Friday, December 31, 2010

My New Year's Resolution

Today is New Year's Eve, and so my time in Mokhotlong is winding down. I return home in just a month and a half -- a place that still seems distant, but a place I thought of today in terms of my future and my "resolution" for 2011.


This year has been so transformative for me, I at first questioned whether I could think of a resolution befitting that transformation, befitting how I want that transformation to affect my life moving forward.


For me, New Year's Eve always brings to mind fond memories of my maternal grandfather, who my siblings, cousins and I all called "Captain Joe."


He was an amazing man: a former captain of a nuclear submarine in the U.S. Navy who was raised by Irish immigrant parents and who raised nine kids of his own with my grandmother. All his Irish character made him the grandfather I remember -- forthright and proud and wonderfully communicative with his young, admiring grandchildren.


Each New Year's Eve, my siblings and I stayed with him and my grandmother. We picked a movie -- usually a grandiose film influenced by his suggestions, like King Kong -- and we each got to select a box of candy to celebrate with. We'd inevitably fall asleep before midnight, but come midnight, or just before, he would wake all of us up to go out into the front yard and bang on pots and pans -- neighbors be damned.


In years to come, New Year's Eve became something else -- a time when wild ideas about what the future would hold filled my imagination. I remember thinking about flying cars and transportation devices, often with the impression that such fantastic inventions had a real chance of being around, come some futuristic sounding year, like, say, 2011.


It's strange now to be with those memories here, where for many people, cars in general aren't even a reality they have access to, much less flying cars.


Back when I was a kid in the late 1980s and early 1990s, imagining fantastic things, what were young rural Basotho imagining? I wonder.


This year, in many ways, my thoughts of the future are less about what my own life will hold than about what Mokhotlong will be like then. Will things have drastically changed? What will TTL be like? Will our network of supporters still be strong?


Will there be a cure for HIV? And like cars today, if there is a cure, will the poorest of the poor have access to it?


I've decided that my New Year's resolution this year is to keep asking questions like that, to keep wondering what the future will hold, not just for myself, but for others -- and whether I can affect that future in a positive way.


Will I be able to improve my life this year? Well, it's already pretty good.


More important: Will I be able to improve someone else's life this year? And if so, how?


To that, another amazing man and my paternal grandfather, who I called Poppy, comes to mind. He used to say that a key strength in a person was the ability to be "unobtrusively aggressive," and I think that's just right.


Sometimes, banging on pots and pans is just the thing to do.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An X-ray Dustpan

Today, as I sat in the entrance to the Mokhotlong Government Hospital waiting to meet with the District Medical Officer about some TTL business, I watched as a cleaning woman swept the floor with two items: the common bundle of thatch people in Lesotho use for a broom, and a child's chest X-ray for a dustpan.


The X-ray sheet must have been discarded at some point, or left behind in a place that gave the woman the impression that it could be refitted as a cleaning tool. Still, I have experienced too many instances at the hospital of lost or misplaced X-rays delaying the treatment of a child for the sight to register anything in me but vexation.


Nthabiseng, for one, is back in the safe-home now after having spent a good amount of time in the hospital. When we first took her there two weeks ago for her trouble breathing, the doctor who saw her suggested the problem might be either TB or that she had swallowed a foreign object, and scheduled a chest X-ray for the following day.


But in all my follow ups, I was unable to determine just what the doctor had observed when looking at the X-ray, or even where the X-ray was. Was there TB? Was there a foreign object? Apparently there was neither, as we would have heard about it if there was. But there was no X-ray to be found, either.


From looking through her bukana, or health booklet, I learned Nthabiseng was diagnosed instead as having "AZT-induced PCP," or a form of pneumonia commonly found in malnourished children and people with weak immune systems, and which had been induced in Nthabiseng by her new regimen of antiretroviral HIV medication.


Today, back at TTL, she is still wheezing a bit, but seems better and will hopefully conquer her illness -- just as Retsepile seems to have conquered his.


Since having received the correct diagnosis of TB, and starting the proper medications for it, the tiny, emaciated little boy who not long ago was too weak to sit up, and who was so ill the doctor said he "probably won't make it," is now gaining weight rapidly and turning into the happy little boy he's always had the potential to be. It's been a heartwarming transformation to watch.


Nthabiseng and Retsepile are two of only five babies in the safe-home now, as the other, younger Nthabiseng -- who had been here since birth -- and rambunctious little Kokonyana both went home last week.


The other three remaining babies are: Khutliso, who is recovering well and is no longer vomiting his prescribed daily intake of plumpy nut; the younger Retsepile, now a chunky little girl; and Kabelo, whose arrival I recently wrote about.


We haven't lost any children for some time here, which means our low numbers in the safe-home are indicative only of a string of TTL successes -- a great reality to consider.


It's a reality, for one reason or another, that stands in contrast in my mind with the sight of an X-ray being used as a dustpan at the hospital. We are swimming upstream here, but we are winning.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mpho Goes Home

Today marked another departure from the safe-home. Mpho went home.

He first came here shortly after being born on June 6, weighing less than 4 pounds. He was born a twin, but his twin died. He's been here ever since, the bo'me caring for him through many stages of his development. From less than 4 pounds, he is now more than 13 pounds.

We've all grown fond of Mpho, who looks on everything with big, curious eyes and who, more recently, has been quick with a smile for you if you say his name or tickle him a bit.

He still has the chronic skin rash that has frustrated the bo'me and local doctors alike since his coming to TTL. But we are hoping it will clear up back home, with less soaps and less baths.

I'll miss Mpho, a friendly, familiar little face in the play room. I'll even miss his cry, which I had learned to distinguish from the other babies' cries and which he had a particular talent for making known throughout the safe-home.

But he is healthy, and strong, and is now going home stable after a harrowing birth and an uncertain beginning to life. And that's what it's all about.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"a headache for three days"

Another baby boy arrived at TTL yesterday, another child orphaned shortly after birth. Born on November 7, his mother died on December 8, likely from complications of HIV/AIDS.


Like many people in Mokhotlong, she died amidst a sad and troublesome dearth of information, after seeming healthy and then having "a headache for three days."


From a Western perspective, it seems ridiculous when death is explained away as the result of a sudden ailment as seemingly innocuous as a "headache," or "chest pain," but here it happens all the time.


In Mokhotlong, those reasons seem more common than anything else in explaining death. Among our clients who have lost one parent or both, undiagnosed ailments are at the top of the list of killers, while "cancer" and "heart attack" are almost unheard of.


