By Kalina Davis
His name was Julius. I noticed him almost as soon as we arrived at the orphanage. He was smaller than the rest of the boys, and he did not rush up to us as the others did. I greeted the others, and moved towards him as he walked slowly to the group.
“Hi, my name is Kalina.”
I gently shook his hand, and noticed that his other hand was swollen and slightly deformed. As I looked down, I saw that his bare feet were the same way. He looked up at me with a faint smile, but said nothing.
More boys were coming out to greet us, and as I moved on from that small, vulnerable orphan to see the others, my heart hurt.
The group I was with came to the orphanage to spend time with the orphans while our medical volunteers tested the boys for malaria and HIV. The only forms of entertainment the orphanage had were a couple of soccer balls, a tire, and a drum. I watched as the boys ran barefoot on the dusty ground, kicking a soccer ball and chasing after it. Some boys used the tire as a hoop to kick the ball through. Other boys danced and sang for us as their friends played the drum. This was all they had. And yet, laughter and shouts of joy filled the air.
I don’t even know what town or village that small Zambian orphanage was in. It appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. One small building is what this orphanage for boys consisted of. In front of the building sat a small hut for shade. A few goats roamed the dead grass. Beyond that, there was nothing. Nothing besides those smiling, laughing boys, soaking in the attention we gave them. And that one boy with the sad eyes and the swollen hand and feet.
As the boys ran around, I noticed that Julius did not join them. He sat on the porch of the orphanage, watching quietly. He had the same faint smile on his lips.
“He’s affected by sickle cell disease,” my nurse friend said when she noticed I was watching him. “Because the medical field is so limited here, he can’t get the help he needs to regain his health and strength.”
I realized the pain that must keep him from running around and playing with the others.
After all the boys were checked by the medical volunteers, we passed out bubbles and squirt guns to everyone. The boys went wild, running around and squirting each other with their new toys. Still, little Julius sat there and watched. I sat down next to him.
“Can I open these bubbles for you?”
He nodded in reply. I opened the container, and began to blow bubbles from the wand. His face instantly lit up with a smile as bright as the sun as he watched the bubbles gracefully float away. I gave the bubble container to him, and watched as he created his own bubbles. My heart ached at his joy.
After we left the orphanage that day, the image of Julius blowing the bubbles stayed with me.
When I was back in the States, I researched sickle cell disease. It is a lifelong disease, and without updated medical practice, those affected by it may only live up to 14 years. I thought of Julius, and my heart broke. And then I thought of the bubbles and his smile. This boy had nothing. He had lost his parents in one way or another. His body was weak and dysfunctional. He might not live many more years from now. And yet, something as simple as bubbles gave him such pure joy. A joy I could not understand. A joy that provided me with perspective.
Perspective. That’s what traveling can give you. When you travel, your eyes can be opened in so many ways. You will see wonders of the world and experience life in new cultures and contexts. However, not everything in this world is beautiful and wonderful and whole. Despite the amazing things this world has to offer, it is still broken and hurting. Sometimes the perspective that traveling brings is painful. Painful, yet humbling. This perspective found through traveling, whether positive or negative, can teach us so much and help us grow in ways we never could in our own communities. The way we look at this world is expanded.
So get out there and find perspective. Find that mountain that will make your jaw drop. Find that food that will make your mouth water. Find that person you will always remember. Find that orphan with the bubbles and the smile.
By Kalina Davis
Go Travel, and Travel Fearless.
Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel
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