I arrived in Gashora with about 15 snapshots of kids that I had taken on last year's trip. None of the families in Gashora have a camera and i knew that the kids would be excited to have a photo of themselves. I gave most of the photos out in the first few days...got plenty of squeals from youngsters and thank you hugs from their parents. After the third day, I still hadn't found one of my favorite little guys to give him his picture. Now, I shouldn't play favorites but this 9 year old boy was one that I remembered from last year as helpful, quiet but sweet. I remember saving a little AYSO soccer jersey for him and gave it to him at the end of our trip last year. Anyway, I started showing his photo to several other children and found out that the boy's name was Karisa. He was one of the poorest kids in the village-his father had passed away and he lived with his mother. He would rather watch the Muzungus than go to school- which explains why I remembered him so much from last year's work site. After the village kids got over the disappointment that I didn't have a photo for them, a few ran off to find the little boy. Awhile later, I saw him walking up. At first, I was surprised that he didn't seem more excited to get his photo. My surprise turned to concern when I saw him up close. He was breathing really hard and he seemed a bit thinner than last year. I tried to tell myself that maybe he just had a growth spurt or maybe he just had a cold...but deep down I knew that something was wrong. Even though he was excited for his picture, he just didn't have the same brightness in his eyes. He doesn't speak a word of English but I could tell that he remembered me. I had tears in my eyes as I gave him a hug while trying to hide my worry from him.
That night, I talked over my experience with Nick and decided that I would pay the $2 for a years worth of Rwanda's universal health care. Then the doctors would see the boy at the nice new health center and hopefully figure out if he had worms or even malaria. The next day, I had Lama find the boy's mother to be sure that was okay. After an in-depth Kinyarwandan conversation between Lama and the mother, Lama steered me off to the side. "I have bad news" Lama said and my stomach dropped. Apparently the little boy (and his mother) were both HIV positive. This was not news that I was expecting and I had to walk away for a bit. It seemed so unfair that this little boy was born with HIV. The family was receiving medication from the health center, but with a sick mother and no father, the family did not have enough money for nutritious foods and it was taking a toll on the boy's health. Perhaps this wasn't the best approach but I gave some money to the boys mother (about $50 US) and made it clear that it was for their well being. She thanked me, slipped it under her shirt and we took a photo. I did not see her again the entire trip. Later that day, I saw the boy in a brand new outfit and freshly bathed. He looked much better, though I couldn't help but wince when I felt his hard belly. At movie night that night, the little boy sat in my lap as the team worked to get the electricity connected. Being a nine year old boy, he was a little too big to be cuddled like a baby, but he briefly feel asleep in my arms, and I loved him more that I thought was possible for a stranger. When he woke up, I had one of my Rwandan friends tell the boy that the could go play with his friends and that he didn't have to stay with me. He told her he would rather stay with me so that he could see the screen (We snagged one of the desks). He then proceeded to tell the Rwandan translator that his mother had told him that I was a good person and that she couldn't care for him like I could and that I was taking him to America with me. I have no idea where that rumor came from, but clearly the villagers talk and that story was created. I told the Rwandan translator that there was no way I was bringing him to America and that she needed to tell the boy that he should stay with his mother. She responded that she didn't have the heart to tell him and that it was best for him to believe that there was hope in his future. I tried to tell her that he should know the truth but the movie had started and the kids in the room were screaming. Later, during a scene in E.T where the American mother is putting dinner on the table for her kids, he looked up at me and smiled and cuddled close. My stomach dropped and I, once again, had tears in my eyes. The next day, I had a Rwandan friend tell the boy that he was not coming to America. I wasn't there to see the boy's reaction. I didn't get to say goodbye. I wish I could tell you that there was a happy ending to this story but there is not. I am resting easier knowing that my 'adopted' Rwandan family has promised to look out for the boy. They are showing their love for me by helping the boy. Covaga should be giving the boy a goat out of the funds that we raised. But, life is tough for these people in Gashora. Much tougher than I realized last year. It is not just a village filled with women chatting while weaving and happy kids running through the streets. I am not sureI was prepared to peel off the layers and see the harsh reality that is life in a developing country. As we enter Uganda, I am honestly not ready to reach out and make such deep connections as I have with those in Gashora. I hear life is even harder in Uganda-less government structure, less access to healthcare, etc and I'm not sure I can handle another heartache. But, I didn't come on this trip just for safaris and photo ops. Situations like these spur me to care more and therefore do more. My Rwandan friends have asked me to say God Bless you to our team's friends and family. I couldn't agree more.