In Response to Lexie’s Question

Lexie was the first person to ask a question and therefore I will answer it. Her question was: “What is your favorite memory?”. So, here we go.

It all started on an airplane.

In June I went on a missions trip to Burkina Faso, West Africa. You already know this, so there’s no need to explain the trip. However, I will tell one story of it.

We spent two days working at a ministry called Pan Bila. Pan Bila is a home for girls that are either pregnant or have young children that have nowhere to go. They’ve either gotten pregnant out of wedlock and so been disowned by their families or were released from prostitution. Either way, the girls are living on the the streets of Ougadougou (Burkina’s capitol) and the streets of Ougadougou are not a safe place for these girls late at night. Released from prostitution may seem like a good thing but this is not neccessarily the case. Some of the girls are sold into it by their families so that the rest of the family can eat so of course they won’t be welcomed back. Even if this wasn’t the case, the girls can rarely make it home (no street signs, maps, or telephones here) to the villages where they once lived. If somehow they did, they are pregnant and so unmarriageable. Their families will want nothing to do with them. That’s where ministries like Pan Bila come in.

Pan Bila takes in up to sixteen girls at a time and give them prenatal care if they have not yet given birth. When they go into labor they are taken to the hospital (an unimaginable luxury that they would have never been able to afford) and then return to Pan Bila with their new child. The children are cared for and the mothers have somewhere to live and work. Very rarely are these girls welcomed back into their communities, if they can be found at all, and so they are taught life skills. They learn how to read and write, do arithmetic that would be needed for business, and learn things like soap making and weaving. They learn how to crochet and cook, along with hygene and nutrition. Through all of this they spend time in nightly group Bible study and nearly all who leave the center (typically within six months to a year) have put their faith in Jesus Christ!

Anyhow, here’s my actual memory.

Shile we were at Pan Bila our task was to tear down a nursery. The intention was to build a new one so the mothers would have some where safe to leave their children while they did everything they have to do during the day. Learning to read and make soap while having an infant strapped to your back is quite distracting I’d assume! Being unused to the 118 degree heat (no, I’m not exaggerating) the “white people” had to take breaks every thirty minutes or so. It wasn’t an option because quite often you don’t realize you’re dehydrated until it gets dangerous. There was a covered area where the babies stayed and that’s where we’d take a break for ten or fifteen minutes at a time.

There was one little girl who kept watching me all morning and after lunch she wandered over and just looked up at me, staring with her big, beautiful brown eyes. Obviously she spoke no English and I very limited French, but I said Bonjour and knelt down in front of her. I put my arms out and she seemed very comfortable to be held. I picked her up and played with her for a few minutes then put her down, figuring she’d want to go back to her mom. On the contrary, however, she lifted her arms right back up. Of course, I picked her up again and knew instantly that I was doomed.

I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to do it, wasn’t going to fall in love with a baby in Burkina because I knew I’d have to leave him or her behind. When it happens, though, there isn’t much you can do to stop it. Like I said, it took about five minutes for me. This little girl wasn’t quite two years old at the time and her name is Alice. There’s an accent mark over the “A” but I don’t know how to put it there. Alice was so quite, so serious, and so unlike children her age I had met before. She wasn’t warry of strangers, that was obvious, and I wondered what it was. Nathanja, who helps run the center, enlightened me.

“In Burkina,” she said “Child mortality is one out of three. For every three children a woman gives birth to, one will die before the age of ten. That’s why families are so big here; people have eight or nine children because so few will reach adulthood. Because of the inevitable loss of a child, the mothers don’t become attached. If you watch, the mothers here will fill their child’s needs but no more. You won’t see them talking to their children unless they are scolding them, they won’t play with their children or cuddle them. They love their children, it’s impossible not to, but they don’t form a bond with them. That way, if the child dies, they will still be able to do what they have to”.

I realized why Alice looked so sad after that explanation- she had never been loved. At least not in the way we see it. I was determined to show her as much love as I could the next two days. Whenever I wasn’t working I was holding, playing with, and talking to Alice. I know she couldn’t udnerstand what I was saying, but I talked anyway. I’d bounce her on my lap, tickle her, spin her in circles, bring her high above my head and then turn her upside down. She loved it all and would shriek with laughter while we played. She’d come running up to me when I stopped working, arms raised, and watched me like a hawk when I wasn’t with her. I’d hug her and kiss the top of her head and by the end of the second day she was hugging and kissing me right back. The missionary that we were staying with, Pete, mentioned at one point while I was holding her that he hadn’t seen me that happy or with that bing a smile on my face since we got there. He was right, I couldn’t remember the last time I had been as happy as I was those two days.

At the end of the second day though, I had to say goodbye. As we were leaving Alice came running up to me with her arms high in the air and a smile on her face, just as she had so many times before. This time though, I didn’t pick her up. I bent over and ran a hand over her head and, barely being able to get the word out, said “no”. No is the same in French as in English, there’s just a different tone to it. So she knew this word. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, walk away from her, leave her there. I regret every single day that I gave up my last chance to hold her, hug her, give her a kiss, and whisper into her little ear that I love her and that God loves her too. I miss her constantly and will never forget her.

Okay, don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.

Not crying. So, in answer to Lexie’s question, my favorite memory really spans two days. It is filled with hugs and kisses, laughter and smiles. Alice’s fingers running through my curls and tugging at the hair that is so different from her own. Her being entranced by the medical bracelet (epilepsy) I wore and spinning the little charm with the information on it over and over. The weight of her in my arms and her even breaths when she fell asleep in my lap. It is the overwhelming joy that a little girl gave me for forty eight hours. It is the immense love I felt for her and that will never disappear. It was knowing that I made another person happy and showed her a love she’d never been given before. It is all of these things and so much more that I could never really explain. Alice took a piece of my heart that I will never get back but knowing that that piece is full of nothing but love, I am perfectly happy to give it away.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. pk
    Dec 16, 2014 @ 02:03:11

    What a beautiful blog about your “feelings.”

    Like

    Reply

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