Kabelo, the little boy now in TTL's care, was brought here by his maternal grandfather, an old man who is already taking care of two other children with the help of his sister. They are another example of the elderly taking care of the young, with the middle generation wiped out by AIDS.


While Kabelo's grandfather and great aunt seem to love him, they don't have the resources or energy to provide the constant care a newborn needs -- especially with two older children to look after.


Thankfully, Kabelo seems pretty healthy, and a temporary stint at the safe-home will serve him well as his grandfather figures out the best care situation for him. He's a cute little guy, born heavy for Basotho children at more than 7 pounds, and is eating well.


The only sad part about his health is that, in a way, it is yet another indication of how tragic his mother's death was, as it is proof that she was breastfeeding him just fine until the sudden onslaught of her "headache."


Her death adds Kabelo to the already staggeringly high number of orphans in Lesotho. TTL will do what it can to help, but we can't replace Kabelo's mother.


With death, it's always hard not to ask why. It's harder still when the only available answer is "a headache for three days."

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Holiday Message

Dear family and friends,

I am writing to you for a reason.

Of course, I wish you all Happy Holidays, a great 2011, warmth and joy and all the things that make the holidays in the U.S. so special. But really, that's not the reason I'm writing.

I'm writing because I know your hearts, because you're the people I count on, because I know you can help the community I have gotten to know this year. I am writing on behalf of children I've gotten close to, who don't have their own network of family and friends to rely on but who need support this holiday season more than anyone in the world.

I'll be spending this Christmas and New Year's in Mokhotlong, Lesotho, where I have been working since February with Touching Tiny Lives, a local charitable trust that provides life-saving support to children under five in this poor and HIV/AIDS-ravaged country in southern Africa.

What I have seen this past year has been both profoundly unnerving and profoundly uplifting -- horrible illness and unspeakable malnutrition, but also a locally-run organization that is making a difference, saving the lives of children, one child after another.

The story of one of those children, 16-month-old Ntseliseng, speaks to both the sadness and the hope. When she arrived at TTL in April, she was an orphan on the verge of death, fighting undiagnosed HIV and other illnesses, an infestation of scabies, and malnutrition so severe that her tongue barely fit in her sunken cheeks. Her stomach was distended from hunger and her legs were completely undeveloped.

Three months later, after 24-hour intensive care and nourishment at the TTL safe-home, Ntseliseng had transformed into a happy and healthy toddler, on a successful regimen of medication for HIV and taking her very first steps. She was soon reunited with a loving aunt who TTL helped find and who has stepped forward to be her full-time caregiver. She remains in good health, and her future now looks bright.

This year I've seen many children like Ntseliseng, and it's been difficult. Sometimes I curse the rotten luck these babies have received in life, born orphaned into pain and poverty. Sometimes I question why I am so lucky, with all my family and friends, with my health. Sometimes I feel unavoidably uneasy about the disparity. When I sat down to write this letter, I felt the same sense of awkwardness we all feel when we ask for things from others.

But I don't care about that. I want you to know that this isn't about me. It isn't really about you, either. It's about all of us realizing that $50 can literally save a child's life, or that $100 can give a child another chance, a chance he or she certainly deserves after getting such a raw deal at the start.

Touching Tiny Lives here in Mokhotlong receives a majority of its funding from the Touching Tiny Lives Foundation in the U.S., the organization that hired me to work here and an organization that survives on donations from individuals like yourselves.

With the funding from TTLF, the staff of TTL provides transportation for children to mountainous clinics and hospitals that are otherwise impossible to reach; delivers life-saving food packages to children in their rural villages; rehabilitates the most ill and malnourished babies in the TTL safe-home; and supports HIV-positive pregnant women and new mothers so they don't transmit the disease to their babies.

Even a small amount of U.S. money goes a long way here in Lesotho. Please help. I wouldn't ask if I didn't know how much your support matters. Donations referencing this letter or my name can be made at www.touchingtinylives.org.

All my love and thanks,

Kevin

Coughing in a Storm

This weekend passed by in what seemed to be one massive rain cloud, a cloud that would not pass through town itself, that lingered and dumped much-needed rain on Mokhotlong in torrential bursts and constant drizzles.


An ever-changing pattern of angry dark grays and wispy light grays clouded in around the mountain peaks, obscuring them from view and making the town itself seem like a giant ship cast out and isolated in a raging storm.


Here the rain is a joyful event, it means life, and the people in town seem to hole up away from the pervasive wetness not in dreary acceptance, but in appreciative retreat -- retreat from wetness and worry all at once.


Amidst the bubble of rain, though, even in TTL's warm and dry safe-home, Nthabiseng's slight cough and congestion progressed to the point where her breathing became worrisome -- where we thought she could soon stop breathing all together, and at any moment. We took her to the hospital on Saturday afternoon, and there she was looked over by the doctor and admitted in the children's ward. A chest X-ray was taken today, but no doctor has reviewed it yet.


So, while the sky has opened up at last and the sun has made its first appearance in days, we are still in the dark as to Nthabiseng's condition.


Here, what seems like a chest cold can just as easily be TB. It's a scary thing to wonder about the fate of a child who one day is giggling happily, and the next is laboring to breath, and whose antibiotic prescription doesn't seem to be working.


"Do you think it's TB?" you find yourself asking the doctor.


"Could be," he says.


"Ach," you say, and you look into the sky and the clouds billow greatly there, and you wonder about it all and the fate of one tiny child in such a big world.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mokhotlong Marathon!

TTL Fellow Eric finished the Mokhotlong High Altitude Marathon strong today, and when we got back to the safe-home, the bo'me gave him lots of cheers:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What a World AIDS Day

Yesterday I found myself taking styrofoam-encased lunches from the hands of a doctor and putting them into the hands of poor Basotho -- children and women and men -- one after another after another.


I was just one cog in an assembly line of food distribution. The pace was rapid, with wranglers urging the long line of children -- separate from the long line of adults -- to move quickly past me as I did my best to keep up. A lunch would come into my right hand, I'd pass it to my left hand, then pass it into the hands of the next child, even as my right hand was accepting the next lunch.


Yesterday was World AIDS Day, and the food distribution was part of a large-scale HIV-testing event planned and paid for by the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative, a close working partner of TTL's.


The event was supported by TTL and a host of other groups -- including Kick 4 Life, which uses the influence of sports to fight HIV, and the Ministry of Health. Counselors and nurses from the Mokhotlong Hospital and the St. Martin clinic were on hand, as were representatives from the World Food Programme, Peace Corps and a few other organizations.


