Barrie Adleberg
Digital Play Designer
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Imitunu

Imitunu means "wide open eyes" in Kinyarwanda.

THE SMILE THAT SILENCED THE WORLD

Friday, January 22, 2010 

Whenever I reference "my girls" in these writings I am referring to the 15 girls in my family. Every family at Agahozo Shalom has a house mama, counselor, and volunteer. My family's house is right next door to mine and until they elect a family name (a very formal and thoughtful process here) we are known as family 4 living in house 21. 

One of my girls was born with a rare heart condition. The details of her condition are unclear to me as many of the counselors refer to it as a "heart attack" (many also refer to migraines as "sinus attacks"). On Tuesday I woke up to the painful news that she had to be rushed to the hospital in Kigali. My house mama and counselor planned to go in shifts and sleep with her in a bedside chair. I was advised not to spend the night and warned of the unfavorable conditions, but I couldn't have anticipated what I arrived to.  She was staying in the emergency ward, and though the hospital was relatively clean, the ward was an open aired room full of suffering with beds 1-foot apart only separated by a flimsy curtain. There were 2 doctors doing rounds and diagnoses and several visitors present. There was no privacy. Bed pans were buckets on the grounds and my counselor, bless her heart, helped many patients down from their beds, holding them up as they relieved themselves.  Then she took it upon herself to empty their waste buckets.  Since the doctor/ nurse presence was so diminished by the patient demand, I watched her tend to several other patients that were too hot, too cold, or needed tissues. She is an angel and I will never forget the air of deep kindness she spread across the room that day.  

Even in America hospitals make me feel very uncomfortable. Thankfully my girl's bed was located in the corner so she could escape from the room if only by looking at the wall. The night before I came, our girls wrote cards expressing how much they miss and love her, so I came with a stack of these brightly colored sentiments.  She was dazed, and I was awkward as I hung uncomfortably at the foot of her bed.  In the background a man was moaning in pain, a young boy wheezing 1 foot away. The sounds were so persistent they seemed like a soundtrack to the experience, and all I wanted to do was pick her up and carry her OUT so that she too would not be engulfed in the symphony of sadness and death.  But, I didn't need to. She gazed up at me and smiled with surprise and delight. I emptied my purse of the cards and as she focused her attention on the love sent from her family, a smile stretched across her face that was so radiant it drowned out the pain of the room. She laughed and together we left, we traveled into the hearts of our sisters that created such beautiful expressions of healing. We talked until she dozed back to sleep. I watched over her as she lay dreaming and that radiant smile was still engraved in her cheeks. 

She was released that day, shortly after my visit, and is being watched closely here. But I will never forget her smile, the one that had the power to silence all the pain in the world.

Barrie AdlebergComment