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A New Friend

Today I met Nyajima. Well actually I met her yesterday, but I saw her true personality today. Yesterday she had just had a small seizure in the hallway of the clinic, while her worried mother held her in her arms. Korir, the doctor who examined her, guessed her age to be about seven or eight. Her mom didn’t really have an idea, and with no birth certificates in South Sudan exact age takes on a different importance. Nyajima was quite docile and weak as she melted into her mother’s arms while Korir diagnosed her. Today she was the exact opposite.

Have you ever met someone that exudes joy? Not someone who is just happy, but someone who instantly makes others around them feel happy too, someone who makes it impossible for your face not to crack into a grin. This is Nyajima. With her infectious smile this little girl started talking to me a mile a minute in the Nuer language. The Nuer people are another ethnic group that live beside the Dinka in Jonglei. Their area is not nearby. Nyajima and her mom came from Ayod County, the neighboring county to where our clinic is located in Duk County. Ayod is about a five day walk from Duk. Nyajima’s mom had brought her daughter on that long trek to ensure she would receive proper care. Her mom now smiled as she watched her daughter show her true colours and let everyone meet the dynamic little girl that she is. Nyajima encouraged me to take pictures by smiling and laughing historically every time the shutter clicked. When I showed her which button was pressed to take pictures, she took about fifty. I couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying, but that certainly didn’t slow her down as she laughed and played while I spoke to the nurse.

Two months ago Nyajima started suffering from seizures. She has a small wound on her head caused by falling due to this condition. This is what prompted the five day walk to Duk and the clinic. Her mother was confused and worried and had nowhere else to turn. Upon arriving at the clinic Nyajima was diagnosed with epilepsy and malaria. As we stood and talked to the nurse and he translated some of the story to me, Nyajima stayed glued to my arm anxious to find a new game to play. She was admitted into the inpatient ward yesterday in order to gain some strength and start her medication. She was leaving today. Her mother was given drugs for her daughter’s epilepsy and malaria and they were told to return in thirty days. If they have any friends or relatives near the clinic they will most likely stay with them, instead of making the five day walk back.

While working in the different places I have, I find myself sometimes trying to steel myself against individual stories of hardship and difficulty. Too often there are children or families that have such heart wrenching stories to tell that to absorb them all is difficult. My mind works to figure out how systems can be improved in order to alleviate the difficulties so many individuals face. In a similar vein, I often try and avoid becoming connected to individuals in the places where I work, especially children. Part of this is my idea that in this type of work it is inevitable that I will move around. I see the essential goal of development as aiming to put oneself out of a job. Sometimes counter intuitive to my own personal interests, but the goal nonetheless. I remain at a distance in order not to disappoint the children or myself when I inevitably leave. Nyajima didn’t let me do this. Her warm smile and excited laugh definitely melted the steel that normally serves me so well. Now I wait until she returns, hopefully less affected by her seizures and with that same extraordinary smile.


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