Aside from lunch time, which saw all hands on deck helping with distribution, Team TTL -- Eric, Matello and I -- spent the day weighing and measuring all children under five, screening them for malnutrition.


About 200 people, many of them young students, were tested for HIV and given a free meal, and TTL screened about 20 children. A handful were underweight, and we are going to follow up with them as potential clients.


In the morning we set up tents around the local school, and various testing stations were established therein. TTL was stationed in a classroom with a dirt floor, a few posters of multiplication tables and fractions on the walls and a crumbling drywall ceiling that was falling to pieces beneath the corrugated metal roofing. With us were a few nurses from Mokhotlong Hospital who were giving immunizations to the same kids we were seeing.


Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, we weighed and measured kids as they cried for fear of the scale and the length board. I got peed on twice, which is par for the course.


At moments when the stream of babies slowed, I watched out the window as school children stood in single file lines, waiting for their turn to be tested. Many of them were completely without their caregivers, and I thought about how scary the process could potentially be.


Their status wasn't told to them right away after the test. Instead, different cards were handed out requesting them to return to the clinic with their caregivers at different times for the results. This made me feel a little better, but I felt bad for the kids nonetheless.


Still, their being tested is important, and events like this one make a real difference.


As the long day winded down, we again packed the vehicle with the tents and climbed inside. Two counselors from Mokhotlong Hospital had gotten a ride with us, and climbed in again for the bumpy two hour ride back to Mokhotlong.


On the ride back, I pictured again the smiling faces of the children as they rushed past me and I stuck a lunch into their waiting arms, saw again the little red ribbons pinned on their shirts that signified they'd been tested.


World AIDS Day 2010. What a day, I thought.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Paballo Goes Home

Paballo, a definite candidate for cutest little girl in the world, is going home.

Here she is the day of her arrival at the safe-home and the day before her departure.

This is what TTL does:





Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Poem

Thanksgiving 2010


This past year has been a bit unnerving. Here's to giving thanks, sincere and deserving:


Thanks for my family. Thanks for my friends. Thanks for stability and ends meeting ends.


Thanks for my health. Thanks for my mind. Thanks for second chances, time after time.


Thanks for my shelter. Thanks for my bed. Thanks for education, for becoming well-read.


Thanks for experiences. Thanks for adventure. Thanks for my freedom, away from brute censure.


Thanks for humanity. Thanks for community. Thanks for talent, skill and ability.


Thanks for the future. Thanks for hope. Thanks for the reasons we have not to mope.


Most of all, thanks for resilience and my feeling near it. Thanks for the steady, iron-willed human spirit.


Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

1 Through 9

Things have been so busy here that today, when I finally took a moment to do a headcount, and realized we currently have 9 babies in the safe-home, I was a bit surprised. I wondered if I could name them all.


Happily, I could, but it took a few minutes.


Here's an update:


1. Paballo (Girl - 18 months) -- She is adorable and sweet. She is also still a crier, but now it seems I comfort her. The other morning, after she had been crying for quite some time, 'Me Nthabeleng suddenly showed up in the fellows' office and handed her over to me. She immediately stopped crying and said, "Ntate," in her sweet little voice. I smiled and Nthabeleng laughed. Paballo goes home on Friday, where she won't be as coddled. Hopefully she will adapt quickly.


2. Retsepile (Boy - 20 months) -- After yet another sickness that had him losing weight, he finally seems to be back on track. The TB treatment seems to be working. He is finally gaining weight and sitting up, and appears to have a bit more energy. He smiles when I play with him, but he is still unable to move around and I think he gets envious of the other toddlers' fun. Hopefully he will be able to join them soon enough.


3. Retsepile (Girl - 3 months) -- She is still small, but is considerably larger than when she first arrived at TTL in September, shortly after her own birth and her mother's death. All her life has been at TTL. She'll likely remain here for a while longer, as she currently has no care-giver to take care of her while her father works. We're hoping to solve that problem.


4. Tseliso (Boy - 2 months) -- He arrived not long ago, too small and frail. He has wide, curious eyes and a shock of dark black hair. He's feeding well and hopefully will gain strength rapidly.


5. Khutliso (Boy - 16 months) -- He arrived last week with his grandmother, malnourished and lethargic. I helped complete the client intake form and then held and tried to comfort him while his grandmother packed her things and left. His eyes were so sad, I had to make a conscious effort to appear happy, hoping it might ease his fear. Now he smiles at me every time I go into the playroom, and I think the first-impression trick may have worked. I think we'll be good buddies soon, and with the help of plumpy nut, he will hopefully put on weight quickly.


6. Nthabiseng (Girl - 6 months) -- She has also been at TTL all her life. Her twin, Pulane, was here as well, but passed away. She's come so far, from the tiny premature infant she was when she first arrived to the chunky-cheeked baby she is today. She will likely go home next month, and I know the bo'me here, who have raised her, will miss her.


7. Nthabiseng (Girl - 28 months) -- She just arrived on Friday, malnourished but smiling. Her bukana tells the story of multiple counseling sessions for drug adherence, and multiple defaults. Taking medicine for HIV unsteadily, and missing doses, is very bad for you, which is worrisome in terms of her overall success on the regimen. Her mother is apparently gone, "disappeared" not long ago, and her father dropped her off in her village in Thaba Tseka before departing for Maseru himself. Hopefully, staying at TTL, Nthabiseng will get to a point where she is healthy and happy, on the right medications, and we can return her to her grandmother in Thaba Tseka. She is a very sweet little girl, and she seems to like me, giggling when I play with her. I acted goofy and made a fool of myself early on in our relationship, which always helps.


8. Kokonyana (Girl - 7 months) -- Severely underweight and on plumpy nut, she is a cute little girl who seems uneasy much of the time. I think she is still getting used to being fed. She wails every meal. Hopefully she will learn to like food soon, as she needs as much as she can get.


9. Mpho (Boy - 5 months) -- He has been at TTL for quite some time. His mother has been ill since his birth, during which his twin passed away. We are hoping his mother recovers. In the meantime, we have seen some improvement in his chronic skin rash and are hoping it will go away for good soon.


It is quite a sight to see the safe-home in action with so many clients currently residing here. Each of them has such an amazing story of survival. They are all fighters, tough before they should need to be.


It's also heartwarming to see their progress. Like TTL's motto says -- "One Child at a Time."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

10,000

Living and working at a safe-home for babies, it's easy to lose track of time except as it relates to the babies themselves.


On a day-to-day basis, the progression of time seems marked only by specific realities of the babies' lives, like how many days in a row one child's weight has increased, or the length of another child's hospital stay.


