In Septemeber 2008, I traveled 6000 miles to Haiti's Kenscoff mountains. My mission: to care for some of the orphaned and abandoned, the sick, malnourished and premature infants of this beautiful but beleagured Caribbean nation.

Friday, 21 March 2008

In the beginning

Eight years ago, I was so certain that I had found my place in the world. I remember the first time I met the children at God's Golden Acre, a then small orphanage in South Africa's KwaZulu- Natal midland region, an area decimated by AIDS. Bare-feet. Dressed in worn, torn, ill-fitting clothes. Snot-nosed. Dusty. The toddlers stared at me curiously, all wide eyes, their little bodies pressed against the fence of the yard.

All afternoon, as I was escorted on a tour of the farm property, I heard their cries above the boisterous noises of the older orphans at play. When I entered the nursery the toddlers clamoured to greet me. Five or six little ones at a time, hanging from my neck, perched on my lap, holding onto each hand. A few few more wriggling in to get closer. So many little voices vying for my attention. 'Look ma'am...' 'A story for you ma'am...' 'Me, I want to sit with you!....''You see me, what I'm doing...' ' Me ma'am, me!' And so many little hands reaching out to touch me. My hair. My clothes, My face. Tugging at me. Throwing me off balance. Overwhelming me.

If the children were not orphaned they were abandoned. Many had been abused. Some were sick. They were all in need, no matter the history etched on their lives and veiled in their eyes. They needed guidance. They needed affection. For the most part, they needed someone there for them. Someone to brush them off after they fell on the playground. To greet them with a smile in the morning. Sing a song with them. Even if it was sung out of key. It didn't matter.

They were thirsty for love, that was plain to see. Another thing: I could be that person, who gave it through very ordinary acts of care. Nothing exceptional about it, except maybe a willingness, no, a gladness to be there and give it. This was a giving that left me feeling whole. Oh, I thought to myself. So this is what's been missing.

I wrote prolifically about my time in Africa. Maybe I will publish some of these journals here, I am undecided. I documented soaring joy, terrible crushing sorrow, the daily rhythm of life, the struggles of the local people. They were members of the Zulu tribe, living in an area with the highest HIV rates in the world. Poor, but fiercely proud of their heritage. I developed a respect and understanding of their culture. A sence of grief for all that AIDS and poverty and apartheid had taken from them. And a growing conviction that I had been hand picked for the job of serving in that corner of the world, on a piece of the earth I so loved I made it sacred.

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