Tuesday, March 6, 2007

An Unforgettable Encounter

When I wrote in my February 21 blog that I had never felt truly powerless until I looked into the eyes of a dying child, I hadn’t yet met 8-year-old Diana*.

As part of the team that traveled to Honduras to interview sponsored children and their families, I didn’t plan to spend much time talking to Diana and her mother, María*. Diana had clearly overcome the severe malnutrition that first brought her to Kelly’s attention during his visit to Honduras in 2005. Besides, we were rushed for time and had several interviews to conduct before the end of the day.

I paused nonetheless and greeted Diana in my usual clumsy Spanish. I asked her and her mother a few questions about her previous problems. Diana, all smiles, said she felt fine and enjoyed visiting the center to play hopscotch with her friends. But a glassy look suddenly swelled in María’s eyes and contradicted Diana’s good cheer.

I turned to her mother and asked, “Is Diana completely recovered?” Searching out my eyes, María gazed at me for what seemed like an eternity. Tears streaked her cheeks as she breathed the words...“My daughter has HIV.”

All at once, the world seemed to collapse in around me. I didn’t know what to say. One moment I was talking to a young girl full of joy and happiness, the next minute I was imagining her lifeless body in her mother’s arms. My translator, Jesús, filled in for me while I tried to regain my composure.

Jesús translated fragments of the conversation as I compulsively wiped my eyes. “They only found out about Diana’s case a year ago... Her mother has HIV too...No one else in the community knows...They’ll be expelled if anyone finds out...Diana’s medicine will run out in March....”

I quietly excused myself and went to our van, where I had a bag of toys stowed away. Although I hadn’t planned to give Diana anything, I picked out the best toys I’d brought and placed them delicately into an embroidered bag. I chose a soft, plush bunny, a necklace with a flashing pendant, some colorful pencils and handfuls of candy.

When I returned, both Diana and her mother were smiling. Arturo, the area supervisor, had shared some encouraging words in my absence...the community center would provide a small stipend for Diana’s upcoming medical expenses.

Right then and there, I wanted pick Diana up and take her with me, far away from her infected surroundings. Instead, knowing that there was nothing more to be done at that moment, I showed her the toys I’d picked out and explained why I thought they were the very best.

Diana smiled like a child should...without a care in the world, believing only in the moment and the kindness of a stranger. That, to me, is Honduras.

*Not actual names.

Posted on behalf of Damon Guinn.

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