Written by Minh Nguyen
I often remind myself to expect the unexpected. Things still hit me by surprise, sometimes to test my compassion level and/or my flexibility in shifting my priorities.
This happened four days after the New Year, I received an urgent email from a Franciscan friend who does pastoral work at the San Sebastian Women’s prison. She mentioned that 27 year old Aida, who is taking my hairdressing course, requested that I take her 4 year old son to the hospital (in Bolivia, children under 6 still live with their parents inside the prison).
Although it was my day to work at the shelter for the abused and/or abandoned girls, I decided to go to San Sebastian jail to find out about Aida’s urgency. It turned out that her son, Kevin, had diarrhea on New Year’s Eve, this went away after a day however his fever and sweating at night continued. For four days he refused to eat or drink and this worried her. The prison clinic doesn’t have a pediatrician on staff and they wanted Aida to have her son treated on the outside.
The dilemma was, who was going to take Kevin for a checkup? Aida couldn’t, her husband is in San Sebastian prison for men on the next block. Her father is in another prison a half hour away. Her mother is the only one outside and she was busy working, she visits everyone on a regular basis and takes Kevin out sometimes. Her mother was unable to come; the San Sebastian guards and the social workers were all busy. In Aida’s desperation I became her last resource.
I have known Aida for over a year. She is poor, as is her mother. Without education or skills, they make a living by selling little things on the street. In the prison she does cleaning for extra money, as it is difficult to get by with less than a dollar a day provided by the government. I helped Aida pay for her I.V. and medicines last year when she had pancreas surgery. I think she turns to me because I have helped her before. Kevin knows me and she trusts me with her son.
Early next morning, the prison door cracked open just wide enough to let little Kevin to pass through, the police handed Kevin to me and quickly closed the door in fear that even a fly would get out. I thought to myself, how can people trust me so easily? The mother, Kevin and the police. Have I been here long enough for them to trust me? Or is it because they don’t have any other choice besides taking a risk. Even the doctors and nurses did not ask me for an authorization paper, which I had asked Aida to write.
The whole experience was like a miracle to me. I couldn’t imagine how Kevin could be so calm, trusting and understanding without his mother being present. Although he cried at the beginning, he listened to me when I explained the situation to him. He let the nurses examine him and went through the different tests with a bit of whining. I chuckled at how Kevin wanted me to take him behind a big tree for his urine and bowel movement , the specimens required for his lab tests (he’s afraid of the hospital’s bathroom).
We left the hospital by noon to head to my home for some soup. I let him watch a cartoon movie on my laptop and after that we went to the playground. Kevin was like a bird out of his cage. He ran and played until he was exhausted and hungry. I took him to the family restaurant nearby, he ate a little and we took the leftovers to his mom. Kevin fell asleep on my lap on the bus ride back to San Sebastian prison late that evening. It had been a full day for the both of us.
I never thought that I would babysit a little child this way in Bolivia. I am glad that I did. It was a good experience for me. Kevin and I have become closer since that day. I later on was told that I should not have taken the risk of taking Kevin to the hospital. What am I to do? Ignore the need of those I call my brothers and sisters because I fear that something could happen to me?