The Siberian arctic wind blew across the rice field I had stood and stared across for so many days. We had arrived at our normal time -- 9:30am at the Chinese state-run orphanage. The hike up the stairs was especially wearing this morning as I had caught bronchitis during the weekend. Three flights with two lifts per floor needed to be climbed to reach the third floor. At each landing their was a window looking out across a harsh environment. To the left were old timber locked doors that went to recreation and storage rooms. To the right, stretched hallway's with 22 doors, 11 on the right and 11 on the left, leading to rooms where the children grew up. As you climbed each step, the dreadful stench of urine became stronger and less bearable. As the second floor ascended to the third floor, the hallway was quieter than usual. I had wondered if the children had been moved in the middle of the night. I arrived at the third floor and there waiting were four boys, as they were every morning. I wondered for the first time on this morning, did they wait on the weekend when we did not visit the orphanage, and if so, did those diminutive faces wonder if we would ever come back? Darn, I thought, you should not think like this, you will get upset and the children will be able to see it in your eyes.
Ok then, let's visit with the children!
I had been in this northern province for two months and some of the ghastly surroundings had become astonishingly acceptable. This could not be, I thought. Somehow, living conditions in this country, for these wee ones, was not to be compared to say, our living conditions in America or Canada. To put side by side was a breach of the walls of defense we build to accept that which is unacceptable.
The morning was slow and uneventful for the most part. The two older boys vied for my attention, pulling on each of my arms and wanting to play hide and seek or chase-me. I always enjoyed their company. Later that day we would go for our unauthorized walk down the country roads to a small shop where candy and soy cream cones were sold. This routine was a regular as the sunrise and sunset. I visited the first room on the left from the stairs where the little girls bunked and ate together. Each of their faces were a bit colder this morning. Their little bodies remembering the last winter. A couple of the girls became animated as I entered the room, while the other played amongst themselves. The local caregiver, was watching with her usual prison guard hawk eyes. Who were these folks and why do they think they know better about how to raise our children?
At lunch, I walked outside and around the grounds. This gave me a moment to regroup and digest the emotions. As the wind had picked up during the morning hours, it was too cold to keep pondering. I returned to the building, climbed the stairs only to the second floor. Still unusually quiet, I went where I was not allowed. The second floor was for not for us Americans. The locals knew better how to manage the child care of this rural state-owned orphanage. Quietly, I entered the hallway, glancing in each room, the third room on the right was empty aside from a make-shift crib. I entered the room, my heart beating out of control. As I came up on the crib I looked inside and saw a small baby. I had never seen or remember seeing a sight like this. The child was awake, its eyes staring straight up. I wondered if it was blind. It suddenly moved and its eyes met mine. It stared ever so seriously into my eyes. I reached in to the crib and lifted the child to my chest, never allowing my eyes to stray from the pupils of this infant soul.
As I held the child, its eyes slowly wandered off as to disconnect with the environment, however its little hand was holding my finger ever so tightly. I looked away, tears welling behind my eyes, trembling and breathing ever so slightly. As I looked back into the child's eyes, they were closed, the grip on my finger released, and I watched as the life of this starving child ended.
I still needed to take the boys for their walk on this day, so I had to "suck it up" and get on with it. Somehow, that day everything changed; those young boys and girls saw something different in my eyes and I saw something in that baby's eyes -- something never to be seen through the eyes of child or by the eyes of a child.