Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Sounds of Music: Bonding with an African Orphan

One day, I took my host brother and sister, Kofi and Nana Esi, to the orphanage to play. While the children played, I came to the shocking realization that Kofi and Nana Esi were much bigger than the orphans around their age. As they played, I took this picture of Nana Esi and Adjoa, one of my preschoolers. Nana Esi, on the left, is four in this picture. Adjoa is three, maybe four. There were no birth records to confirm a date.

Adjoa Elizabeth Eghan was shy; at least towards the volunteers, anyway. I tried not to sit her next to Ruby during class, because the two of them never shut up. For such a small person, she could certainly laugh and talk up a storm. She was never naughty, though, never violent and didn't throw temper tantrums. Though some of the kids, even Benjie, who was younger than she was, picked up on English very quickly, Adjoa never really seemed to care about learning it. However, she did good work in class-- at least, most of the time she tried to. She loved dancing, and grinned with delight whenever she joined the other girls in an impromptu dance fest. And as time went by, I learned a funny little truth about her.

Every day as we pulled out our workbooks, Adjoa would sing.

She sang all the songs I taught the kids-- Three Speckled Frogs, I'm a Nut, Love You Forever, Amazing Grace, and others-- as well as songs I assume she'd been taught by other volunteers. However, her favorite by far was La Bamba, the first song I taught them. Despite her seemingly stubborn refusal to learn English, she mastered the Spanish words and mumbled them to herself as she colored, traced letters, and played with puzzles. Sometimes, her classmates would join in, but often, Adjoa sang to herself. She seemed to do it purely out of the joy of singing, and I smiled every time I heard her innocent three-year-old voice begin to hum.

Adjoa sang with the other children, she sang to herself, and occaisionally sang with me and the other teachers, but I couldn't understand why she never seemed to care about being near the volunteers. Most of the children loved to get hugs, play with us, and talk to us, but Adjoa was usually casually indifferent, as though her songs were all she really needed. I never understood it until the day I found out where Adjoa came from.

As near as I could tell from the somewhat confused, short summary in the orphan's profiles, Adjoa was born when her mentally retarded mother was raped. She was abandoned by her mother to be raised by her grandmother, and the old lady was simply unable to care for her properly. Only a year or two later, Adjoa was brought to the orphanage, small and malnourished. In a few short sentences, I saw a history of abandonnement, and realized that may have been why she refused to bond with the volunteers. We came in and left after only a few months, and she had been through the pain of torn bonds before.

Near the end of my stay, I was playing with some of the children on the shady verandah during break time. Adjoa had pulled herself onto the verandah wall with the help of some of the older children, and I was surprised when she raised a small hand and waived at me to come to her.

"Do you need something, sweetie?" I asked as I came and stood in front of her.

Without a word, she put out her skinny little arms and wrapped them around my neck, laying her head on my shoulder.

I was so surprised, it took a moment before I returned her tight embrace. I began to rub her back, humming the tune of the song "Godspeed" that I often sang to the children when they were especially upset, tired, or just cuddly. Every few minutes, she would sit up, look around the verandah or into my face, then lay her head on my shoulder again. I began to cry as I hummed.

Adjoa was my friend after that. She would give me hugs every day, hold my hand, and was willing to play with me. I never figured out why she suddenly attached to me, and my closest guess is because of the songs. I sang often in class, and taught the children dozens of new songs, and perhaps it was our fondness for music that brought Adjoa to give me that first hug. It broke my heart that I had to leave so soon, in a sense abandonning her too. Now that I am home, I miss Adjoa, but I hope she doesn't miss me. I hope she doesn't even remember me, because I would hate for her to have another sense of loss in her short life. She was a happy little girl, and I'm sure she still is. I want the memories she keeps to be happy ones, worthy of the dance she dances and the songs she sings.

Adjoa, far right, with Sara and Ruby.

Adjoa and I balancing cups. Despite looks to the contrary, she was actually a lot better than me.

The day Adjoa gave me my first hug.

No comments: