I scooped her up in the doorway of the playroom, and she turned in my arms and waved goodbye to ‘Me Mamosa and the other bo’me in the room.
“Say ‘bye-bye’ to Ntseliseng,” I told her, as Ntseliseng waved from the ground.
Selloane waved back. Then she looked down at my chest, and started nervously playing with my sunglasses, which I had stuck in the front of my collar. She may not have understood she was leaving for good, but she definitely knew something was up.
She cried when I put her in the car-seat, didn’t know what was going on.
Once I climbed into the big Land Cruiser, sat in the seat next to her and handed her the light purple, animated stuffed bee she calls “Ausi Palesa” – or, roughly, “Sister Flower” – she calmed down, took a deep breath.
On the way out of town we stopped at a local store to buy her a new pair of shoes, which I immediately put on her after getting back in the car, and which she stared at happily.
Then there was the two hour trip – rough and jolting – to her remote village, not far from the rural Moeketsane clinic.
This is where, on my first week in Lesotho, we’d been directed to Selloane’s rondaval by the elderly neighbor whose own grandchild was already a TTL client. This is where we first saw Selloane, tiny, malnourished, wasting.
Now, as we arrived once more in the village, just after I’d finished doing my best to feed Selloane two final yoghurts on the bumpy road, I recognized the dirt slope up to the little gathering of rondavals, Selloane’s grandmother standing outside.
We stopped on a slope nearby. I unbuckled the car-set and handed Selloane over to ‘Me Matumaole, one of the safe-home caregivers who had come along on the trip to make Selloane’s transition easier.
We all walked over and said our hellos. A bunch of other children – one Selloane’s older sister – began gathering around, staring at Selloane in her neat clothes and new shoes. Selloane nervously looked back.
Her grandmother and grandfather came over, and they both started talking quickly. All I could catch was Selloane’s name, the first mention of which brought abrupt giggling from all the other kids – they recognized her at last.
We went into the small, dark rondaval, and a handful of women joined us, all of them talking to and about Selloane. I gathered they were all amazed at her healthy appearance.
Selloane nervously moved about the room, time after time returning to me and stepping between my knees as I sat, her forearms on my thighs, looking back at the women who kept asking her to come to them. Time after time, I slowly pushed her forward, back toward her family members and neighbors.
It was a hard thing to do. I wanted to pick her up, just as she wanted me to. But that wouldn’t have served our purpose. So I kept pushing her forward.
The elderly neighbor, the same woman who had first referred Selloane to TTL, came in next, and apparently couldn’t believe her eyes. She started undressing Selloane and poking at her full legs and belly, drawing laughter from Matello, our outreach coordinator, and a big smile from me.
We gave Selloane’s grandmother a bunch of food, candles, matches, laundry soap, a few other essentials and a bag full of clothes for Selloane.
Then, suddenly, it was time to go.
“Bye-bye, Selloane,” I said, waving to her as she sat in her grandmother’s lap.
She still looked nervous, but she slowly waved back.
Then we were back in the car, driving away, hoping she will do well, that she’ll soon fit in with the group of kids who sat outside the rondaval smiling at her, that she’ll grow up and thrive and be happy.
That’s my wish. And because of TTL, there’s a chance it will come true.
The TTLF Fellow is a representative of the North American organisation The Tiny Lives Foundation. Based for one year in Mokhotlong, Lesotho, the TTLF Fellow serves in an administrative support capacity for the Basotho charity TTL.