Healthy Bolivian food.....right I thought to myself as I took a chug of my bottled water, still feeling the effects of whatever food poisoning I'd come down with a week prior (and which would end up lasting about a month more). As I recapped my Nalgene, I saw a tiny head poke its way around the corner of the window separating the nursery from the kitchen. There was a little boy, no more than two, staring at me with the huge, dark Bolivian eyes I'd become accustomed to over the past eight days.
His expression remained.
I waved sheepishly.
His eyes got even bigger as he ducked down below the window.
"So now we go to de room wit de shildren an you will play wit dem for awhile, no?" The end to the guide's speech snapped me out of my momentary flirtation. We made our way around the open walkway of the hospital and into the nursery. About two dozen toddlers looked up at us with those same huge eyes, those same unchanging expressions. We looked at each other, unsure of what to do.
For a week we'd been visiting orphanages run by a Christian organization, the International Orphanage Union. We'd met Vivenna, a homeless six-year-old who had been pushed into a fire pit in the jungle and suffered burns over 80% of her body, but who was the most joyful little person I've ever met. We met Elian and his older brother, who'd been left on the street because their parents couldn't feed them, and who proved that little boys--be them in the Northern Hemisphere or Southern--have the same mischievous look on their face right before they're about to do something they know they shouldn't. Every time we walked down from the Hacienda to Villa Frutillar to play with the kids and work on building a wall in the orphanage they'd run up to us, arms outstretched, wanting to be picked up or played with. They laughed all the time.
But these kids, these babies---they weren't laughing. They weren't even smiling. A few of them were crying as a nurse weighed them in the back of the room, but other than that, there was dead silence.
We made our way into the nursery, each picking out a child to play with. Lauren sat down with a girl in a red shirt who was half-heartedly hitting one wooden block against another. Nate picked up a boy staring at a fire truck. I looked over toward the window to the kitchen, and there was the same little boy I'd made eyes at, standing in the same position and holding a tattered Barney doll in one hand. After I'd made my way across the room, he fell into my lap like a bag of the rice cooking in the next room, every bit of his body conforming to my crossed legs and outstretched arms. I put his Barney doll in between his little hands and smiled at him again. He stared up at me, his face at once both expressionless and pleading. I'm sorry I'm no fun, his eyes said, I just need to be held for awhile. I rubbed his nose and the sides of his face like my mom did to me when I was sick and little. I prayed over him. And, strangely enough, my thoughts started drifting to tattoos.
It has been made perfectly clear to me by my parental units that if I were to ever get a tattoo or extra piercing while still under their roof, figuratively of course, that there would be "financial consequences of the college nature". Now, that doesn't mean that I haven't considered what I'd permanently etch into my skin if given the freedom. As a matter of fact, I have decided that I ever felt compelled to, I would tattoo the Greek (or Aramaic, if I'm feeling saucy that day) words for "His Hands" on my right wrist and "His Feet" on the inside of my left ankle to remind me that I am, in fact, God's hands and feet in the world. And this is what I thought of as I propped this little man up on my Indian-style lap and my already tired arms. Hands and feet. Hands and feet. Hands and feet.
Becky Barbo's voice broke my thoughts, "Cindy, what do we do? I've never seen kids who don't want to play before. They're not even smiling. They're too..."
"...sick." I finished her sentence for her.
"It's so sad." Her eyes has the same tears in them as mine did.
Hands and feet. Hands and feet. Hands and feet.
I can't tell you exactly why I chose this picture to represent Strength. It could be the strength that it took for this little one to fight through severe malnutrition. It could be the literal strength it took for me to hold this little sack of rice for over an hour. It could be the spiritual strength that both he and I had that day. It could be the origin of our strength. I'm not sure. It just seems right.