Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tsepang

In our first month here, I wrote about our fool’s errand to Thaba-Tseka—the Thaba Tseka car had run out of gas and we had to make the 6-hour round-trip drive to deliver a container of petrol. A few weeks ago, we were sent on a similar mission. Lesotho, pre-industrial as it sometimes seems, necessitates trekking halfway across the country to deliver paperwork. So Reid and I set off on a Friday morning to bring Thabang, the outreach worker in Thaba Tseka, a spreadsheet. I joked to Reid that now, with my second trip to the Thaba Tseka district, I would have spent a total of 5 minutes there. Still, it was a nice day, and an excuse to leave the office. The police were conducting a case that required them to interview someone in Thaba Tseka, so we gave them a ride as well. People are cooperative like that here.

We drove the winding dirt roads out to St. Theresa clinic to meet Thabang. A group of women were waiting outside the clinic when we arrived, most holding babies or watching small children. I noticed one woman with a bundled child, her face smeared with the white zinc that the Basotho sometimes use to protect their skin from the sun. She must have walked a long way, I thought.

We handed the form to Thabang, and then decided that he would come with us to show the police the village where they needed to go. We were climbing back into the Land Cruiser when a woman, the one I had noticed, approached the car. She exchanged a few words with Thabang, and as she did the blanket slipped slightly from the bundle she was carrying. I froze, a cold feeling coming over me—the one that goes up and down your spine when a mundane situation suddenly becomes precarious and important. Thabang turned to us, “This m’e has been waiting for me, I need to go talk with her.” He jumped out of the car. I turned to Reid, “We need to go with them. That baby was not ok.” I had caught a glimpse of a wizened little face, eyes wide and cheeks taut—not the face of a baby at all.

We all trooped in to Thabang’s office, and the m’e unwrapped the bundle. We learned that his name was Tsepang. He was the most frightening thing I have ever seen. His eyes stayed wide open and observant as we gazed down at his skeletal body. I could not (still cannot) comprehend how a seven-month old child could survive such wasting. We didn’t bother taking off all his clothes in the cold room to weigh him. It was too apparent that this was an emergency situation. With all of his clothes, he was 6.4 lbs.

Tsepang on arrival at the TTL.

The m’e who brought Tsepang in was a neighbor—someone who had apparently taken pity on this desperate orphan, whose mother had died a month before and whose grandmother was gravely ill. Thabang told her that we would be taking the baby to TTL in Mokhotlong, and showed her a picture of our brochure—the one that has pictures of Palesa, the TTL poster-child who came in as a skeleton and left with the nickname “Tank.” The neighbor smiled, and handed over Tsepang with obvious relief.

I held Tsepang on the way back to Mokhotlong. The police with us were almost awed by his appearance. After a few miles one spoke up, in the first English he had uttered all day, “I have never seen a baby like that. I would not think that was possible.”

We had made up a bottle of formula at the clinic and I fed Tsepang as we drove. He ate well, thankfully. He had been sucking on his thumbs since we had seen him, sucking with desperation, and when we pulled them out of his mouth he would scream. The thumbs were pruned, like they had just come out of the bath, and the skin had peeled away so that they were nearly white. After his first feeding, his eyes closed and the thumbs finally slipped out of his mouth. I was grateful for his rest, but spent the rest of the drive in bursts of panic, placing my pinkie under his nose to make sure he was still breathing.

We emerged from the car back at TTL, and several outreach workers saw the baby. “Ache, Palesa,” they would say, comparing him with the baby everyone had previously thought of as the worst it could get. We heard this over and over, as the bo’m’e and staff discussed Tsepang in Sesotho—a mention of “Palesa.” I think in all of our minds we were reassuring ourselves that a child like this could survive. Palesa survived, and so could Tsepang. Living in Lesotho, you realize that things so often go the other way, and thus cling to examples of children surviving against the odds.

Thankfully, Tsepang is confirming our hopes. In his three weeks at TTL he has gained enough weight to be almost unrecognizable from the skeletal baby we first saw, and continues to eat well and show no other signs of ill-health. We are hoping that we can continue to update with good news of how this boy, fighter that he obviously is, progresses and grows.

After just two weeks at TTL, and with a pacifier in place of his thumbs.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Great! Success!

Dear Friends and Family –

Thank you so much for your generous response to the letter we sent in December. Your outpouring of support was truly overwhelming and the “challenge” we set forth was dwarfed by your response.

We are pleased to announce that as a group we raised over $22,000.00 for Touching Tiny Lives. You may recall that the original goal was to raise $10,000, so we more than doubled our goal!

Of course, this thank-you has been a few months in the making. Just like my parents who don’t take down their Christmas tree until May, we are just now sending this follow-up. But please understand: we had to hire a choreographer, find time for rehearsals, and coordinate a lot of schedules. It was quite a production.

As promised, however, Bridget and I have finally recorded a video to celebrate beating the goal, featuring both traditional Basotho dance moves and ululating, as well as a small snippet of the butt-dance. The dance was performed in a large ampitheatre (Nthabeleng’s living room) with a troupe of professional dancers (Nthabeleng’s family) See for yourself:

video

Once again, thank you all so much for your support and generosity. Please know that the money is being put to good use here at TTL.

Love,

Reid and Bridget

Credits:

Director – Nthabeleng Lephoto
Director of Choreography – Reid Rector

Lead Ululating – Bridget Rector
Rhythm Ululating – All
Miscellaneous Talking – Nthabeleng Lephoto

Director of Blanket Folding (Female) – Kokonyana Lephoto
Director of Blanket Folding (Male) – Motsoane Lephoto
Assistant Director of Head Scarves – Nthabeleng Lephoto

First Grip (Lighting) – Neo Lephoto
Second Grip (Lighting) – Tseli Lephoto
Catering Services – MPs Kitchen

Dancers, in order of appearance:
Reid Rector
Bridget Rector
Motsoane Lephoto
Neo Lephoto
Tsili Lephoto
Kokonyana Lephoto
Kefoue Sekhiba
Mothusi Sebehela
Kabelo Sebehela
Seitebatso Sebehela

Thursday, April 2, 2009

30 Babies

A baby named Tseriletso arrived at the safe-home today and it just happens that I am neck-deep in statistics working on a grant proposal. Because of this, I noticed that Tseriletso is the 30th child we have had in the safe-home during the six-months Bridget and I have been in Lesotho.

Looking back through the names I am hit with waves of nostalgia; intense happiness for some of the children, and deep sadness for others. The children that find their way to TTL are some of the most vulnerable children in a wholly vulnerable country, so their stories often follow dramatic arcs.

The names Thoriso and Retselisitsoe bring me back to when we first arrived. They are both back with their families now, and thriving in their homes. More than anything else, I miss them as playmates.

Lerato reminds me of our first months here as well, but his name also elicits a kernel of concern in my heart. Lerato continues to struggle despite returning to a doting mother, held hostage to the all-too-common combination of chronic malnutrition, TB, and HIV. He seems destined to struggle no matter how much help we give him and how much love we can shower on him.

Mokete and Relebohile occupy the largest portion of my memories. They both arrived in the first few weeks we were here and both left recently. We watched their journeys from start to finish: from death’s door to relative health. Thinking of them causes me to whelm up with pride for the work TTL is doing.



And then there are Thato and Reitumetse, who didn’t make it. It is hard to utter their names without rehashing their last days, second-guessing, and cursing.

30 kids and 30 unique stories, and now there is Tseriletso, whose story waits to be told.