I did not expect to become so upset. I had worked with children for years and considered myself a professional. I cared for the youth I had worked with and always cared a little more about the most troubled youth in the room, but I did not expect to care like this. I was in Kibera, a slum outside of Nairobi, Kenya volunteering in a daycare for malnourished HIV positive children. The child was unofficially named Jack Sylvester Rasta Otieno, only two of those being actual names, the other part being a musician one of the nurses had attached to Jack’s name.
Jack was one of eleven children attending the daycare to be insured two meals a day and nursed back from the brink of malnourishment. While other children became sick, even died during my time in Kibera, none taught me as much about myself as Jack. I have his picture, with him flashing his wonderful smile, on my desk.
He couldn’t stand for very long when I met him. He would often fall while trying to kick a ball, as his other leg couldn’t hold his weight. I didn’t fall for Jack at first sight but I grew attached to him as I saw him improve drastically and then saw his health fall again. Jack was put in the hospital, some people thought he would not live. After spending an entire afternoon with Jack while he received a saline drip that I was told may keep him going a little bit longer, I snapped. I returned to the orphanage where I was living visibly upset, went immediately to speak to the doctor, a friend, and asked what he thought of Jack’s condition and what could be done. I quickly grew angry. I wanted Jack to be admitted into the orphanage where his condition could be improved. I told a nun at the orphanage how I felt with several expletives, went to my room and stared at the wall unable to cry and unable to speak. I believe this is a moment when I found out the value of passion. In with all the emotions I was feeling I knew I had let everyone, including the nun who I had cursed at know what I felt and, in part, who I was. It may have been naive but I also felt connected to Jack.
I believe that passion is a fundamental part of life. I believe that without it there is no need to go through the daily motions, no point to it. It took Jack to show me this. I watched him shovel in meals, then went with him to vomit outside as his body couldn’t handle the food. As a child he must have had some passion, even if it was driven by his physical need to eat. When Jack’s health had improved for a short time he would run as long as his body would allow, usually a few yards before a break. The last time I saw Jack he was on the floor of the hospital waiting to be discharged. Passion is relative to the situation, but passion is necessary for life. Passion enough to smile while deathly sick, passion enough to use vulgarity with nuns, passion enough to eat food your body won’t accept, passion that leaves you in tears, hysterics, or unable to speak is needed in life, this I believe.
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