Sunday, December 5, 2010


Probably an average of three village people drop by my house every day.  Some are friends, and some are new people just wanting to introduce themselves.  They often have a look of hopeful expectation, I think just hoping that I’ll give them a little gift or a bite of American food.  Some come for help and advice.  Hunon-Koffi was the latter.

Hunou-Koffi is about seventeen.  He attends the highschool.  He has come over to my house a couple times just briefly to introduce himself, and I saw him at the market and then again at the high school.  Honestly, he has the face of an angel.  He has been telling me, preparing me that he wanted to talk to me about some “things,.”  He asked me a couple times when it might be convenient for him to come to my house.   H.K. (as he will be known going forward) speaks fairly good English, and is President of the English club at the high school. H.K.’s legs are crippled.  He gets around on rusty old crutches.  Never saw anyone look so dignified.

I don’t know what caused his legs to stop working.  I don't know if he had polio, or what exactly is wrong.  He pretty much drags his legs behind him.  His legs and feet are small, just from lack of use I think.  The last time he came over (walked, drug himself...probably 2 miles) it was mid day, the hottest part of the day.  He was soaked with sweat.  I got him a drink of water, and he downed it in 10 seconds.  But he's always smiling, the sweetest smile, and I've not heard him complain once.  He just tells me what his life is like in a very matter of fact voice, as if he is talking about someone else.  He stays very technical about it.  I think he does not want pity or to be felt sorry for.  Recently he once again drug himself to my house, which I'm sure is just par for his day, but to me, his ability to get from one place to another looks dauntingly difficult.  

Honu-Koffi's crutches
He told me he'd like help with three things.  First, his school fees were due the next day and the school administrators told students who didn't bring their money, not to come.  H.K.’s family is poor.  His father is a farmer.  H.K. is the oldest of seven children.  Second he showed me his crutches, and how rusty they were.  He said he didn't want a three wheeled bike.  It’s like a big tricycle. (I see several of those in almost all villages for crippled people.)  They pedal them with their hands.  He doesn't want a bike, because he wants to keep as many muscles as he can.  He just wants better crutches.  There's a lot more to all of this...I asked a lot of questions about his diagnosis, family etc.  Believe it or not this is the short version.  His third request was, he just wants so badly to continue his education, and of course come to America.  If there was anyone in this whole wide world who deserved and needed help, it's this boy.  Never once is there any tone of pity in his voice, not even slightly, even as he showed me his legs and how they work.  But there is a desperation.  I see how he looks deep into my eyes, wondering if I will be able to help him. I think he’s wondering if he should have a glimmer of hope, and what that must feel like to him.  

I explained to H.K. we'd take one thing at a time.  First his school fees.  I told him I would talk to the school.  He should go to school, but not stand up when the other kids who haven’t paid leave.  He seemed relieved.  I did talk to David, my tutor.  I called him after H.K.  left.  It was a 30 second conversation.  I said “David, Hunou Koffi came by, and he doesn't have the money to bring tomorrow, is there anything we can do about this.”  David said “yes.”  I told David H.K. would go to school tomorrow, and David said, “yes, good.  We'll figure something out.”  So....yayyyyyyyyyyyy #1 - done.  The high school wants me to teach several hours a day, three days a week.  I won't do it, unless they let this boy finish without any more fees.  I don't know how to help him with the rest of it, though I've started investigating.  I think there are some NGO's in Tesvie that could help with the crutches, and as a matter of fact, I just got an email from a friend whose daughter works for a Medical Supply company.  She told me they would donate some crutches  #2 - done.....but I wonder if he could be helped so much more.  I feel compelled to find a group that will sponsor this remarkable boy. 

H.K. stopped by the morning I left for a week long Peace Corps Conference in Pagala.  It was about eight in the morning.  He wanted to show me that one of his rusty crutches had indeed broken, and he needed to get it soddered.  He has found a man in the village who will sodder it for him, but he didn’t have any money.  I didn’t have any money either…just enough to get to my conference in Pagala.  I told H.K. to take the crutch to the man and to tell him I would pay for it when I returned in a week.  It’s only a matter of time though, before the other one breaks from the rust, and then the one we just fixed.  I think H.K. has been soddering the ends back on for quite a while, and I think the crutches become a bit shorter each time.

So...I couldn't stop thinking about him, and how someone smiles through all this, and what his life must be like, and how stupid Lindsay Lohan is.  haha.  I don't know.  Anyway, on my way to Tesvie the day after I met with H.K. I couldn’t stop my tears.  I can’t decipher my emotions.  I think mostly just awe that every time he takes a painful step he smiles, real smiles and doesn’t complain.  How does that work?

I think Hunou-Koffi will help me understand the wonderment of the human spirit.

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