I have never thought to liken a city to a jewel before, though I’ve seen it done. But there could be no other description for my impression of this city as we descended upon her in the dark of the morning. She sparkled, she glowed, red and gold and green, while the waves lapped humbly at her feet. I soon learned that she smelled, too, like fish. Nobody’s perfect. We were greeted like family, piled in a rickety old van that was to become our constant companion for the week, and we bounced south for over an hour. I stuck my face in the open window so that the wet sea air buffeted me as the jeweled city faded, replaced by more silent waves, fields, and darkness.
I still felt trepidation that I had come out of my own thirst for adventure, and not from divine appointment. Was I following God’s lead or orchestrating my own path?
My fear that I had made a mistake quickly got worse. It may have had something to do with my being sick as a dog the first two nights. They told us not to drink the water, but I ate the tabouleh – and regretted it. I wanted to go home. I REALLY wanted to go home.
As I was well enough during the day to manage okay, I was told that my job during the week would be triage. Sure! I said….What’s a triage?
We bumped in the van back up to the city we’d flown into to do clinics at a blind and deaf school and an orphanage. At the school, we watched some of the kids perform for us before we sang some worship songs for them. When I walked into the small auditorium, the only air conditioned room we’d be in all week, a blind girl was sitting on the stage, singing. Every so often I caught the word “habibi” (my love) – I was informed the song was about unrequited love. Her voice softly rose and fell in those minor and fast-changing intervals that the best trained western singers seem unable to manage. A teenage boy, also blind, was brought up on stage, where he played a small drum tucked under his arm; taps, bumps, hits and slaps at a dizzying speed and with such precision and patience. The drum sang, I don’t know how that’s possible, but it did, and the boy’s face shone like he was in his happiest element creating such a song.
The children at the blind and deaf school wore crisp uniforms with little red ties, but the children at the orphanage wore mismatched hand-me-downs. Street kids, disenfranchised, illegitimate, untaught, unloved except for a handful of people who try to fight the corruption that funnels away the funds that should be put toward the orphanage. These kids have no papers, so they can’t be adopted. The orphanage is supposed to work toward obtaining papers for them, but it doesn’t get the money it’s supposed to for this.
We gave them checkups and played with them. We sang songs like “Peace Like a River,” which they apparently know very well and sing it anything but peacefully. They were certainly less than angelic; the group dynamics brought back frightening flashbacks of Lord of the Flies, but even the most conniving kid had the innocence that just comes with being a kid, not having control over your circumstances and not knowing any better than to fight tooth and nail for your own self.
This was the first instance on the trip of my feeling completely helpless. What were we there for, other than to entertain them for an afternoon? Weird laws, corruption, and a society that wants to forget it has orphans meant these kids have very little hope in this world. They’re stuck in limbo.
I don’t mean to leave you with such a depressing thought, but it’s where I was at the end of the first day – in between losing my lunch and dinner and everything else I’d ever eaten. I thought, why am I here? This is a mistake. I can’t do anything.