Series on Pakistan: The Face of Hunger

This entry is Part 4 of a 5 part series.  If you have just begun to read please feel free to reference Part 1: Orientation.  Thank you for your interest!

I am not  familiar with the face of hunger.  While I am aware of this as a problem, my personal view of it is limited.  Somehow it works its way to a corner of my brain that registers “Real but not understandable” in a robotic voice.  I grew up in the developing world and children with bloated stomachs and tiny legs were not uncommon.  As often happens when one is a child and something is understood through a child’s eyes, adult experience is needed to bring better understanding and perspective. It was into this context that I saw the face of hunger with new vision.

It was the beginning of week two of our medical camps.  This particular village had just been reinhabited.  You could see the water line on the mud and brick homes about three feet from the ground.  The crumbling bricks promised the need for a complete rebuilding of the homes in order to make them safe.  With animation the women told us their story:  “The water came!  We knew we had to leave – we took whatever we could and walked 5 days to Khanpur.  We couldn’t walk at night because of the robbers.  Look!  Look over there!  You can see that the water is still here! We lost so much.  We just returned a couple of days ago.”  It was another story of loss and displacement.

This day it would be a tail-gate clinic.  It forever changed the idea of tail-gating for me.  The back of the van was opened and we arranged the portable pharmacy as best we could and began the clinic.  (*It should be noted that one of the not so complimentary pictures of our trip was taken that day – that of 50 year old backsides bending and reaching over and into the back of a van.  Not so pretty!)

There seemed more than the usual malnourishment today.  We were giving out Plumpy’Nut like it was candy.  “Two tablespoons, morning and evening”  “Buh chumcha isubh, isham.”  We had it down so when the community health worker was needed by the doctor we were covered!

The face of hunger came half way through the morning in the person of a young mom, emaciated with her dark eyes sunken into a lovely face, a baby clinging to her breast sucking furiously, desperate for a drop of milk.  The breast was completely dry, there was no milk.  The baby’s face and body so thin, wide-eyed, not even energy to cry.  I stepped back, hardly believing what I saw.  My heart caught in my throat and I felt a wave of nausea.  The baby couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 kilos but by his length I knew this was not a new-born.  Maybe 7,8 months old.  The mom was desperate.  This was not malnourishment – this was starvation and Plumpy’Nut was not going to do it this time.  An act of God and admission to the mission hospital is what was needed.   The mom was holding her baby with a depth of love that words would fail to describe.  Cradled in her arms, her eyes pleaded for help and a miracle.

I don’t know if the miracle ever came.  The nature of our work was moving to different areas with medical needs daily.  There was a need to move forward no matter how difficult the situation so that we weren’t paralyzed by emotions that would prevent us from helping others. During that minute we did exactly what we should have, what we could have.  Vitamins, Plumpy’nut, instructions to the mom, a letter to authorize admission to the mission hospital, all with the un-spoken thought “It’s not enough, I know it isn’t enough”

The robotic part of my brain had been re-programmed with human emotion to cry out to God to feed and comfort the face of hunger.  My response to “care for the widow and the orphans” would be forever adjusted.

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress”

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