Have been feeling a bit hemmed in by death for the last few days.
I have been planning the memorial service for Katy who you may remember from previous posts.
She was a lively and happy little girl with severe cerebral palsy who had been at the Baby Home since she was approximately one year old. Someone had obviously tried to care for her but there are no resources to support a family in this situation and a disabled child will not be seen as being able to contribute to the welfare of the family and society. She moved to a specialist orphanage just outside Dar es Salaam last May, with her best friend, Martin,
but she became ill and died from organ failure in the winter.
She was at the Baby Home for 7 years and was loved by so many of the staff and volunteers so we wanted to add her to the memorial garden for children who have died. I had requested a cross to be made and chosen her plant which I hoped would bush out in to a colourful blast of blossom.
The next morning, I was walking along the main road in to town towards school for my Kiswahili lesson. Off in a little world of my own, I almost fell over a young man lying on the pavement. He looked too well dressed to be a drunk man and it wasn’t until I came parallel to him that I saw the big pool of impossibly bright red blood coming from his head. I couldn’t work out if he was breathing or not. And, cowardly as it felt, we have been warned not to attempt to help injured people as you become responsible for them, or for their death if things do not go well. Not ten feet away was a bus stop where a group of people were texting, talking, gazing in to space and paying no attention to the bleeding man near them. This should have alerted me as people will generally gather around someone injured or unwell and attempt, however ineptly, to assist them or at least to stand and stare but I was just amazed and appalled at the lack of care for another human being. In my slighty panicked pidgin Kiswahili I tried to ask the group as a whole if someone could help the man or call the police Calling an ambulance is not really a possibility here as it costs so the health insurance situation of the injured needs to be known. Some of them just ignored me but an older woman explained to me that the man was dead so nothing could be done. He had been hit by a motorbike and banged his head on the kerb when he fell. The police would be coming some time to move the body. And that’s it really – as soon as its established that someone is dead, there is no point in dwelling on it. They don’t stare longer than necessary, they don’t gossip about it. Life just continues on the route it was going.
On the morning of Katy’s memorial, the askaris finished painting her cross white and fixed her photo on. I went to the office to print out a poem for her and was greeted with the news that toddler Malima, who I visited last week at home was dead. He had died at the weekend, probably from malaria. He was a sad little thing, the youngest child of a widow with 9 children who had come in, extremely malnourished in November but had been making slow but steady progress on milk and peanut butter.
They lived in an isolated community a 5 hour journey from us. As I tried to carry on working, fighting back the tears, Anna, the social worker, arrived to say he was not actually dead! I was overjoyed, but starting to feel a bit wrung out emotionally. He had had a seizure from the high temperature and they had thought he was dead. They had started to prepare for the funeral and people were arriving to pay respects when he woke up! We laughed at the ludicrousness of the situation but I was also appalled, knowing the speed that they bury people out here (see Feona’s Journey) that Malima might have been buried alive. Apparently it then happened again in the afternoon and Anna had insisted they take him to Sengerema hospital ( see Carry On Doctor), which was an hour or so away and he was admitted to ICU with fever and very bad diarrhoea but started to improve straight away.
The heavens opened for Katy’s memorial so we held it in one of the playrooms at the children’s naptime. Not as beautiful as the garden, but the acoustics are excellent. Emmanuel, one of the askaris who is also a pastor of a small church, came in on his day off to lead the religious element, the mamas sang beautifully and we all had a small dance to ‘Lets Get Ready to Rumble’, Katy’s favourite! The rains had cleared in time to plant her cross and flower in the garden, with those of the other children that have left us.
And the next day, the Baby That Couldn’t Die, died. Too weak to fight on any more. And I’ve not known anything more humbling and devastating than sitting with a grieving mother as she tenderly washes and oils her dead child and dresses him in newer, smarter clothes than he ever wore in his short life and then places him in a tiny coffin.
No more death now. Not for a while please.