Every year my company takes a group of employees to see the work it does in a hospital in a little town in Uganda called Kiwoko. In retrospect, I wonder why I thought growing up in Nigeria would prepare me for Kiwoko. It didn’t. Nothing prepared me for the poverty. Not even Nigeria. I woke up on the fourth morning of the trip saddened. For a small part of the night, I had thought of Florence, a lady who was HIV positive who also had a baby with Down’s syndrome. ‘How bad could things get?’ I kept thinking to myself as I slowly dragged my feet and heavy heart with me to the compulsory morning prayers*. The chapel was minimalist – wooden benches lined the floor and home-made scripture posters lined the white walls. My colleagues and I hadn’t sat for long on ‘our’ wooden bench when we were all asked to rise to sing the selected hymns.
The songs bounced off the walls as young and old alike sang with childish gusto. Slowly the knot in my stomach started to loosen and the pain slowly eased away as I joined in singing ‘it is well with my soul’ with my croaked voice. Somehow, as verse after verse escaped smiling lips I re-found my smile and I finally understood. I understood how in the midst of so much poverty and suffering, there could also be so much joy. Joy unspeakable lurked in every corner; it was visible in every smile and it followed every welcome and goodbye until it wrapped its arms around you and you were sucked in the ebullience of each moment.
With my new found smile on my face, I marched with joy with the other ambassadors to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and that was where I fell in love. There were babies everywhere. Some very tiny. Some really fragile, Some all smiles, milk-drunk and ready to go home whilst others remained to fight for their lives. I fell in love with two babies; Baby blue was laid in an incubator with blue bili lights shining down on his bandaged face. He looked small, way smaller than other babies yet like other babies he kicked the air again and again like a true soldier. I lost track of time as I stared transfixed at his little body. My second love was a baby who had a serious skin infection and no eyeballs. Sister Christine who is in charge of the NICU told us how no one had even wanted to touch the baby when it was first brought to Kiwoko. Even though the baby’s skin was still badly battered and his eyeballs were missing, he sucked at his mother’s breast happily without a care in the world! For the second time that day, I had to assure myself that all was well and all will be well.
But hey, there were so many other happy moments. I particularly enjoyed seeing my very first newly born baby. It was born while we walked round the wards. The baby was 27 minutes old when we all had the opportunity to peer at its chubby face. Our next stop, after a lot of baby cuddles, ‘awwws’ and ‘ahhhhs’ was the HIV/AIDS craft ladies. If there was a word to describe this group of ladies it would be fighters. Some had battled HIV for years, some were widowed, some had 9 kids to feed yet they all had a smile and were full of appreciation for all the support they got from the Aspen-Isis partnership.
And in that joy I was reminded of Nigeria and why I love Nigeria. I love the smile that the orange-seller at Oshodi still manages to give. I have come to know that people could be in the worst situations in the world and still know joy – joy indescribable full of glory and that just puts a smile on my face every time.
About The Author
Dolu loves to travel just to sleep. Her holiday motto is ‘get away from London’s bustle and underground trains’. If there was one place she’d like to travel to, it would be Antarctica but she’s too much of a tropical animal to make that trip happen. Until she finds the Frozen princess in her, she will make do with Dubai and other sunny sides of life.