He raises his arms to me the instant we step foot on his Mama’s compound. Without hesitation, he reaches for me and I reach down for him, bringing his emaciated little body tight to mine. I pull back, looking at the first African child to not hide or stare in wonderment before finally reaching out a hand. As I look into his big eyes, too big for his little face, he smiles hugely, looking directly at me with no fear despite our differences. It is easy to carry him with me as he weighs close to nothing, his thin legs hanging on both sides of me as I hold him with one arm, pulling him out from time to time to reconnect with our eyes.
Sensing he’s tired, we sit together as the guys vaccinate the family’s goats. He snuggles into me, laying his dark hand on my light arm, tracing my skin gently, creating little circles with his dirty fingertip. Every once in a while he will look at me and I tell him exactly what I am going to do next. “I am going to ask your Mama some questions about her garden and goats”, I say. And, “I am going to take photos now”. And, “I think you are beautiful and very sick. What is it”? And, “I am going to write some things down now, ok”? He listens as though he understands, nodding weakly, his hand continuing to draw patters on my arm. I invent more and more questions for his mom because I don’t want to leave this little four or five year old bundle of bones, weakened by typhoid, I am told, just home after many days in the hospital.
Too soon, our time here is over and we must leave. I whisper a prayer as I put my hand on his head just like my mom used to bless me before each of my trips. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord let His face shine upon you and give you peace”, I murmur into his ear and he smiles at me once more before I hand him over to his mom, wishing I didn’t have to.