We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
Well today was pretty hard. It was my last day at the hospital hanging out and entertaining the children there. Even though I knew it was my last day, it still hit me pretty hard when that moment came and no amount of prior thought could have really prepared me for it.
So I did something pretty big for the children and threw a party for them in the play room. Oddly enough, it seemed they too wanted to do something because there were some napkins, a big bottle of water, and some decorative cotton ball things on the table leftover from a previous day. While I was setting up, the nurse escorted the children out and then back in when I was finished. They trickled in slowly, three at first and then the rest entered with shouts of excitement at the sight of all the candy, chips, soda, etc. on the table.
Everything went largely as planned. They played games on my laptop and watched some of a movie while enjoying some snacks. I also bought a face painting kit and allowed the children to paint my face and for a day I was probably the worst clown you had ever seen, but it seemed to really make the kids laugh.
Normally the other volunteers and I leave around 12 noon, but we all stayed a bit longer. The other volunteers left around 1 pm, but I stayed until after 2 pm. Time seemed to go by faster on this day. I spent a bit of time with the children in the play room as well as the children who couldn’t leave their rooms. I wasn’t this outgoing earlier in the program, but I am glad I was today because one of the children who was a regular to the group hadn’t been in for about two days and I wasn’t sure what had happened to her. I didn’t ask about her because I assumed she was discharged and went home, but I found her today in her room. She had big cast on her left arm so it must have been a surgical procedure that took her away from her regular activities. It was good to spend time with her even though she wasn’t feeling her best.
After all the snacks were gone and paint removed from my face, the children and I relaxed for a bit. A couple of older children listened to music on my laptop and the girls played with balloons, colored, and took photos with the nurses and sometimes myself. As the children explored and played, I reflected on my experience and wished I could have more time, at least long enough to see a few of them get discharged from the hospital.
It’s a shame I couldn’t but even though, I feel I made their lives a little better for these past two weeks. All of the kids were great. But I think two in particular really stood out. One of which was a young girl who was mentally challenged somehow and the other was little Nora. The first girl didn’t speak, at least to me, but she would smile a lot and join us in the play room sometimes when her mother carried her over to us. She was also one of the kids whom I spent time with today in their rooms with their mothers. After some trying I was able to get “high-five” from her. This was a special moment because her condition made it difficult for me to communicate with her and because she was just a special girl, and not because of her condition, but because of her spirit.
Little Nora could talk and seemed to only have a physical ailment because her feet were not completely straight. Her mother would bring her over and sit her down on the cushion and prop her left leg up which had been in a cast the entire time I was there. She was very young, younger than most children there so you can imagine how impressed she was with everything and how great it was to hear her small giggles.
As I was packing up my stuff and cleaning up the trash I said my final goodbyes to the children. We exchanged many hugs and everyone seemed to feel the same sadness I was feeling. As much as I have rambled on, it is still hard to put into words the feelings that I have from my involvement with the program.
Some things are universal. While being here I learned more about Morocco, Islam, the culture, etc. which has been more than great and very useful information for someone like me who tries to travel often. But there are things that are the same no matter what country you are from or language you speak. As much as we all are different we all have a lot in common even if we can be too stubborn or set in our ways to realize it.
I have learned a lot from this program from both the lectures and just from being here. The people here and I are certainly not complete strangers. Sure we have our unique aspects as Americans and the folks here have their own such as the way the locals drive here compared to back home. Actually come to think of it, both countries have wild drivers.
There is just something universal about people that no matter where you go we’ll always be alike in a number of ways. I think the biggest thing you acquire while doing a program like this is perspective. You see that others have the same struggles we do at home and often times worse. I know I’ve seen these worse conditions before while abroad, but despite this, we share common bonds and that is something we gain an immense amount of perspective on.
As I close this series of posts I would be remiss if I didn’t end on note that was both amazing and sad. As I packed up my stuff and began to leave I said my final goodbyes and waved at all the children I worked with during my short two weeks. As I was leaving Little Nora was being carried by her mother by my side. As we walked throughout the hallways and down the stairs I waved and made faces in an effort to get her to laugh, which were for the most part pretty successful. Then we reached my destination which was the door to the main entrance.
They stood still, Nora and her mother, and I waved goodbye and turned to leave hearing a noise as I did this. I turned around and Nora was crying as I stepped away. I walked back to her again to try and comfort her a bit with only slightly good results. This went on for a bit with no success and so eventually I had to walk away and her crying subsided with the distance. I turned back once more to find them gone.
There was no turning back. I had to keep going. After I left the gate I took my camera out and took a photo of the hospital and thought about my time there before getting into the taxi. I am confident that I made their lives better during my time there. It’s certainly different than my experience in Brazil doing a similar program since the children here were older and therefore spoke more to me.
The story about walking away from Little Nora was sad, but what made this pill easier to swallow was my time spent with her. During my interactions with her she would say in her soft voice “mi amour” which is French for “my love” and as the nurse told me, “she’s saying she loves you.” In my line of duty in Iraq, we witnessed bombing and violence like none other during which I felt nervous or scared, but I can never recall being sad or crying from an attack. This young child did something to me that no typical pain and violence could do.
It was sad to see her cry, but hopefully the smiles and giggles outweighed the tears. Like the other young girls in the program they all became the little sisters I never had and the little brothers that would drive me crazy only to make me laugh later. I’m sure they will stay in my thoughts long after I return home.
This was my time in Rabat, Morocco where I worked with children who would constantly thank me for each and every thing. And so as they would say to me I will say to you “thank you very much.” Thank you very much for reading this and for those who donated to my cause, I thank you again.
-Brian a.k.a. Monsieur Brian (it’s what the children called me)