Overall, the moments that mark my mental calendar are special milestones in the babies' lives, like when a child walks unassisted for the first time, blurts out a first word, celebrates a birthday or goes home healthy. In a world where many children die before reaching these early milestones, the significance of TTL's vulnerable clients reaching them is accentuated. Witnessing these moments is a miraculous way to mark the passage of time.


I first thought of the special nature of milestones here recently, when an entirely different sort of milestone was reached on this blog: 10,000 visitor hits.


While not as emotionally compelling as a child's first steps, the number is important in its own right as an indication of the large and growing network of individuals who care about TTL and what is going on here.


Living in Mokhotlong, seeing what TTL is doing on behalf of children on a daily basis, I gain strength from my sense of that network. Writing this blog has become cathartic for me, partly because I see it as a direct line to all sorts of people who I know can and will help TTL in times of need.


We want to keep giving babies renewed chances at health and happiness. We want to make sure they reach the milestones of young life that shouldn't be denied anyone. As TTL continues to seek new and better ways to serve children in the remote reaches of Lesotho, our network of family and friends continues to gain importance in that fight. The more people who care, the better prepared TTL will be to face the future.


Reaching 10,000 hits on this blog is a milestone I'm genuinely happy to have reached, and I thank all of you for caring and taking the time to check in on us here at TTL. There is no doubt we need you.


Last I heard, out of a national population of about 1.9 million in Lesotho, there are an estimated 270,000 orphans. That's about 14 percent of the population, a staggering statistic that highlights just how many children in this country are in need of critical, life-saving support.


To continue providing that support, to continue giving little babies the chance to walk for the first time or to speak a first word, we're going to need all the help we can get -- and you all checking in on how we are doing, 10,000 times over, makes me confident that we will indeed get it.


So, thanks!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Holding Down

Frustration and anger came yesterday in throbbing, repetitive doses as I held down a little boy's arms so a nurse could give him two shots in the thighs. He wailed on the hospital bed. I furrowed my brow and tried to concentrate. I tried to understand but couldn't, didn't want to.


It was neglect for the sake of neglect, utter disregard for a child, and I was angry. I still am. I feel powerless. I'm shaken.


Rethabile is a double orphan and a former client of TTL who spent six months in the safe-home last year. He went home happy and healthy, to a family that includes his grandmother and his aunt. The TTL staff had high hopes.


It wasn't long before our outreach team realized the family was neglecting Rethabile, giving the food provisions to other children, leaving Rethabile filthy, untouched, unloved, unfed, unwanted.


There was much back and forth before Rethabile was graduated from the TTL program.


Fast-forward to last week, when Rethabile's aunt brought him to TTL once more. Now a severely malnourished boy of 28 months, he had a severe rash that was causing welting all over his body and head. He had severe edema -- excess watery fluid collecting in the cavities or tissues of the body -- in his arms, hands, legs and feet. His feet were so swollen they looked like balloons that would pop with a needle prick.


His aunt had skipped the hospital because she didn't want to stay there with her nephew, even though that was clearly where he needed to be. She just wanted to dump him at TTL.


We escorted her to the hospital, where we told her we would pay for the bills and check in on her again the next day. The next day, we found she had left after talking to some nurses, who told her to see the doctor. Not wanting to stay at the hospital, she had taken Rethabile back to his village -- and in such horrible condition.


I was confused by the situation. I knew the aunt and grandmother were caring for other kids as well, and that the food situation in the home was unstable. I know of the difficulty of hygiene in a packed rondaval, and sympathized.


Still, knowing Rethabile was suffering, TTL had to do something.


Yesterday, Matello, our outreach coordinator, managed to get the police to go with her to Rethabile's home to talk to the family. Once there, they were appalled.


I had just returned from Maseru when Matello arrived at TTL with Rethabile and his grandmother, who had agreed to accompany her grandson to the hospital at the insistence of the police.


I drove the group to the children's ward, and Matello and I spoke about the situation.


Rethabile looked even worse than before -- no surprise. He was filthy. Matello pointed out his long fingernails caked in dirt and stuffed with dried papa. He had a constant cough. His feet were still swollen, and were ice cold to the touch.


All the other children in his family had appeared well. Weren't sick. Weren't malnourished. Why him?


After the doctor admitted him, I helped the nurse hold him down as he received the first of many shots. I was also holding down the anger. I felt it rising and cleared my throat.


The thoughts ran quick: Who in their right mind…? Why…? Didn't they realize…?


Then: Was it their fault? Was the poverty to blame? Were there alternatives? Were they as devastated by this as we are? Was this neglect or lack of resources?


Then I thought of the other healthy kids, and the uncut fingernails, and the refusal to go to the hospital until the police came, and the filthy clothes...


The anger boiled up again, and again I suppressed it, consciously making sure that it wasn't escaping through my hands as I held poor Rethabile to the bed.


"It's OK," I cooed gently. But I wonder if that's true.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Muddy Birthday Story

Today I turned 25. It was definitely a memorable birthday.


Namely, I spent a few hours this morning trudging through deep mud and heavy rain in an extremely remote village, anxiously asking various herd boys if I could borrow their cows to help pull my truck off the muddy mountain slope where it was stuck.


It all started this morning, when Matello, our outreach coordinator, and I set off to a village in the Mateanong region of Mokhotlong to drop a special TTL client back at home.


Retselisitsoe has a cleft palate, and TTL has remained in touch with her over the years -- even though she doesn't need our normal means of support anymore --while trying to figure out a way to help her receive surgery. We recently began working more closely with Operation Smile and the Smile Foundation, and they helped facilitate a meeting with a doctor in Maseru on Monday for Retselisitsoe and another TTL client with a cleft lip.


Retselisitsoe had a few rotten teeth pulled, will heal for a month, and then will go back to Maseru to have her surgery, while TTL's other client will likely go to South Africa for her procedure in coming months.


The ride to Retselisitsoe's home, amidst the lasting rain clouds that had first arrived over Mokhotlong the night before, was gorgeous -- but treacherous. Mountainside villages poked out of the heavy, low-lying clouds we drove through, the yellow thatched roofing of the rondavals accenting the lime-green, grassy newness of Spring. The road, cut deeply with crisscrossing rivulets and larger streams as well, was bumpy.


I approached particularly muddy patches like a shortstop sliding into home, gaining a bit of speed before leaning back to cruise through.


