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.
The TTLF Fellow is a representative of the North American organisation Touching Tiny Lives Foundation. Based for one year in Mokhotlong, Lesotho, the TTLF Fellow serves in an administrative support capacity for the Basotho charity Touching Tiny Lives (TTL).