Guatemalan Saliva

Erica - Albuquerque, New Mexico
Entered on April 30, 2009

I believe in the power of the human touch. I believe that it can change lives. As the slobbery grin of my silent hero greets me with a gentle, barely audible moan, I know that he sees me. The opaque looking watery brown eyes show a slight interest in my presence but it is when I touch his brown skin, caked with dried beans, do I know that he not only sees me but feels me. There is a big difference. Confined within the dimensions of his own body, Juiver spends most of his days in a cradle meant to hold healthy babies; instead a weak seven year old boy rests in a cradle that cannot even support his stretched out legs.

I fell in love with him the moment he spotted me. He was one of the only children in the ward who seemed to possess some sort of life in him. Even though there was no possible way for him to move his body, his eyes would follow me no matter where I was in the room. When I saw him for the second time, I realized that he recognized me and would reach out his scrawny skin-stretched-to-the-bone hand and try to touch me. All I could concentrate on was the wet saliva dripping down his chin and his teeth popping out like a baby rabbit. The minute I got over the conditions of this poor boy, I reached out my nourished hand and touched his sweaty forehead. The sensation was undeniable and we both looked at each other with a profound sense of compassion. I saw a boy transforming through my very eyes. His smile lit up the entire room for weeks, even the nurses could tell and I could finally count how many teeth he had.

For twenty days straight, I would come into the hospital, help the nurses feed everyone, help brush their teeth, and entertain the more able-bodied children. The routine every morning was to take them out of their “cages” and set them down in their appropriate wheelchairs for the rest of the humid Guatemala June mornings. Juiver’s wheelchair had a head support but his tiny little neck rarely supported his own head as it would often sag and he would have to hunch his shoulders just to see past his knees. That was my own personal job: I made sure his head was always upright. Holding his head between my hands almost felt like brain surgery, one false move would send a roaring sea of pain to come thrashing in on the innocent victim but I never made a false move.

When my three weeks had run out, I knew saying goodbye to Juiver was going to be one of the hardest moments of my life. It was a rainy morning and the nurses had not fed him yet and I could feel his hunger stare at me with those brown eyes. I took his hand kissed it gently and walked out barely containing my tears. Juiver’s Guatemalan spit remained on my hand.

The three weeks I spent in Guatemala volunteering my time to just spend my days with those kids that would probably never remember me taught me something about the strength of the spirit. The spirit needs only one thing to survive and that is the sustenance of touch. I believe touch can make all the difference in a world filled with heartache.