I wrote this post nearly a year ago, as I reflected on one of my mission experiences in Belize, Central America. I have been on four such trips, and whenever I reflect on my experiences there it is the names and faces of real people who make up my memories. To read more about my passion for the people of Belize, feel free to visit my Belize page. To my new friends from TellHisStory….welcome. I’m so glad to have you here.
Carolina is sixteen. I was surprised to find she is as old as she is. Unlike most of the women in her society, she seems younger than her 16 years (not older, as the others do). You see, Carolina is what our country would call “disabled,” having suffered a high fever when she was just a year old. Her mother wept as she told her story: the fever spiking in the middle of the night, the sunken eyes and blue lips, their inability to get Carolina to the hospital, Carolina’s father’s unwillingness to pay the bill even if they could get her to the doctor. Vinegar baths and cold compresses. Endless tears and the helpless staring. Lots of prayer. “Please, God…don’t take my baby…” And now, here she is. Fifteen years later…sweet Carolina.
Talking with her is not very different from talking to my four year old niece, in the simplicity of her conversation. She calls me simply “my friend;” I don’t know if that is because the fact that I am her friend is the most important thing she knows about me, or if it is because she can’t remember my name. She clings to me – tells me every three seconds how much she loves me and hangs on my arm like my own three year old daughter. “My friend…I love you, my friend…I missed you when you weren’t here, friend.”
She really is precious. I love this girl. After her mama poured her heart out to me and shared her story, I embraced her – one mama to another – and prayed over her. I prayed for her heart…for her poor aching heart, torn to pieces by the knowledge that her baby girl won’t have the life she could have had simply because of a lack of resources…because her mama couldn’t help her…because the tiny hospital was just too far and the necessary medication was just too expensive. I prayed for Carolina. I prayed for her sisters, Christina and Rosaria and Yolanda. I prayed over a family that is doing the very best they can.
And after I prayed, I went back into my room and wept. Over and over, all I could say was, “A fever…a fever…a fever did this to her… She is like this because of a fever.” I shook my head and tears streamed down my face at the injustice of it all. I give my daughter Motrin or Tylenol if she is cranky: “Maybe she has a headache?” A tiny fever, and I have bottles of medication to choose from and a clean bathtub to soak her in. I can give her popsicles and curl her up on the couch with her blanket and a Mickey Mouse movie. Carolina’s mama, though…when Carolina was burning up from the inside out, she could do nothing but watch and hope and pray. “Please, God…don’t take my baby…”
God didn’t take her baby from her. She is here, in a state of perpetual childhood. Stuck in a body that ages more quickly than her personality. Stuck in a world that simply does not accept victims of such unfortunate events.
Dolores, Carolina’s mom, told me of a visitor from the United States who volunteered to sponsor Carolina to go to a special school. That was a tremendous blessing, but it puts Carolina in perilous situations. As she waits for her ride every morning, cars approach wanting to give her a ride (and almost definitely offering more malicious things as well). As Dolores told me, “I just pray that she won’t get in the car…that she will remember all that I’ve taught her…that she won’t get in the car with someone she doesn’t know. But like she is…… I just don’t know.”
Dolores knows her daughter suffers. She knows her daughter is made fun of and does not have a fair chance in this world. She knows that one day, Carolina may be on her own in this cruel world and she doesn’t know what will happen to her. Her heart breaks as she imagines the life her daughter will have; we weep together as I realize the horrible discrepancy between my daughter’s life and what Carolina lives. I shudder as I imagine the cruelty that Carolina has endured…is enduring now…will endure.
How can this be? How can this be?
A fever. A fever did this to her.
A stupid fever. It makes me sad and angry and confused.
I ask Dolores what Carolina needs. “She needs Colgate. That is all she needs.” I rummage in my bag for the extra tube of toothpaste I brought with me to Belize. Handing it to her, feel ashamed of the extravagance of my life that I have a random tube of toothpaste in the bottom of my bag when it is literally ALL THAT SOMEONE NEEDS. And to think of the world she lives in… Her days begin at sunrise and end at sundown, simply because there is no electricity to make staying up after dark worth anything. She has a pet chicken who is her world and she makes bracelets and tapestries to help feed her family (though she gives so many of her creations away that she doesn’t make much money from them). She was wearing the same shirt on this trip as she was wearing when I met her a year ago. She probably owns nothing new, and all her mother says she needs is “Colgate.”
Amazing. In so many ways, amazing.
Carolina was in my group as we did some village outreach with the kids. Some of the boys picked on her and I forgot that she is 16. I defended her and reassured her and comforted her as I would a small child.
The best thing I did for her, though, is to remind her that Jesus loves her – cherishes her – just the way she is. She assured me then that she had loved Jesus for a long time, and that she was baptized when she “was very young and little.” She knows Jesus, and I know that He knows her struggle.
Still, though…my heart aches knowing what she is living in today. My heart weeps knowing what she endures. I look around at my life and I can’t help by be disgusted. Jesus…show me what to do. Show me what to do and let me go back again to love on her. Let me go back to hug her and remind her that she has a friend in this world and that someone accepts her. Let me go back, Jesus…and in the meantime, please be there with her. Let her understand…shield her from what she doesn’t need to understand…
Sweet, shy Carolina……