so how did everyone celebrate international women's day? i really did not do much more than work. but i did think about the whole 'what does international women's day mean to me here in bangladesh?' and mostly, international women's day made me think of the moms in the hospital in the refugee camp. moms holding tiny malnourished babies. moms who are barely past childhood. moms that as malnourised as their babies. when we did our nutritional survey in november, we gathered data that revealed 1/3 of households in tal camp are female headed. as well, 1/3 of children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years are malnourished. and one more 'IWD-appropriate' statistic; 1/4 of pregnant and lactating women are malnourished or are at risk of malnutrition.
while i was in teknaf last month, i saw a baby that was only 1 kilo when it was born. the baby was doing remarkably well, and had fattened up to 1.6 kilos by this point. mom had gained some weight too, as she was 24 kilos when she came to the hospital. she was smiling a lot and showing off her baby to the doctor who had come back from vacation, asking how soon they could leave.
some moms held babies that did nothing more than look. they just looked up at the ceiling, up at their mom, or just out to whatever was holding their gaze in midair. they weren't crying to gurgling or laughing. just looking. the babies that just stared made me scared. it sounds wimpy to say, but they looked so fragile, serious, and just so 'not like babies should'. later on, one of our staff members showed me her new baby, and it was fat and reassuring, and i realised that they sight of a malnourised baby is still so unreal to me, so very sunday morning fundraising 30 minute infomercial on tv. instead of babies, they look like frail old men, lying there staring at you, asking for some sort of explanation.
i would talk to the moms a bit (ie. say hello and smile and use some universal sign language since we had no common spoken language). i was thrilled at one of our hospitals, when a 13 month old girl, 1 day from being discharged and feeling goooooood, smiled up at me when i walked around. she had big eyes naturally, not just the kind left hollow from a wasting face. big eyes, and the start of some chubby cheeks underneath. and she gave me a grin that revealed the new teeth arriving. all that baby wanted to do was giggle and shove her fist in her mouth to soothe her aching gums. but our nurses, who are constantly trying to reinforce hygiene, kept reminding mama to pull out the hand. baby was a bit disgruntled with this, but i tried to distract her by playing peek-a-boo with my scarf. she was SO into it! she started using mama's scarf to hide behind. woot! what a party.
then she wanted down, and showed off her hesitant steps. i was kneeling on the ground and she toddled over to me and then collapsed onto my legs, grinning again.
so i took a seat on the floor, perched the little one on my leg, and we had a fine 10 minutes of hanging out time. mom thought it was funny, the nurse tried to get me to not sit on the floor (the staff hate it when i sit on the floor, or on a step or anything that isn't a chair), and this little girl just had a field day trying to climb up my hair.
so i will try to do with this story, what i do with so many others in an attempt to keep myself sane. i will look for the silver lining, the lessons learned. i will be proud that we are doing what we can, and treating those people who we can treat. i will forgive myself for the shock i felt when i saw the 1 kilo baby. although to be honest, i hope the sight of a malnourished child never fails to shock me. i hope i never normalise this. i hope i can respond to the nightmare with compassion and action, and not shutting down, or bailing out. It's so easy to avert your eyes, i hope i don't.