The gate slowly swung open to reveal a teenage boy guarding the premises of the orphanage. He ushered us in.
Within moments of maneuvering through the small gate, someone tightly grasped my hand. I looked down to see a bright-eyed boy smiling back at me. His name is Loukie.
Loukie is 7 years old, and due to a birth defect has 5 1/2 fingers on each hand. I could not help but notice the abnormal feel as he squeezed my hand tighter. Slowly we followed the rest of the group up the uneven stairs to the roof of the building.
Once on the roof, he let go and disappeared into the crowd of kids that were waiting to see the doctors and nurses. Of course they were not doing this willingly. Candy serves as a great bribe no matter the place.
As I looked around the concrete ledge of the roof, I saw many stuffed animals and toys. Those were not the items I expected to see in this circumstance. Toys are supposed to bring happiness. What I saw was internal heartache masked by smiles on the faces of Loukie and many others.
Over the next half hour, I played with and took photos of many children who were gleefully eating their Smarties and Dum Dum suckers. Then I felt Loukie's unique touch on my hand again.
He led me away from the group and on to a section of the roof that provided the best view of the surrounding area. It was not a magnificent view by any means. Concrete homes in differing states of repair, trash heaps, and laundry laid out to dry were the best choices to gaze upon.
We sat on a plastic mattress that I prayed had not been peed on. It probably had, but I really do not want to know.
He spoke very little English, and my limited Creole had yet to return. So we split the difference. I would point to an object and say the word in English, then he would do the same in Creole. We would occasionally quiz each other on earlier words just to make sure the other remembered.
After what seemed like hours but surely not more than 20 minutes, we returned to the rest of the group. The doctors were treating many kids with illnesses and throughly examining an extreme case of hydrocephalus (fluid build up in the skull). It is heart breaking to see kids suffering like that and feel powerless.
While I may not be able to assist medically, I can interact and play with a kid for an hour. It is not a long-term fix, but it brought a genuine smile to each of our faces.