On a walk through one of the encampments, I noticed a little boy … maybe four or five years old … huddled back behind a pile of clothes, blankets and miscellaneous jumbled pieces of lives. He was crying … not the noisy sobs usually emanating from a child of that age … but silent tears pouring from big, lost eyes. From the evidence on his cheeks, tears had evidently been a part of his day for a good while. I reached out to touch one of the people in my group and quietly pointed to the little one and promised to catch up with them later.
In that place, there is no way to know what a child has been through … there seem to be no limits to the atrocities even the youngest have survived. So I simply went and tentatively sat next to him … saying nothing. I quickly did a cursory visual check … no evident injuries aside from a few scratches … much too thin … alert, but not overly skittish, all things considered. After a few minutes, his curiosity about this strange woman sitting in the dirt by him began to win out over the tears … and I scooted closer and held out my arms. In a blink, he was on my lap … those beautiful eyes looking straight into mine … looking farther still, into my heart. He didn’t seem to notice … or care … that my knowledge of his language was greatly lacking … we managed to share our names … he told me he didn’t know how old he was … and that he didn’t know his mama or his papa … or when he had last eaten. And somewhere in that exchange, his tears came to a halt and mine began. At first, he touched my cheek and tried to wipe them away … and then … when he realized the job was too big for his tiny hand … he began to twist the tattered cloth he held in his hand. I suppose that, at one time, it was a blanket ... although no one would have recognized it as anything more than a scrap at this point. I was angry with myself for burdening this child with my tears … frustrated that he was being met with my weakness instead of my strength. And then he stopped the turning of the cloth and began to purposefully work at pulling away one of the straggling pieces … using his child’s strength to tear away the worn cloth. With concern and gentleness, he took my hand in his … pulled open my fingers and slipped the small bit of cloth into my palm. Solemnly he told me it would “fè li pi bon” … “make it better”. Then, with each of us holding a bit of his blanket … he snuggled into my arms and fell asleep. And there we sat until he woke and we went in search of a healthy meal for him.
Leaving that little boy behind to return to life here has left my heart in pieces … and that stained, tattered bit of fabric has become one of my dearest possessions.