Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Desperate Circles

There are some images from Ghana that will stick with me and haunt me forever, images of Gracie lying on the floor, crying because the malaria hurts so badly. Images of John, lying in the sun with flies all over his face and with feet and hands so swollen he couldn’t walk. Images of Kelvin and Ama Foli rocking themselves to sleep as a way to provide themselves comfort because they don’t get it from any other source. Images of Happy grunting to try to communicate her needs because she abandoned words a week after entering the orphanage, also images of Happy standing in her own waste, screaming maniacally when anyone came near to clean her up. I will forever be haunted by the “orphan stare” as we called it. They all employed the orphan stare, they would be normal, happy children one moment then the next moment they would stare and be unresponsive. It was as if they were stepping out of their childhood skin and stepping into a more mature, wiser skin which could see their own tragic past, and hopeless future. Another image I will never forget is my first experience with a young boy with whom I developed a very close relationship with. His name is Kwame.

7-14-08 Day 30
“Today, we arrived late to work, so all the kids had already gone to school and there was just Happy, Gracie, John, and Lydia left at the compound. There was also a new boy, Kwame his name is. I walked into the common room and saw this new boy I’ve never seen before with cuts on his face, and cracked and bleeding feet he was walking in a circle, impervious to all those around him. While he was turning his continuous circle he wailed the same Twi phrase. I did not understand exactly what he was saying, but I could tell he was desperate. My heart was wrenched. It was painfully clear that he was calling for someone who wasn’t there – someone who used to be there, but for some unknown reason has vacated his life. I don’t know what his back story is. I don’t know if he was found on the street, found by the police, given up by his mother, or given up by the hospital after his mother died. I’ll try to find out tomorrow. I want so much to scoop up this child, take him on the plane and give him a fighting chance in this ugly world.”

That day I couldn’t get the image of Kwame walking around in circles, desperate for that one thing that was most important to him, his mother. I later learned, from the aunties, that the phrase he was repeating over and over was a plea for his mother to come for him. Kwame had been at the orphanage a good week before he would even let me approach him. We started taking him with us in the mornings with the disabled kids. First, he would come with us as long as we didn’t touch or play with him, and then he let me hold him and play with him (but only me.) Soon, his actions became the same as those of the veteran orphans. Occasionally, though, he would break down and start to cry for no apparent reason. This is when I would pick him up, put him on my back like the Ghanaian women, walk around the cement soccer field, and go sit on the big water tank. I would hold him while he cried, humming some of my favorite songs until he cried himself to sleep. As he slept I would cry, although not always on the outside. I would cry for the injustice of his situation. I would cry for Kwame and his pain. I would cry for all the other orphans who had gone through this same process of grieving and forgetting. I would cry for my own mother who does not get the love and respect she so deeply desires and deserves from her own Kwame – me.
The other day my parents and I had it out. Our discussion wasn’t over my sexuality as it usually is, but the overall theme was that my mother was feeling disrespected, put upon, and ultimately unloved by me. I put up my usual wall, picked something to stare at and fixed my eyes on it while I listened to their argument. Finally it all became too much for my mom. She broke down and cried. I stormed off saying spiteful and mean-spirited words as I walked away. After a couple minutes in my room I decided to come back (something that is new for me.) I knew it was important for me not to leave the conversation as it was. I went back downstairs and listened some more. It became starkly apparent that my mother had it fixed in her head that I don’t care about her. Suddenly, the image of Kwame walking around in desperate circles popped into my head. I broke down and bawled. I don’t cry often, but when I do it’s not pretty. My shoulders shake, my face contorts, silent sobs come out of my chest and rattle my whole body, breathing consists of sharp intakes of breath from my snotty nose and restricted throat. All of this occurs until I put up that emotional wall. It’s as if I’m telling myself “Ok, that’s enough now. You’re done crying.” One time I went through this process with Bond, and he noticed that I was putting up that wall of emotional resistance. “Don’t put up that wall. Let it out. Let it out.” He told me. I found it so difficult to not cut myself off and cry for as long as I needed to. I simply could not do it. I tried, but I couldn’t.

That haunting image of the little boy walking around in circles, desperate for comfort, desperate for someone to please say “This isn’t real, this is all a dream. You’ll wake up tomorrow to your usual Bofrut and pure water, desperate for his mother, simply would not leave my head as I grieved over my jack ass behaviors towards my mom. My metaphorical Kwame was trekking that same depserate circle in my head - desperate for comfort, desperate to show that yes, I do love her, desperate to convey how much she truly means to me, desperate to make her understand that I care A LOT. I couldn’t tell her all of this that night. I put up that emotional wall, and along with stopping the crying, it stopped my ability to communicate. Maybe I’ll give her this post. I don’t know. Maybe I can show her how much she means to me through my actions. I don’t know.

A skiddish Kwame on the first day he let me hold him.


Pancakes said...

Bla. You made me cry.

I still want to go out and do what you did over the summer. I'm still super jealous that you got that experience. The scary thing is the only way I can afford it is if I do the Peace Corp. Two years is scary. I guess it'll be my "mission"

Looks like we have been having similar problems though. The mother not thinking she's good enough. I bought her a book, "Mom, because of you" and it goes through things that have happened because of her, ie. "because of you, I have a safe harbor" or "because of you, I know what love is" etc. She appreciated it and I just told her to look at it every time she doubts she's appreciated.

Mothers are tricky but I'm glad you were able to walk back from your room and mend things with her.

October Rising said...

i'm with pankcakes--i'm super jealous of your time in africa. sometimes i wish i would've done something service oriented as opposed to proselytizing for two years. oh well.

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