morning, stroking their curled limbs. Wondwossen called me over and we spent the next hour brushing all their teeth!
What takes you and me 3 minutes is a chore of intense effort at the M. of C., requiring two people and a lot of time! Since their teeth aren’t brushed very often, when we do brush them, they sometimes bleed. For the boys who can sit up, we let them spit into a bowl; for those who can’t, we held their heads over the bowl and rinsed their mouths out as best we could. I got a little queasy, looking at a basin full of toothpaste, spit, blood, and water, and especially when it spilled on me, but what I’m learning here is that I don’t get the right to be grossed out at anything really. There just isn’t the time or effort to waste.
After teeth-brushing, I had a bit of free time, so I went into the playroom with one of the especially drooly kids, and one of my favorites, Binyam, and I sang to him and Haile, who was sitting in a wheelchair. Binyam loves to be held, and today he kissed me on the cheek! Since he’s always spouting off gibberish and foaming, I didn’t know he knew how to do that! It was sweet. The only time he would stop speaking and screaming and whining in gibberish was when I was singing to him. I plan on doing a lot of that.
We fed the kids, washed their faces, covered them up, and it was naptime. Right before naptime, I gave a few kids shoulder massages and just hugged them. As I walked back through the row of beds toward the door, little boys would grab me, asking me wordlessly for one more hug, one more touch. Whenever I do touch them softly, they get a big smile on their faces – every single one.
During lunch break, some Ethiopian guys bought me coffee. They also begged for my number, so it was an obvious attempted pickup, but I regarded it as “paying it forward,” as my friend Brittany calls it – doing something kind for someone else, who then has to pass it along. Later today I would encounter that opportunity.
After lunch break, I headed back in, and Wondwossen, the physical therapist, showed me how to change positions of the really deformed kids, to rub paraffin into their bedsores and skin ailments, and to massage their limbs in an attempt to circulate blood in the curled, tiny, lifeless limbs. I respect and admire Wondwossen so much. He is a young Ethiopian man who has been working at the Home of the Dying for 6 years now, loving and helping these boys every day. He is so kind and full of grace for boys who can do nothing for themselves, and I was overwhelmed while watching him do everything from gently untangling limbs from each other to massaging dry skin with paraffin to feeding boys to running and get whatever supplies were needed. Just the way he looks at the boys and speaks to them is beautiful – with love, affection, and kindness, rather than disdain or disgust. I feel like I’m watching Christ in action when I watch Wondwossen.
It’s pretty heartbreaking, though. When Wondwossen pulled back the blankets from the boys in the worst condition, it was hard to see. It was the first day I’d actually tried doing physical therapy myself with Wondwossen, so I hadn’t before seen the bodies of these boys. Apparently, they were all disfigured at birth and were left out on the streets to die. The Ethiopian police pick them up and deposit them at the Missionaries of Charity center. For the sake of the boys, I don’t want to describe their conditions, but it’s hard to see. I’m learning a lot about physical therapy and about handicaps through working with the handicapped boys. I’m learning a lot about seeing people for who they truly are, rather than what their bodies look like. I’m learning a lot about grace, and about God, and about myself.
After feeding the boys dinner, I headed back on the minibus to Tor Hailuch, where as I walked toward the Harrisons’, I passed a man begging on the road. He was naked, and I was honestly startled, as beggars usually have some sort of covering. I almost gave him my jacket to cover up with for propriety’s sake, but walked on. I stopped a little ways ahead of him and had a mental crisis. I remembered St. Francis of Assisi, an inspiration and example to me, and I remembered the story of how once, upon seeing that a beggar on the side of the road had no clothes, St. Francis gave all his clothes to the beggar and went merrily on his way, naked. He had more clothes at home, and saw no reason to withhold from the man what he really needed. The passage about having two cloaks and giving one to your neighbor popped into me head. Also, of course, Brittany’s “pay it forward” principle. I went home, got out my men’s Brown sweatpants, the warmest thing I have, and went back to the man sitting on the outskirts of the traffic circle. After giving him my sweatpants, I realized he was really sick, and was having trouble moving. I helped him get dressed in the sweatpants, and as I turned to leave, there was a knot of Ethiopians standing behind me. They looked bewildered, but thanked me.
Before today, I don’t think I would have considered touching an obviously sick beggar, but touching the boys at the M. of C. is teaching me to just get over what is repulsive to me, and love it anyway.