It is one of the weekday lunches that is part of the orphanage’s feeding program for the children of Kambi Teso. For many this is their only meal. Technically these are not orphans, but for most the family situation is strained at best and in some cases riddled with drug abuse and despair. I watched the kids fidget about as the leaders got their attention to perhaps sing a song or hear a story. Our presence was a cause for excitement and many looked at us with a child’s innocent curiosity.
Other questions came over me. How clean is this kid? He certainly has not bathed in who knows how long. I looked down on his earnest face, caked with dirt and snot running down his upper lip. The brief feeling of revulsion gave way to profound sorrow and it took a herculean effort to keep from losing whatever composure remained in me. I reached down and held his hand as I walked to another vantage point for more photographs.
The hand was not enough. He stepped in front of me, arms outstretched up to me…insisting…imploring. I threw my camera strap over my shoulder, bent down and picked him up. Something released in me as a huge lump rose in my throat and tears welled up in my eyes. I looked away so no one would see.
My reaction even surprised me, and finally a peace came over me as we walked closer to the crowd. It no longer mattered what filth or parasite was carried. I don’t think he even knew from where we came, or if he knew anything at all beyond the red hills surrounding the slums. What did matter…and still matters now as I write, is that a human connection was made. It doesn’t matter how long or how deep it was. What was important was that I did pick him up. It established him as another being, with value and presence in this, what we call the great cosmos.
I often wonder what became of him, or what life has in store for the thousands like him.
(If you want to see more photos and thoughts of my trip to Africa, here is the link to a separate blog: http://paulsafricamusings.blogspot.com/ )