Just after turning off the main dirt road onto a smaller path leading up the mountain to Retselisitsoe's village, the truck literally began sinking into the ground -- the same ground that two days prior had been flat and dry. Despite the four-wheel drive, I couldn't back up. I inched forward by maneuvering the wheel left and right and tapping the gas, then turned slowly off the side of the road onto a large patch of grass that I thought would allow me to turn around. The truck sunk deeper. It was all mud. We were stuck.


I looked at Matello, she looked back, and I said, "I don't know what to do."


The words sounded silly in my head, and I forced myself to take a deep breath, gather myself and think.


"Let's take Retselisitsoe home," I said. "Then we can try to borrow some cows to get us out."


We hiked the rest of the way, about 20 minutes, to her rondaval, where her grandmother met us with thanks. The going was muddy and wet, and we all kept sliding a few inches on the soles of our feet with each new step. I took off my baseball cap and put it on Retselisitsoe's bare head, and she looked up at me from under the brim.


Her getting surgery is worth all of this, I thought. One thing at a time.


While her grandmother went to talk to the village chief about helping us get our truck out of the mud, Matello and I sat in the rondaval quietly. I looked over at her, and pulled my chin out of my palms long enough to say, "It's my birthday."


Matello looked surprised, and then we both laughed at the humor involved.


Retselisitsoe's grandmother returned, and said the chief was sending some men to help. I didn't think manpower was going to work. I thought cows were definitely our only option.


Along the hike back to the car, we kept asking people about cows, with no luck. Just up the hill from the truck, Matello yelled to some herd boys. They pointed to where the cows large enough to pull a truck were, and I spotted them -- like ants on a distant mountain slope.


Still, the boys came to help themselves, joining us and the men the chief had sent. Eventually, there were a total of four men and four boys at the truck with us.


They pushed as I tapped and played with the gas pedal. They maneuvered rocks under the wheels, in different positions as the truck spun around. Finally it was back on the road.


We made it back to TTL about an hour and a half later. I was muddy and thankful to be home.


What a birthday, I thought. And worth every muddy step.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Snowballing updates

The past few weeks have been busy ones, and but for our Internet connection being out, I would have written sooner.

Much has changed here at the safe-home.

Clever little Boraki has gone home, drastically more healthy than when he first arrived.

The elder Retsepile is now sitting up often and smiling all day long. He smiles wide and waves to me each time I enter the playroom. The TB treatment seems to be working, he is no longer vomiting and has no diarrhea. He is gaining weight finally. Seeing him is amazing. He is such a far cry from the boy whose life the doctor gave up on just a few weeks ago. I am so happy we have finally found the right course of treatment.

Recoveries here at the safe-home seem to work in snowballing fashion, with a slow progression of improvements suddenly gaining momentum until the child is improving by leaps and bounds. I hope Retsepile hits this stride soon.

We have two new clients in the safe-home: Tseliso, a tiny boy who was born at the end of September and whose mother passed away; and Kokonyana, a 7-month-old girl who is lively but underweight.

Kokonyana isn't scared of anyone, and immediately began playing with me the first time she saw me. She's got an adorable little face.

Still, chubby-cheeked Paballo remains the sole toddler at TTL who is able to move around the play room on her own, which she does occasionally in a funny sort of all-fours walk.

In past situations like this, with former groups of babies, the toddler in Paballo's position has become a bit of a playroom diva, confidently wandering around with an air of entitlement to any toy or book she wants. But not so with Paballo.

Her new position seems to have given her a sense of vulnerability rather than power, and the result is that she tries to cling to 'Me Mamosa, who she adores, all day long.

I have, however, managed to infiltrate this little plot to monopolize all of Mamosa's time, and have successfully become accepted by Paballo as one more person who she'll let hold her -- usually, and with conditions.

Namely, those conditions are that I carefully orchestrate a string of diversions that will distract Paballo from her otherwise favorite activity of obsessing over where Mamosa is.

I walk her around the office and point at birds and horses out the windows. I lead her around the playroom, pointing at and picking up various stuffed animals, acting as if each one is a newfound treasure. I hold her favorite, noise-making toy in front of us and start pulling its levers with as much enthusiasm as possible.

While it's working, Paballo is all smiles and giggles.

When it fails, she suddenly starts crying loudly, as if she's just realized I am an impostor. This most recently occurred during lunch time, when I failed to keep her engaged during the 20 second interval between her lunch and her after-lunch bottle.

Her face goes from a broad smile to a look of victimized accusation -- "How did you lure me into this trap?"

I can't help but laugh. Just as soon as the bottle has once again gotten her attention, she is laughing too.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Double Jeopardy

Talk about double jeopardy.


Sadly, in this country, the rates of HIV and TB co-infection are among the highest in the world.


The vivid reality of that fact was recently brought home for us here at TTL, as we finally determined what has been plaguing Retsepile and hindering his health and recovery.


After being hooked up to life-saving fluids just two weeks ago, he had returned looking a bit better and we had begun feeding him plumpy nut, mixed with porridge to make it easier for him to digest, to continue to improve his weight and health. But like clockwork, he began vomiting and having diarrhea yet again, and his strength rapidly deteriorated once more.


Though we had started him on ARVs for his HIV and were working as diligently as we could to ensure his food intake was on target, there seemed to be an underlying problem that was preventing him from improving.


Under the suggestion of Dr. Chris from Baylor, we took Retsepile back to the hospital, where a chest X-ray finally read correctly showed signs of underlying TB.


Retsepile's ARVs were stopped, as they weren't doing him any good -- and were in fact weakening him -- with the underlying issue unaddressed, and we started him on the first phase of TB treatment.


After spending the required amount of time in the hospital letting the medicines take hold, Retsepile is now back at the safe-home.


He is emaciated. His limbs look like nothing more than twigs with skin draped over them. His face is gaunt. Still he smiles. Still he fights all that is against him. Still he pushes on.


He is now eating well and his vomiting and diarrhea have stopped.


I am crossing my fingers that we have finally nailed the problem on the head, and that Retsepile will at last begin to recover.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Visions

In the doorway of a rondaval in a remote village, I notice a knife blade with no handle that has been forgotten on the floor, left behind for the barefoot children of the house to hop over while coming and going.


I raise an eyebrow at what is meant to be the "road" to our next destination, then engage the 4-wheel-drive and proceed over boulders, across a stream and up slopes I fear might overturn the car, but that I know will get us to our next client.


In the next rondaval, I watch as our infant client crawls over her mother's chest, as the mother lays on an old mattress, bedridden with TB. I worry about the child's exposure, but nobody in the family seems concerned. A young chicken clucks around the room before dropping feces casually on the ground, near the blackened bucket the family uses for cooking.


