After long, busy days, Mrs. Mimi and I make a habit of sitting down a cup of tea and talking over the events of the day. Today was hectic and crazy, yet while chopping up sausage and crying over onions during preparations for dinner, we chatted about the days highs and lows. For me, the answer was obvious and the same. Yesterday I met a tiny baby girl - 8 months old, yet the size of a newborn preemie as a result of malnutrition and neglect. Huncie (pronounced Hoon-see) , as some call her, has grabbed hold of my heart and ripped it right out of my chest. Since meeting her yesterday, she is all I can think about, all I can focus on. We visited the creshe for what we intended to be a short stay first thing this morning. As the kids finished up their breakfast and went outside to play, the teachers, Mrs. Mimi and I began to talk about Huncie. As Ms. Kitty and Ms. Dorah spoke more about her, adding to what I had told Mrs. Mimi already, Mrs. Mimi decided that we should go and see Huncie. “We’ll say that we heard that there was a really cute baby in the house,” Mrs. Mimi strategized as we turned to go. And so we walked, Ms. Dorah, Mrs. Mimi and I, down the dusty red dirt path toward my baby girl. We ducked down to enter into the shack, and saw two women with babies tied to their backs, and small child, about two years old, sticking her fingers into a mayonnaise container and licking it off her fingers. Mucus crusted around her nose and eyes, and though she didn’t seem to be terribly thin, she was quite small for a two year old. The lady closest to me had a baby tied to her back, and though the child was also small, she seemed decently healthy. I wondered for an instant if I had just exaggerated the baby’s malnutrition in my mind, yet knew in my heart that I hadn’t. And then I saw Huncie, or more like her tiny head, peeking out of what otherwise just appeared to be a shawl wrapped around her mother’s body. The malnutrition was not imagined or exaggerated. It was real, and ravishing the child’s frail body. I was so thankful she had survived the night, yet I wondered how many more she could take. The mother, who couldn’t have been older than 30, had given birth to eight babies, five of whom had died from neglect. Ms. Kitty explained later how the mother drank both during her pregnancy and then, and though she was given baby formula, diapers, and clothes for her child by the government, she sold them to make money for alcohol. I took Huncie in my arms as she let out a single, pitiful wail. She was wet with urine, and was in the same clothes that she was wearing as the day before, which, of course, was wet then as well. After getting the mothers permission to take the baby to the creshe and feed her, I tucked the blanket around Huncie’s frail little body and stepped out in the light, my heart breaking all the time. Neighbors stared curiously at us as an Asian lady walked with blonde teen with a black baby in her arms down their red dirt streets. Back at the creshe, I Ms. Dorah quickly made porridge for the baby while I laid a blanket down to put a diaper on her. The child was desperately thin. Wrinkled skin sagged on her legs that should have been fat and learning to walk, yet baby Huncie could barely hold up her head. She looked just like the pictures of babies at malnutrition centers I had seen, only I was holding this baby in my arms and not looking at her in a photo. I wanted to cry as I watched her struggle to eat the porridge. She was so hungry, and yet she didn’t know how to swallow and choked on the food. “She was put in your path for a reason, Brittany,” Mrs. Mimi told me later. “You’ll have to ask God what that reason is. We will have to come up with a practical plan to help her.” I nodded silently in agreement as my head swirled with a thousand thoughts and plans, and pain over that little girl stabbed at my heart. As I told mom later, this has been my first heartbreak experience here. Five children in little Huncie’s family died when they ought to have lived. Yet I am determined that Huncie will not be the next.
It's hard to get a good perspective on her size from the photo, but the newborn size clothes she is wearing swallow her up.