Even though we couldn't help her, we also couldn't send her home. She came with her "aunt" from the same village, who also needed VVF surgery. We were able to help Lalle, her aunt. But because Lalle stayed, it meant Fatima needed to stay too. They came from a village over a day's drive away, and we couldn't send a young girl home without her escort. So Fatima settled in. We gave her diapers to catch the wetness. We set her up with her own bed (and later moved her to a mattress under her aunt's bed when there just wasn't any extra room on the ward). We gave her crayons and paper and taught her to make friendship bracelets. We hugged her and loved on her and she blossomed into an affectionate, slightly bossy, energetic teen.
After a couple of weeks of being here, though, she made a small escape attempt. Some of our women were being discharged and going to the hope center, where they would stay until they were done with all our follow-up checkups etc. So she dressed in her nice clothes, walked over to me who had just arrived for hand over and told me goodbye, she was going to the hopecenter to wash her clothes. Not knowing any different I accepted it and watched her go, then mentioned to Karin our team leader that I was surprised that she got to go. Karin responds that she wasn't leaving. Knowing that Fatima had just walked out the door, I swiftly followed, calling to her and she waved and continued. So I caught up to her, grabbed her and had to physically bring her back, she wasn't about to walk back on her own. She clung to me for a while, but accepted that she needed to stay and settled back onto the ward.
Coming from so far away, the language that Fatima and her aunt speak is Moba... something NO ONE else around spoke. Thankfully, Fatima had been to school, and was fluent in french. So she became a very important translator to communicate with Lalle.
The longer we've been in Togo, the better my french is getting, and the more frequently I use it. The patients learn pretty fast who actually understands them, and Fatima was no exception. She would wave me over to tell me things, for a chat or to show off her latest creation. She also would attempt to tell me crazy stories. And part way through her time with us she began a little routine with me, telling me that I was her mother and that she didn't ever want to leave the ship. She would sail whereever we went. (Sadly, her own mother is dead and her father is not with her and her little brother). She also started telling me I could go home, she was a nurse and would do my job. We would regularly joke back and forth about what duties she would perform for me, and whether she actually knew what she was doing. We teased each other, laughing and joking so much at times that one nurse commented that it looked like we were best friends!
"Look! Who's that?" I asked her. While I couldn't see her face at this point, I'm sure it would have been some kind of shock. "My stomach hurts, oh, oh, oh, my stomach hurts!" She looked back at me, then at the picture again, and repeated, "my stomach hurts!" In complete shock, she went back and forth for a bit. She couldn't believe this picture was there, of her and I, out on Deck 7 one afternoon.
I later led her over to another room to show her how us clicking on "print" had resulted in the printer spitting out report sheets for our nurses coming on soon. I'm not sure how much she learned from me giving her some insight into what I do at the computer every day. I'm not sure if she thinks it's some kind of magic. But I think she enjoyed it.
Last week, she waved me over to where she was sitting and asked if I wanted to learn Moba. I agreed and the lesson started right there. She grabbed my hair and said... uh... something along the lines of "yhareh", I repeated. Then she pointed to her head and said another word, and on it went with various body parts. Some, like nose were easy "mial". Others, like eyebrows, were such a mix of consonents that we both laughed and she laughed so hard she had tears running down her face. Being a good little teacher she went over and over those 20 or so words she taught me, making me repeat them, then quizzing me. Mostly I couldn't remember, and sometimes when I was truly stuck, I'd throw the french name at her and then she'd scold me and get upset so I'd confess I had no idea and she'd remind me that I already know french and I need to learn Moba. Every time she saw me after that, she quizzed me. I'm apparently a very slow learner... Oh well, it was fun!
Right before she left the ship, she got to participate in a dress ceremony, because she was a part of everything on the ward, and how could we leave her out? And just like everyone else, she got up to make a speech. She said she understood that she was still too small for surgery, but that she would be back one day, the next time we come. And that she was soooo thankful for the love she was shown here, how everyone accepted her, included her.
This small girl leaves with a piece of my heart.