I find myself haggling with a middle-aged Chinese shop owner, in a mix of English and Sesotho, over the return of money paid for baby formula that was never delivered. She eventually consents to my logic and forks over the cash. I consider this a lesson in business negotiation, and feel a sense of accomplishment.


I consider going to the bathroom in the TTL outhouse, even though the fierce seasonal wind has ripped the door off and shattered it into a half-dozen pieces, leaving the inside of the outhouse viewable from the street. I consider this because, just as the door was torn off, the town's water was shut off, making our toilet unusable. I think about all the other outhouses I've seen around town with no doors. I bide my time, mulling over the prospect. When the electricity shuts off, but the water comes back on, I consider it a fortuitous trade off.


I watch women on the side of the road meticulously butcher the carcass of a donkey -- for later consumption without regard to whatever it was that killed the donkey -- as toddlers sit nearby, amidst the foul stench, watching the whole, bloody ordeal.


I watch a man ride a horse across a dirt field in front of me, a small, baby-sized coffin on his lap.


I see a town so dry and windy that an everyday, panoramic, 360-degree horizon of mountain peaks becomes nothing but a wall of brown dust, blown as high as the clouds and making sky and earth indistinguishable from one another. In the dust cloud, nothing is clear but my immediate surroundings. I see rain finally come and people clap and sigh with relief.


My boss is away and I find the task falls on me to turn down two job applicants who I know are desperate for work. I try to do this with as much compassion as possible. I know we can't hire everyone, but I still feel mean. I also feel more like an adult than I ever have before, for reasons I don't fully comprehend.


Sitting in the playroom, I laugh when one of the bo'me comes in with a food tray, and the two toddlers in the room old enough to react start giggling, clapping and squealing with delight at the prospect of lunch time, patting their still-distended bellies with their tiny hands.


I go to the shop that supplies the town's weekly delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables, and dig through too-green and too-rotten bananas until I find a dozen that seem to meet my standards. I think back to the grocery store near my home in the U.S., and the towers of perfect, huge, bright-yellow bananas. Somehow, the dozen I find here seem superior.


I fly through two books in one weekend, enjoy them both, and wonder when the last time that happened was.


I climb a ladder to change an outdoor lightbulb. The task is simple, uncomplicated by human fragility, ego, sadness. It's easy. It's relaxing.


I repeatedly go over medical instructions for the hospitalization of one of the safe-home babies with a visiting doctor, asking him questions about signs of extra-pulmonary TB, chest X-rays, ARV regimens, anemia, mixing plumpy nut with porridge, antibiotic dosing and nasogastric tubes. Then I wonder if I will have to finagle a bed for the client at the hospital, or if one will be available.


I read about philanthropic decisions made for reasons like "cost-per-beneficiary," and scowl.


I finally win over a baby after a few weeks of effort, and she finally trusts me, even in the morning when she's cranky, and when I first realize it I get excited. Then, when I realize my excitement, I blush a bit.


I realize I'm doing and feeling and seeing lots of things, but still what I care about most is the approval of a two year old.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Little Ones Back Home

Two months ago, on Aug. 11, one-day-old Nkamoheleng arrived in TTL's care.


Her 18-year-old mother had died during delivery in the family's remote rondaval. Nkamoheleng had consumed nothing but small amounts of water since her birth. She was 2.4 kg, or just about 5.3 pounds.


Today, Nkamoheleng went home to live with her grandmother. She looks healthy and coos gently. Her pretty round face glows. She is now 5.1 kg, or more than 11 pounds. She is a wonderful example of TTL's strength in care -- even for babies so very young.


When I first wrote about Nkamoheleng coming to TTL, I wrote that, "In so many ways, the immensity of need here in Mokhotlong is wrapped up in Nkamoheleng's story," and hoped that "the rhythm of TTL success will soon resound there as well."


Now, two months later, it resounds quite loudly.


In addition to Nkamoheleng, little Refiloe went home today as well.


Refiloe arrived here one month ago, on Sept. 10, after her mother sadly died in delivery as well -- a too common occurrence in this country.


Refiloe will go to her maternal grandmother, still small at 2.65 kg, or about 5.9 pounds, but healthy enough to live with her family with the support of TTL outreach.


The departure of the two young girls leaves us with six babies in the safe-home.


Paballo and Boraki are starting to move around independently more and more, which is fun to watch.


Retsepile, after being so ill in the hospital so recently, is doing better but is still not out of the woods. His condition is so severe that he won't be for a while.


Still, he is smiling often and is much more engaged in general.


Dr. Chris, of the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative, came by today and saw Retsepile, as well as Nthabiseng, who has a cough, and Mpho, who still has skin problems. He tweaked all of their treatments and care plans, which I'm confident will help.


As for Nkamoheleng and Refiloe, now that TTL has helped them through the tragic start to their young lives, I hope they will thrive.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Visiting Old Friends

Today was a long day of driving far out into the rural Mokhotlong mountains, hours away from TTL, to visit with some old friends.

Namely, Seithati, Ntseliseng and Karabo -- three former residents of the TTL safe-home and three of the babies who I have become closest with in my time here.

When we got to the Linakaneng Clinic, Matello, our outreach coordinator, and I headed inside.

The first face I saw was Karabo's, who just left TTL about a week ago.

She recognized me at once and smiled big, sticking her arms out. I said hello to her mother, who I know well, and picked Karabo up. She laughed and gave me a "high five." The other women in the clinic laughed themselves and talked quickly to each other in amused tones, and I could tell they were amazed by the clear relationship between Karabo and me. I just smiled, and handed Karabo back to her mother as Matello and I began talking with the clinic nurses about a variety of issues -- among them a shortage of Kaletra, an ARV medication for HIV that one of our clients at the clinic is on and needs more of soon.

After a few minutes I walked outside, and standing there by the door was Seithati -- my all-time favorite TTL baby. I'd been there when we'd found her almost 8 months ago, and had seen her go from a shy malnourished child to an out-going, brilliant, healthy, rambunctious toddler at TTL.

Now, I recognized her at once, said her full name out loud in surprise and laughed, and she smiled up at me sheepishly.

"Ay, Ntate," she said.

I could tell she recognized me, but she was back to her old shy self, despite still looking relatively healthy.

"Come here," I said in Sesotho after kneeling down, and she walked over to me. I picked her up, and she wrapped her small fingers around one of my own, just as she always used to do. It sounds sappy, but my heart melted.

