More Hope, Less Pity

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tumblr_mpuuz0RLWj1qegpc2o1_1280She wore a long floral dress the color of forget-me-nots against deep sienna skin. In the midst of a tempest where waves upon waves of over 194 boys crashed on the shores of my own personal space, she stood out as the slender shade of periwinkle stranded on her own island in the middle of the orphanage’s box-like courtyard. I began to part the waters, children who have not been touched for the greater portion of their fifteen years of life falling from my body like raindrops as they desperately offered up their names, inscribing them on crumpled slips of paper they tried to push into my skin in the wild hope that the memory of their existence would permanently graft itself on the surface of my heart.

Wading to the center with my growing fan base, I finally reached her.

“Ana smeetik Hannah.” I pointed to myself enthusiastically to compromise my poor pronunciation of the only sure statement I had gotten down in Darija. Eyes the color of dark chocolate sparkled in eager understanding as her head nodded vigorously, hands articulating the significance of her identity as she enunciated phonetically “Besba.” It was the only exchange needed to win over her trust. She carried my name on her tongue like the greatest gift bestowed upon her and slipped her arm around my waist in easy friendship. She attempted to nestle her head in the crook of my neck despite the onslaught of boyish jibes and grubby fingers trying to renounce the bond already established. I embraced the rush of maternal protector for the moment, making sure to smile and continue to acknowledge the other faces competing for my attention. “She’s crazy” a boy said in accented English, elbowing Besba aside and raising the back of his hand as though to threaten slapping the girls cheek. Her hand shot to her face to counter the anticipated attack and she scowled in accustomed disdain as she walked a distance away. “Hey, uh-uh,” I retorted, waggling my index finger with all the authoritative adult disapproval I could muster. The culprit dashed off and I turned hastily to seek out the small fifteen-year-old girl only to find her a short distance away waiting for me. Time moved quickly and soon enough I was integrated into the hustle and bustle of the pack, kids weaving in and out of our small hair braiding party lead by Besba with soccer balls and hula hoops flying in every direction while older boys flaunted muscles, parading like peacocks along walls they would intermittently scale just to prove they could.

There was a visceral need felt in every fiber of these kids, an inherent hunger to be remembered that reverberated off the kinetic joy, screams, and laughter experienced throughout the vicinity. It gave them solidarity despite the occasions of aggression and violence that grew in part out of the sadness behind their eyes. A boy caught a wisp of my hair that had blown out of my fishtailed ginger hair and placed it gently behind my ear. I watched as his face held only an innocent nostalgic fascination that drove him to make the reflexive shy caress. So many were here and excited to see me, to touch me, hug me, kiss me on the cheeks. In the moment, it occurred to me that pity was not good enough an emotion to leave them with. Pity was nothing but denying them a right to achieve impossible things by their own merit. It was rejecting their individuality. I caught the guilt building up within that was demanding me to answer: how ethical is it to enter a space like this and then leave? How could I justify only two hours? I wasn’t the white savior. I wasn’t here to take any of them away. And yet there has to be something good in the swift relationships built in the time we were given. There has to be something in choosing to come in spite of time constraints, in spite of the pangs of shame, or else why would anyone visit to begin with? Rebuking the myths of poverty, I admit that yes, there is part of the experience that was concerned with feeling bad. And yet, the passion, the books and notebooks propped on laps in studious ambition, the funds put into the institution that permits the majority to attend private school, and the occasional visits by strangers who choose to volunteer to impart the love of families they may not have been able to have, fights to contradict the notion that these kids are somehow tainted and unable to escape a life of disadvantage.

Children holding hands

I openly welcome the rush of humility gained from this encounter, mandating an emotional presence that is both exhausting to endure while seeking to edify and invoke a deep-set compassion at the core of me. However, at the same time, I will never allow myself to be the objective of every learning experience or relationship I engage with. There is so much more to the world than my own limited perceptions and so I continue to pray for Besba and the kids in Morocco whose futures are overly ripe with potential and hope.

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