04 Feb Guatemala Explorations #1
BORN IN A TOILET
My wife held the three-week old baby girl ever so tenderly, its tiny head cradled in the palm of her hand. Small dark eyes peered from inside the colorful blanket that wrapped the infant securely, and her earth-tone skin was clean and soft to the touch. The sweet baby smell brought back memories of childhoods past.
But the initial days of little Ana’s childhood were not like those of other children. She had been born in a toilet, a dirty and decrepit spot outside Antigua, Guatemala. Perhaps the naked infant had been placed there by a highly distraught young mother—or perhaps an older mother who knew she could not feed yet another child.
Fortunately the uneducated owner of the food stall that sported two wooden tables had checked the toilet as he locked doors for the evening. How long Baby Ana had lain in the cold water of the toilet bowl was unknown, but she was immediately dried and secured in the man’s dirty shirt as he took her to his house.
The day we met her, Ana was a very different baby, secure, warm and cared for by a local orphanage that serves sixty-three children, all abandoned or otherwise without parents. Ana is the youngest, but several others, only months older than she, sat up and cooed in their nearby cribs as the local nurses and other staff tended to their needs.
Outside the nursery older children, mostly boys and girls around six to ten years old, crossed the modest playground laughing and chasing one another. Judi, my wife, was immediately inducted into pushing several of them on scooters as they tried to slide along a gravel path. Little boys roped me in to kicking a soccer ball with them until they apparently tired at my lack of skill. I moved on to push two girls on a pair of swings, their giggles mounting to shrieks as I made them soar higher and higher into the warm air.
“Abuelo, abuelo” one called to me, insisting that I return to them for more pushes. Their word for me was “Grandfather”, a warm and loving term of endearment that touched me deeply as I continued to push them toward the sky.
The lives of the children at play had all begun roughly, perhaps not in toilets but many in similar conditions. Two of them, one and three, had been found abandoned on a small farm because their grandparents could no longer feed them or themselves. Several babies had been placed on random doorsteps, left by a parent to the fates that awaited them. Still others appeared miraculously from inside large dumpsters, the finds of teenage boys who dare to go “dumpster diving” at night to see how many tiny souls they can discover amidst the discarded trash and garbage.
Anger over the treatment of abandoned babies and small children is perhaps a normal reaction, at least it was for us. But unless we simply wish to believe that parents who do these things are just evil people, the feeling of anger must give yield to further thought. What kind of life stresses can cause otherwise loving parents to abandon them? What overpowering life turmoil causes a mother to see the joy of a new baby as an unbearable burden instead?
It is impossible to leave an orphanage without a deep desire to bundle up all of the children to take home, to give them baths, to provide warm meals and a good life. That, of course, is not possible. But it is possible for the world community to care for these children—our children if we really care—by supporting the fledgling efforts of orphanages and other programs who give a chance at life to an Ana born in a toilet.
J. Larry Brown