Thursday, November 1, 2012
Baby with no name
I've known Helen for the last 12 months. She often stops to talk to with us when I'm pushing Leo in his buggy along the roads that crisscross the neighbourhood. She's charming, intelligent, strong of character and inspiring - although she would disagree and say that's the work of god.
She has 3 sons, no husband and toils hard in her garden to grow the food for their plates. We tend to talk about normal things - she tells me of her hopes, her sons, her struggles and the volunteer work that brings her much joy. She sings to Leo, reaching forward to pinch his cheeks so that he laughs. He loves it. She loves him. I feel like a spare part at a wedding.
Today was no different, until she told me about the baby with no name.
"I took the bus north to Gulu and then to another town and found the police station. This baby, she was there. The mother had told the police she was going to kill her so they must take the baby away. They said no, but the mother refused to listen and screamed at them. When the police said they would put her in prison for abandoning her daughter she said prison was better than the child. This mother she is the daughter of my eldest sister, my niece, but my sister passed away some few years back and this girl, instead of studying, has been running with boys. She became pregnant at 17 but didn't want the child. It was when my mother called to say the baby had been beaten and that the mother wanted to kill her that I had to go. My mother she's now 86 years and cannot look after one so young. I reached the police, signed the papers to say she would be in my care and they gave me her hospital records. Three months ago, when she was 7 months, they operated on her to stop a fever. This didn't happen in the hospital, this happened in the village before they took her to hospital. Eeeeh, many of these people are uneducated and have little money so things are done in a bad way. They took a knife and cut her gums here and here to remove her teeth, and you know that bit that hangs in the back of your mouth? They put a razor blade between a piece of string and tied the string to two sticks and put another stick here to stop her biting. They held her arms and when she is no longer struggling they put the blade at the back of the mouth and pull the sticks. Cut, Cut, Cut. I've seen it done to a woman many years ago and that bit, when it falls from the mouth, it jumps. No, we don't know who the father is, it could be any boy, but we are blessed to have her, this baby they wanted to kill. I don't know about girls, I only have sons, but they are helping and we are all praying that she will be fine. She only had some little milk from the mother and she has been sick many times because it wasn't enough. She finds it hard to eat, maybe because of her mouth, but she is strong and she is a miracle of god. Her name? The police said the mother had told them her name but it was bad and after everything that's happened they didn't want me to curse her with it. So this baby, no, she still doesn't have a name."
Later on that morning I had a choice - either continue in the direction of home, or with Helen's story banging like rocks around my head, fork right and go and find her.
I forked right.
I found her at the house where she does her volunteer work. We chatted briefly, she thanked god and I raced home. Hot, sweaty and full of adrenalin I put Leo in his cot for a nap and packed a carrier bag with a large tub of unused formula (Leo's never cared for the stuff) unused bottles, a beaker, little books and a few soft toys. I knew I wouldn't be gone for more than half an hour so Huzo (he was raking the lawn of rain soaked grass) babysat as I drove to collect Helen before we hurtled up the road to her place.
In a colourful printed dress (handmade by Helen who said it wasn't a very good job) a baby girl of 10 months old suddenly picked up and crawled across the sparse floor towards us. Helen's house is no bigger than my bedroom. It's a single room, 5mtrs by 8mtrs with a thin curtain dividing the front half from the back half. Helen, her 3 teenage sons, a niece (not the baby's mother) and the baby fill this barely furnished living space as one - jumbled across mats on the floor.
She held the baby out towards me and I took her. Sat on my lap she shrieked at the toys, the brightly coloured elephant with the crinkly ear, the rattle and the small books with chewed up edges. She wanted them all and she could have them all. Her tight black hair had been pulled rakishly into twisted braids, sticking from the top of her head like mini quills. Her large dark eyes surveyed my face, she was curious and took hold of my arm slapping the white contrasting skin against the brown of her own.
Oh my heart. She was strong and she was alert, but her breathe was catching in her throat. She squealed, pushed, pulled and crawled. We prepared the bottle of formula and she took it, kind of, maybe, perhaps not. I stroked her bumpy plaited head and tried not to imagine the absolute trauma, pain and cruelty inflicted on one so tiny. A part of me said you must take her, you must give her everything you have and so much more, but the other part recognised with respect everything Helen has done in order to save and protect her.
As I was leaving she asked me what name I thought the baby should have? I said she needed a beautiful name, a name that would tell people she was strong, a survivor, a woman to be loved and respected. So she asked me to think of one, a great honour which I feel is way beyond me, because I know that once you pull back the veil that separates you from the world that lies behind it you should not turn your back and walk away, even though we sometimes do. Instead today my heart made the decision for me when I reached that messy fork in the road.....
Baby with no name, I'm thinking.