We visited Aissa today.
After driving over an hour on serpentine roads and crossing many dry riverbeds, the scenery began to look the same and I was thoroughly lost. Fortunately Andy who was driving had his bearings and we finally parked and walked to Aissa’s home. The area where she lives is quite pretty, the huts are all huddled together and constructed of smooth earth and stones, and the village is bordered on all sides by rocky hills.
We crested a large boulder and saw Jean. He went into a nearby hut and called the little bird who came running. She was more subdued that I expected. She immediately held up her arms and I picked her up off the ground, noting that she seemed lighter.
We were greeted and invited inside to sit down. Aissa immediately settled herself on my lap. We made small talk and I gave the bird the coloring pages and crayons I had saved for her. She was pleased and began on them right away.
Aissa’s face is healing well, the stitches have wiggled their way out from around the graft as expected and the small wound under her right eye is clean and almost closed. However, she has developed a bacterial skin infection due to poor hygiene, was struggling with a bad cold and had lost weight.
We trimmed her nails and measured her arm circumference as a way to monitor her growth. She has had chronic ear infections in the past, so I took a look today. I could not see much through the wax and was concerned she may develop another infection with her current cold.
We were given permission to take photos of the family compound and as I walked around with my camera, Aissa followed, arms outstretched. This clingy behavior usually means she is feeling a bit insecure and is not really sure of what is happening.
As I was leaving the compound, Aissa asked me for something to eat.
We gathered together and prayed over the little bird. She sat in my lap again and I held her close, asking God in his mercy to protect her, knowing this may be the last time I see her for years. As we left, we assured the family that one of our pediatric nurses would be back in two weeks to check on her and reiterated that if Aissa became ill, we had an agreement with their neighbor to drive them to the hospital on his motorcycle. Upon arriving, their transport would be paid and her care would be free.
Jean walked us out and on the way asked if we could give them food. He is a farmer, and because he was in the hospital during the last rainy season with Aissa, he was unable to plant his fields. No crop means no food and now, whatever stores the family may have had are completely gone.
They are hungry.
We told him we would discuss the problem and he was displeased. He stated that if he was not given food, he would have to leave Aissa ‘like her father did’ and go to Garoua. We perceived this to be a threat, as there is no way he could find the funds to make the trip. We left, agonizing over the tension encountered so often here in West Africa between desiring to meet basic human needs, yet not create dependence. We cannot fully trust Jean, while he has done extraordinary things for Aissa, this is not the first time he has made threats in order to get his own way and he is a known alcoholic. I prayed that God would give us wisdom as we made our way along the path.
Before reaching the car, we passed the local Lutheran church, a mud building with a tin roof. The pastor was sitting outside under a tree and as we walked up to greet them, his wife spread out a clean mat, gave us a fresh bowl of peanuts and invited us to sit.
We talked for a while and found that the church has bags of millet grain the staple food in this area, for sale. We paid Pastor Andre, and arranged for him to help Jean purchase a sack of grain within the next couple of days. God answered my prayer for wisdom and immediately provided for Aissa and her family. They will have food soon. The agreement is one bag a month for 3 months, until the harvest. If the bag runs out before the end of the month, in case they feel pressure to share with neighbors or to sell the grain for money to buy alcohol, we cannot purchase them another.
Pastor Andre then pointed out the local school and shook our hands before we piled into the car. At the school we met the director and took photos of the classrooms. We talked about cost and learned that the local student to teacher ratio is 50:1, which is not bad for this area.
I hope to visit the local Catholic orphanage this Friday where I will be asking about placing Aissa and her sister in their facility during the school year.
How can I summarize? The little bird is healing well after her operation, despite a minor respiratory and skin infection. She has lost weight because the family doesn’t have enough to eat, but God showed us the way to temporarily care for this need. We have a pediatric nurse visiting regularly for the coming few months and have secured transportation for her to get to the hospital if needed. School is in Aissa’s future, although we are still deciding as a team where to place the little bird and her sister this fall.
However, my heart’s cry is that Aissa be loved. We can put food in her stomach, treat her for malaria, enroll her in school but who will love her? Who will pick her up when she desires to be held? During our time on the ship, I saw how she blossomed under such love and affection, how she transformed into a radiant, joyful, exuberant child.
This was not the child I saw today.
We desperately need your prayers. I will keep you updated.
Carrying Aissa back to her home.
Wanting to be held.