I Know You By Name… Long-Term Volunteer Chris Cheek

This week our 120th baby arrived home to a place of love, safety and family.  One hundred and twenty children with the oldest two being 5 years old.   That is 120 children to get up, dressed and fed, 120 children to run and play.  Ok, so some are too young to run but at least 90 can run or are beginning to run. Days of diaper changing and potty training mutiplied by 120 times. Books to be read, songs to be sung, counting and colors all by 120 little ones.  Laughter and tears, upset tummies and mumps, birthday cakes and water sprinklers (when there has been rain), bubbles and monkies all in the life of 120 little ones. 
 
One hundred and twenty little ones each with their own name. Each one with twinkles in their eyes, moods and personalities. Beth has an incredible gift of language. She has taught me more siSwati than I’ve learned from anyone else.  Daniel that always wants me to “come, GoGo, come.”  Lenah and Abigail giggling like teenagers. Angel and Phephile running across the yard. Isaac with a smile that will light the world and dimples to melt your heart. Seth yelling across the yard, “GoGo, GoGo. ”  Rahab always the last at the table to finish eating.  Roy quiet and reserved, Joash kicking the soccer ball, LoLo singing in the middle of the night and Gabriella with her thumb in her mouth.  They all have a name. 
 
One hundred and twenty little ones that in the past year and a half I have lived with 77 of the children. Thirty- eight have moved up the hill to the big kid’s home (3 and 4 year-olds) and thirty-nine two year-olds now. Yes, I have lived with 77 children and yes, I know their names. I know their laughter and their cries. I see their good days and their bad ones.  They tug on my skirt and they say “and me, and me.”  They call me GoGo and I know their name. The new babies I’m learning and some day I will say I know all their names, but for today I live and play with 77 little ones and I know their names. 
 
The journey continues……
 
GoGo 
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Song of the Night – Jesus Loves the Little Children, Chris Cheek

Finally this week I’ve gotten back on my normal schedule for the first time since early January.  I love the rhythms of my days here in Africa. 
 
My day begins between 4:30 and 4:45 am. I enjoy the quiet for about 15 minutes then go to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Once it is ready I find my way back down the dark hallway to my room and begin my morning routine; daily scripture readings, prayer time and enjoying the silence of living in the bush waiting for the morning sounds to begin. 
 
About 5:30 I hear the engine hum of the Toyota pickup coming up the hill to the children’s home. As the truck pulls in the parking area I hear the laughter of the aunties that live out in the community as the crawl out the back of the truck to begin their day of work.  A few minutes later the engine starts up and heads on down to the farm for the next task on the driver’s list. 
 
Soon after the day shift aunties arrive the sounds of the babies waking up echo out the windows of the baby home across the yard and into my bedroom window.  As I listen to the waking babies I find comfort and peace in the noises of the little ones as the sun is coming up over the mountain.   
 
Each morning around 6 am the energy changes from waking babies to the gentle chatter of a few of the girls in the room next to mine as their day begins. The talking is followed with giggles until all ten girls in that room are awake talking and singing.  Some days it is clapping and chanting “dansa, dansa, dansa” siSwati for dance, dance, dance.  Some days it is ABCs, some days it is church songs and some days children’s songs like Itsy Bitsy Spider, but no matter whether they are singing or saying it always fills the hallways and my room with the sounds of joy and laughter.
My body and spirit is feeling so much better now that I’m waking up early and following the natural morning rhythms. Well that is until Saturday morning. As I began waking from a very, deep deep sleep I heard  the song of “Jesus Loves the Little Children” coming from the girl’s room. I felt like I was in a deep thick fog. Through my mind ran the disappointing thought that all week I had been waking up early and now I had slept through my morning prayer time. I just felt completely out of sync, a set back of morning routine, maybe it was going to take me a little longer this time to get back on schedule.
I snuggled under the covers to listen to the sounds of the sweet girls singing, slowly slid my arm out from the cover to grab my phone on my night stand to check the time to see if I could get a few minutes of being lazy before I needed to start my day.  My thumb went on the round start button, the background light came on the screen and there was the time – 2:30 am.  Ohhh my, the whole room of older 2 year-old girls were wide awake and singing Jesus Loves the Little Children – the Song of the Night. I knew immediately it had to be LoLo instigating this middle of the night sing-along and I was right. They all quickly sold her out – “LoLo was singing!”   LoLo continued off and on throughout the night singing and clapping. The other girls would drift off to sleep but LoLo kept going, singing sometimes alone and sometimes with whoever would wake up and join in. I drifted in and out of sleep as the sweet voices of 2 year-olds filled the quiet of the night.
 
Four thirty came, my routine began – coffee, prayers and reading.  Ten little girls finally drifted off to sleep around 5 after two and a half hours of singing.  Nap time came finally at 1:30 pm and a GoGo and ten little girls quickly crawled into their beds for Hamba Lala (go to sleep) time. The joy of living in a house of 39 two year-olds.   
 
