February 23, 2005
Sophia and Soap
We decided to go ahead with our usual Ndirande session today, despite the Cholera outbreak. The bacteria are not usually passed on by physical contact, but by contaminated water and food. We made sure that the tea water was boiled, and we decided that it would be a good week to give bars of soap to each family. Health authorities are urging everyone to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly.
It was my job to give out the bars of soap. As I walked around the room I was met with outstretched hands and smiles. Everyone murmured, “Thank you,” or “Zikomo.” Some of the children’s clothing was dirty and ragged. I realized that many of the people were unable to afford the 35 kwacha required to buy a bar of soap. Purchasing food is much more important. I wished we had laundry detergent and disinfectant as well to distribute, but the soap would have to suffice.
One of the families that I gave soap to was that of Alex and Sophia. Alex is probably the most disabled of all the people who come to our sessions. The missionaries think that he had encephalitis or brain malaria as a baby. Alex is about 7 years old, and he can’t walk, use a crayon or even hold his head up. Last year he was given a neck brace to help him support his head, but he cries when anyone puts it on him. Alex drools constantly.
Sophia is Alex’s grandmother. She cares for him while his mother is at work. She has to bathe him, feed him and transport him since he can’t walk. Even though he is growing, she straps him on her back with a chitenje. She rarely smiles, but when she does, her face lights up and you can see where she is missing an incisor in the front of her mouth. She always looks tired, and appears to be older than she really is. Life is hard for her and Alex.
But the bar of soap made Sophia smile. Something so little brought a moment of joy. Her face lit up! As I made my way around the room, I kept glancing back at Alex and Sophia, and she was still grinning.
When the case was empty, I sat down on a wooden bench. A young woman with a baby strapped to her back walked up to me and dropped to her knees. She looked absolutely forlorn. She stretched out her hands and said, “Soap, please,” in broken English. She had come in late and missed the distribution. She was begging me for a bar of Lifeboy. I had her stand up and rummaged through our supply basket. Fortunately, we had a few spare bars left and I handed her one. Another grin!
Then I remembered to give a bar to the old man who guards the door each week. He also sported a toothy smile while posing for a picture, clutching his bar of soap.
I doubt if our soap will make an impact on the cholera outbreak, but at least it made some people very happy today.
When we are in the USA, I seldom use bar soap. I prefer herbal or floral scented shower gels and special face wash. But you can bet, that whenever I do grab a bar of soap from now on, I will remember the smile on Sophia’s face.