There is a Mama in a village called Rudropur somewhere in Bangladesh – that exotic country that I know almost nothing about, except that a factory fell once there, and the dust that it kicked up in my life has changed the way I think about clothes.
Her name is Aklima. She has a son named Ashik, who is, I believe, almost the exact same age as my oldest son, Dane.
I don’t know what life is like for Aklima and her son Ashik. I doubt it looks like ours – filled with afternoon turtle-hunts and PBS and big stacks of picture books from the library. I think this is the thing that often keeps me from approaching people of other cultures in my writing. How can I know? How could I ever compare my suburban, American problems with theirs?
Even that year I lived in China, I hesitated to write about the Chinese people. The language gapped wide between us, and I couldn’t understand the history, the work, the food, the landscape. I was just some American, briefly touching down there. Even the dorms we stayed in had fancy amenities like air conditioning and hot water – amenities not offered to the Chinese teachers who worked alongside us.
I have lived a cushioned, privileged life, and I know it. How do I begin to write about poverty, malnutrition, Bangladesh, where 5% of the children die before age five.
Dane turns five next Friday.
I remember when I couldn’t get him to eat.
For months after he should have transitions to solids, he refused. He sealed his lips to the baby spoon full of soupy rice cereal, to pureed bananas and those sickly-green baby-peas. I remember play-dates, when other kids his age stuffed slobbery handfuls of wafer-light puffs and Cheerios into toothless mouths, and my kid just looked on with disgust.
I remember buying ever.single.item in the Baby Food aisle, thinking, Maybe this one will work. Maybe this pre-packaged medley of Oatmeal and Blueberries. Maybe organic. Maybe Gerber-brand ravioli.
During those long nights he worke frequently, nursed frantically. It felt like the nutrients of my body, which had kept him well in the first months of his life, were no longer sufficient to quell his appetite.
Ten months. Eleven months. Twelve months – not one bite.
I don’t know much about Bangladesh, but I know what it’s like to look into your kid’s eyes and have no idea why he’s not eating. And no idea how to feed him.
I relate to Aklima – respect her, applaud her, call her “Eshet Chayil!” – Woman of Valor – because I know what it takes to ask for help for your own child. To admit that you’re lost, that you’re stuck, that your “mother’s intuition” isn’t good enough.
It feels like hurling yourself off the cliff of your own pride; it’s admitting that you can’t do it on your own – the one thing you’re supposed to know how to do: Feed your child.
I remember what it felt like the first time the district aides came in to test Dane. I remember watching them sing songs and play games and make discreet marks on their clipboards. They put different foods in front of him and watched him cringe. I saw the exchange of looks and knew that they were thinking autism.
I sat there, helpless and being helped. I remember the mixed feelings of it all. The fear, the anxiety, the guilt. And then…months later, when Dane first put an off-brand cheese puff in his mouth. Then a piece of red pepper. Then a slice of quesadilla. Relief. And gratitude. And, finally, hope.
When Ashik was three-and-a-half, Aklima too flung herself forward in an act of love-filled faith. She took him to the Positive Deviance (PD) Hearthe Programme, a free child nutrition initiative launched with financial support from World Vision.
She asked for help, and she received it: information and inspiration, help and kindness. A son who recovered from critical malnutrition, one precious pound at a time.
What do I know about Bangladesh? About poverty? About hunger? Nothing. Less than nothing. But know about asking for help. I know that the Christian life is about that symbiotic relationship between asking, receiving, giving, and asking again.
To take Christ at his word is to understand, finally, that we cannot do the most basic things without His help. And that he offers that help with an open hand. We stand at the rock-solid ledge of pride, control, and self. We fling ourselves forward into his Love.
Mother’s Day is coming. Five years ago at this time, I was waddling around the Blaine City-Wide Garage Sales, trying to wiggle Dane into the world. A week later, he was finally evicted via a hefty dose of Pitocin. Five years later, he is healthy, happy, eating buckets of blueberries, whole mini sweet peppers, potstickers and tacos and sandwiches and chili.
Somewhere across the world there is another five-year-old boy. They run together – the same and different, brothers and strangers. They’re running barefoot through their separate landscapes, alive and well and filled with childlike wonder.
Instead of giving Mom a ceramic angel or yet another mug with your kids’ pictures on it, consider donating to World Vision instead?
World Vision makes it possible, not so much to “support” other parents and their children, but to enter into that redemptive work of asking, giving, and receiving. It is all connected; we’re all in this together. You can click this link to sponsor a child or here to give a one-time gift.
Photo Credit: Photos of Aklima and Ashik are used with permission: ©2013 Gloria Das/World Vision