"Ho jwang?" I asked her. "How is it?"

"Ho sharp," she said. "It's good."

I laughed and put her down. She looked up at me with curious eyes.

She continued to take everything in as Matello and I weighed and measured all of our baby clients, some of whom I didn't know, and gave out some food provisions.

Seeing Seithati again was a great experience, despite our finding out that she has a cough that has been lingering for a while. I hope as the weather continues to improve, she'll get over it.

After the clinic, Matello and I headed off again, further out along the ever-deteriorating road, until we reached a designated meeting spot with another client.

There was Ntseliseng, being carried up the hill by her aunt, who had claimed Ntseliseng at TTL while I was in the U.S. at the beginning of September.

I jumped out of the car and said, "Hey uena, Ntseliseng!" -- "Hey you, Ntseliseng!"

Always the expressive one, though she still doesn't talk, Ntseliseng raised her eyebrows and smiled wide, showing her surprise at seeing me. Her face was as animated and telling as an adult's, and it got a big laugh out of me. She laughed too.

I was happy she remembered me, and went over to her. Her aunt untied the blanket that was holding Ntseliseng on her back, and I scooped my old buddy into my arms. She smiled.

We went into a nearby home -- the owner of which had pleasant experiences with TTL in the past -- and weighed and measured Ntseliseng. She was so scared of the process she peed on the scale, which I ignored as I scooped her back up before taking the scale outside to dry off. She had the signs of a rash -- which thankfully had already started clearing up -- but overall she looked good.

After saying our goodbyes, Matello and I took the long road home.

As I drove, I marveled at the strength of my feelings for the three little girls. They may soon forget me, I know, but I won't forget them.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Painted Black & White

I tapped the brakes quickly and slowed the truck as it curved along the black line of pavement, snaking through the mountainside villages and overlooking the lowlands below.


A group of five adolescent boys crossed the roadway a few dozen yards ahead, almost in slow motion, their stark white eyes staring back at me from their painted faces -- a charcoal, midnight black, covering their arms and chests as well. They wore some sort of brown animal hide or dirty sheepskin skirts, and each carried over one shoulder an enormous, charred-black log.


"What was that?" I asked Nthabeleng as we zoomed past on our way to Maseru, and they appeared smaller and smaller in my rearview mirror.


"They are going for circumcision," she said.


"Whoah," I said.


I'd heard about the "initiation schools" that young teenage boys go through here, where they are taken to the middle of nowhere, circumcised and "turned into men." But seeing the ritualized preparations of the process, the boys in what seemed a trance-like state, was another thing entirely.


"Why are they painted black?" I asked.


"I don't know," Nthabeleng said.


A few hours later, we sat in the new mall that was built in Maseru at the end of last year. There are escalators and shining storefronts and nice bathrooms and even a movie theater. It's like nothing else in the entire country.


In other words, I was drinking a cappuccino.


I thought about the vast difference between this world and the world of the initiation schools.


Then, up the escalator in front of us, came a handful of students in uniforms. Then another handful. Then a whole chattering school of them, wide-eyed and nervous.


"Are they on a field trip here?" I asked.


"Yeah," Nthabeleng said. "They want to teach them, "What is a mall?," "What is a lift?"


In all, we saw about half-a-dozen school groups at the mall. I thought of young American kids barking at their mothers for Cinnabunns and ridiculously priced clothing at malls in the U.S., and smiled at the eager excitement of these Basotho kids -- buying nothing, but enjoying it nonetheless.


The next day, Nthabeleng and I were again driving through the countryside, this time on our way back to Mokhotlong, when I noticed a gathering of people in a field to the side of the road. At the center of the gathering were a handful of young teenage girls -- dressed only in grass skirts, painted white from the waist up, and dancing.


"What was that?" I asked Nthabeleng again.


"Female circumcision," she said.


"They do that here?" I said, surprised.


"Yes," she said.


I sat with a far more intense feeling of pity for the girls than I'd had for the boys, thinking back to the mall and wondering what sort of connection my mind was trying to make between the two rituals and the new mall.


Then it came to me, painted black and white.


Nowhere else have I seen such stark examples of modernity and ritual, in such close proximity.


They were each, unto themselves, indicators of the upheaval I see occurring in Lesotho.


Many people in this country still live like they did thousands of years ago. Others live entirely modern lives. And in the transition of the population from the former to the latter, there is generational chaos.


Quite often since I've been here, TTL outreach has found a baby in terrible condition, cared for by a grandmother without the means or knowledge to provide proper nutrition, and left behind by a mother who "disappeared" one day in search of a better life in Maseru.


I wonder how long the people here will continue living in remote villages, or even in towns like Mokhotlong, before the desire to meet the modern world overpowers their devotion to family, to history, to the past. I wonder if they would be better off if they abandoned their simple lives in the mountains. I wonder how much of their suffering is directly linked to HIV, and if they would be otherwise content to live another thousand years in the mountains, if only they had their health.


I can't quite grasp the complexity of this moment-in-time for Lesotho. All I know is that babies are getting caught in the crossfire, and too many middle-aged people are dead from AIDS to stem the tide of consequences.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Struggle and a Departure

He waved.

I waved back, felt a shot of emotion and tried to smother the grimace I felt rising to the surface of my face.

Retsepile lay in the hospital bed with a nasogastric tube going through his nose into his stomach, his hands wrapped up completely in bandages and tape to prevent him from pulling the tube out. His face looked gaunt, so much so that he resembled a skeleton more than a little boy of 18 months. His body, under his clothing, appeared almost as nothing, a long, thin stretch of bones and skin.

The small wave of his bandaged, club-like arm was the most movement I'd ever seen from him. During the preceding days in the safe-home, he lay motionless and silent -- staring back at me wide-eyed, but showing no specific acknowledgement. Until the wave, I'd been unsure of how much he was taking in.

Now, in another environment, surrounded by other women and children and hospital staff, he had recognized me, and used the little strength he had to show it by waving.

Utterly emaciated. Shockingly alive in a way I would have thought impossible, even in a world of impossibilities. Retsepile began having serious diarrhea that very morning. Already in horrible condition, 'Me Mamosa took him to the hospital at the first sign of further deterioration. After placing the nasogastric tube through his nose, the doctor at the hospital said Retsepile "probably won't make it," a phrase that made Nthabeleng angry and saddened me.

