Brothers and Sisters


Stepping into the courtyard of the Rita Zniber orphanage, still not quite knowing what to expect, I was immediately engulfed by a flood of boys, ages 8 to 20, each one eager to shake my hand and learn my name.  It was a sensory bombardment: the scent of body odor mingled with the sound of a hundred “Salaam!”s in the air above us.  Never had I been so closely surrounded by so many people, each one clambering to talk to me.  I caught Kayla’s eye and we exchanged a “what have we gotten ourselves into?” look.  Then, before I knew it, I was showing a group of boys how to hula hoop, our communication reliant on a combination of dance, hand motions, and smiles.  All walls were broken down; language barriers, personal space, comfort zone all crumbled.  All that was left standing was presence and humanity.  It was obvious how starved for love these kids were, as they enthusiastically grabbed my hand or roughly cradled a kitten that was wandering through the courtyard.


Hatim, a bright eyed eight year old, gravitated toward me, tugging on my hand, making it clear that he had chosen me as his new companion.  Although he spoke little English and I spoke next to no Darija or French, we bonded through pointing, laughs, monkey imitations, silly dance moves, and a little help from his English-speaking friend, Abdellah.  At one point, Hatim said something to me in Darija, pulling our guide Mouhsin over to translate.  Mouhsin told me, “He says he has gotten used to you now, and he can’t let you go.”

That’s when it hit me: the myth of poverty is the barriers we see between “us” and “them.”  What makes these young people, some of them my age, any different than me?  We speak different languages, live on opposite sides of the world, and have diverse living situations and backgrounds, but we all need love, joy, laughter, and play, and for the afternoon, we were able to meet each other in a common space and share life as brothers and sisters.

We played and played, but after what felt like five minutes, Mouhsin started rounding up the group to leave.  But even as I was heading out the door, Hatim, my new little brother said, in beautifully broken English, “I love you so much,” and kissed my hand.


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