The journey continues…..
 
GoGo
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If Only She Could Talk….Chris Cheek, Long-Term Volunteer

It has been a week of raw emotions.  If only she could talk….

No food after midnight.  If only she could talk….

Two hour ride to the hospital and hungry.  If only she could talk….

Crying to stay in my arms.  If only she could talk….

Hands and arms in big purple cast.  If only she could talk….

Tubes and wires.  If only she could talk….

Nurses and doctors.  If only she could talk….

Cries of pain, moans of discomfort, morphine, tylenol.  If only she could talk…

As I sat by Shirley’s bedside in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit I heard the little boy in the room next to ours say, “I can’t move.”   I remember thinking how I wish Shirley could tell me what she was feeling.  As she cried out I did not know if it was from pain, not understanding why she was there, missing her home – I just wish she could have talked to me.

The week has been long, most of my days and nights are spent with her in my arms.  My hair needs to be washed, I have tylenol stains on my shirt, mashed potatoes on my pants, my back is sore – her weight has doubled with the two large cast.  Two weeks ago I would have written my update at 5 am with a cup of coffee in my hands. Today I’m just getting it started at 7:30 pm and the caffeine from my coffee has long been gone.

My rhythm of life has changed and for the next few weeks there is nothing more important than the rhythm of comforting a little girl named Shirley.  Emails will be late, phone calls missed, no time to Google, stains on my shirts.  How I wish she could talk and tell me when she hurts, if she is hungry or she just misses home.  But she is 16 months old and she can’t tell me, so for now I will just hold her and love her.  We will play when she wants to play, I will rock her back and forth in my arms and I will let her sleep on my chest when she wakes in the middle of night crying.  I will cook her mashed potatoes or pasta, feed her bananas and green beans.

The week has been raw – If only she could talk…….

The journey continues…..from Africa to Staten Island.

GoGo and Shirley

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Shirley and GoGo come to America! By Chris Cheek

A five hour drive, crossing the border with an envelope of legal documents allowing me to take a baby out of the country of Swaziland for three months, several hours in the airport and 20 hours on an airplane with a 16 month-old – Shirley and GoGo came to America!

From temperatures of 107 – 109 in the shade for weeks to 19 degrees with wind chill factors 9 degrees and snow.

It is 4:30 AM and I’m sitting with Shirley in my bedroom for the next three months. She is playing with her doll and we are listening to Swazi Gospel music as I write.  My thoughts are fuzzy from jet lag, but clear enough to be grateful for all the people along the journey from Project Canaan to New York.  All along the way people helped with our bags, paid for my dinner, helped me through long lines, shared books, the list goes on and on.  They came into our lives with compassion, helped and quietly disappeared on their own journey – random acts of kindness.

The journey has been in the works for months. Shirley needs to have the second round of surgeries due to the burns she received at birth after being thrown into a pit latrine and then having fire dumped on her by her mother….to read the full story see Janine’s blog:

http://janinemaxwell.blogspot.com/2014/11/burned-baby-to-receive-life-saving.html

Over the next three months you will find these updates will change from life living with 106 abandoned children on a farm in the bush to the journey of an almost 60 year-old woman, living with a 16 month-old as mom after 33 1/2 years since she had a 16-month old.  The changes have already begun – I now focus on nap times, diaper changes, meals on a schedule and poop has become a major word used in my vocabulary.  Whereas my daily routine is changing I find the renewed memories of the true innocence of a little one waking in the morning in a crib next to my bed well worth losing some of the personal freedoms that come with grown children.  There are doctors appointments and surgeries ahead of us, getting used to the cold, new people and places in our lives.  I know there will be moments of laughter and fun with Shirley, time comforting a little one that is away from home and her family for three months, pain and confusion for Shirley as she goes through more surgeries and times of comic relief as after 30 + years a 60 year-old woman cares for a 16 month-old.

I am honored to have Janine and Ian’s trust to be her caregiver and “mom” over the next three months.  I pray for guidance as decisions are made, strength and energy to keep up with a 16 month-old and the love and lessons of the next three months.

As I close this out this week I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you the irony in the fact that I have spent my life wanting to live one of service in Africa.  Finally, after all the years of raising my boys, traveling with them as they lived out their dreams, the doors opened for me and God led me to Project Canaan.  I have over the past year learned many, many lessons and I can say without a doubt that I have been given much more that I have given and I know that God has an incredible sense of humor as He said to me about serving in Africa – “just kidding about living in Africa, I am going to send you to New York to live on Staten Island a few blocks from the ocean, in the middle of winter to take care of a precious little girl from Swaziland.”   The mission is good, New York/Staten Island is wonderful – it is the living near the ocean in the dead of winter up north for the next 3 months that I have laughed at many times because of how I hate the cold –  “God has an incredible sense of humor.”

The journey continues as Shirley and GoGo travel to America…….

GoGo

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