That was Friday. On Saturday morning, one of our outreach workers and I drove the two-and-a-half hours to Retsepile's remote village in the St. Martin area of Mokhotlong district, to find Retsepile's mother and bring her back to the hospital to be with her son. In the rolling hills of the village, windswept and with a beauty unmatched in many parts of the district, we parked near the St. Martin clinic, where dozens and dozens of villagers had gathered for a game of net ball -- which is basically basketball with no dribbling, played on a stretch of dirt and with a hoop that had no backboard. After absorbing the stares of the crowd, who all must have wondered what I was doing there, I set off with Nthabeleng, our outreach worker. We hiked uphill for about 10 minutes -- the sun and the wind and the willows and the narrow dirt paths up the steep slopes making everything seem dreamlike -- into Retsepile's village, where we found his mother at home in her rondaval.

Today, Monday, she is at the hospital with Retsepile, who is still fighting against the predictions of the doctor. His diarrhea has slowed, and I'm starting to gain hope again for him. He is a fighter, and if he continues on it will be an amazing victory of will.

Aside from Retsepile heading to the hospital, here at the safe-home, our group continues to change.

As I mentioned before, Ntseliseng left while I was away. She and I had gotten close. The fact that she walked out of the safe-home on her own is absolutely remarkable. A young aunt came forward to be her care-giver -- a wonderful thing after Ntseliseng's mother died so tragically just before she came to us.

Today, Karabo went home.

Karabo came here not for her own illness but because of the illness of her mother. Still, she has grown and thrived here at TTL, and looks fatter still than when I left the country at the beginning of the month.

She is happy, smiles and knows me well, laughing and playing with me even while the other babies here, all of whom are still getting used to me, look on warily. I will miss Karabo's chuckle. I will miss having a play buddy in the safe-home, although I am confident that I will win the others over soon. Boraki is starting to smile at me more, though he is still nervous.

It is a happy thing that Karabo is going home. All throughout her stay here, her mother has come to visit routinely. Watching her interact with Karabo, I know she is a caring woman with a gentle touch, a warm smile and a genuine love for her daughter. Now that she is healthy again, Karabo will be in good hands.

In anticipation of her departure, I spent the morning playing with Karabo, her sweet giggles vibrating against my chest as she dug her forehead into my neck. I threw her in the air and she squealed. I helped her pick the toy she would take along with her. When the time came, I carried her out and put her in the car seat, talking to her in happy tones to make the moment less scary.

She laughed with me until it was time for the car to leave. Then she looked nervous as I kissed her cheek, said good-bye and closed the door.

Another tough good-bye, but another victory for TTL.

Let's hope Retsepile will pull through, and be one of those victories as well.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hitting Home

What a whirlwind trip and a strange set of experiences.

After seven months in Mokhotlong, I returned to the United States for a two week vacation at the beginning of this month. I am now back in Mokhotlong for another five months.

The quick back-and-forth provided a heavy dose of perspective.

Of course, I grew up, and have lived most of my life, in the world I returned to. But somehow it all seemed different.

Traveling from Mokhotlong to my parents' home in Maryland consisted of a 4-hour drive from Mokhotlong to Maseru, a 1-hour flight from Maseru to Johannesburg, an 18-hour flight from Johannesburg to Washington, and a 1-hour drive from Washington to Maryland.

Despite the many legs and the many miles, it seemed like a shockingly quick transition. It was startling to find myself in such affluence in the United States, just a few days after being in the extreme poverty of Mokhotlong. I had the strange sense that a long sea voyage across the Atlantic would have somehow been more appropriate, would have at least given me time to digest things mentally.

Culture shock is an overused phrase, but I had it -- in the reverse. I felt overwhelmed and caught off guard by familiar things, was surprised that old things felt new, that the dull realities of my former life seemed sharp, that I'd taken so many things for granted before.

After the relative isolation of Mokhotlong, I was surrounded by family and friends. There was a ton of food. Everything -- from the lawns to the roads to the neatly lined fences -- looked too perfect and beautiful at the same time. Showering barefoot felt weird. Dollar bills looked too long and skinny. The ease of communication and the efficiency of services jumped out at me. My four-month-old nephew, who I met for the first time, seemed huge compared to the babies in Mokhotlong, and he is.

People asked me about my experiences at TTL again and again, and I couldn't find the right words. None seemed sufficient. I offered all I could, but felt I was conveying a glossy, wrapped-up version of it all. I tried and failed to convey what it feels like when a baby lies dead in your arms, or when another one has recovered from deaths doorstep, laughs happily and kisses you on the cheek.

Searching through my memories, I tried to pull out the most poignant, the ones that would help others understand. But in the furious pace of life that comes during a short stint to see so many loved ones, and which comes in the U.S. in general, I felt the memories fleeting, becoming cloudy even in my own head. At times, the feeling made me not want to share the memories, made me want to isolate them from dissolution, to quarantine them against the threat of their disappearance. It was as if they might all vanish into the wind at any moment.

Partly because of that, returning to Mokhotlong has been equally strange. The long travels again went by in the blink of an eye, and when I was suddenly back, again so far from the home I had just left, it was a new world once more that met me.

Winter has left and the trees have all turned green. Ntseliseng has gone home. Karabo and Boraki look much bigger. And there are a handful of new babies in the safe-home to get to know.

I cooked my first night back, something I do a lot here but didn't do once in my two weeks in the U.S. I woke up in the morning and it was warm outside -- not frigid like the mornings before I left. Everyone welcomed me back, and I starting trying to catch up on things.

I was happy to see that TTL had continued chugging along during my absence.

I now have five months left here, and I plan to make the most of them.

After returning to the United States and coming back to Mokhotlong once more, I have a more profound understanding than ever of the vast differences between the two places, of the privileges I grew up with and the basic amenities they lack here, of the disparity, the need, the potential.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More Arrivals



Here's another update from Eric:










Hello again,

It has been busy the last few weeks as healthy babies go home and others continue arriving here at the safehome. We have added two more little one in the last few days, totaling nine babies currently at TTL.
Refiloe (on the right) arrived last Friday, just two weeks old and weighing 2.3 kg. As has happened quite often recently, the mother unfortunately passed away during birth. We will keep her here as the outreach teams contact other family members in search of a suitable home. I was informed yesterday of our newest arrival, Retsepile, by Nthabeleng yelling that I 'have another one'. He is 18 months old and extremely malnourished, weighing only 5.3 kg. He is HIV+ and will be starting ART on Monday. Paballo, who arrived last week, is eating for two now and even smiling when you rub her bulging belly. Ntseliseng, a staff favorite, went home last week after making a truly remarkable transformation. I hope everyone is doing well and lets hope the good fortune continues here at the safehome.

All the best,
Eric