Even though this blog is called “The Traveling Smile,” there are some experiences that one goes through while traveling that are not so “smiley.” I do not like to put a damper on the mood, but I have heard the stories of many people, orphans especially, that I cannot help but to share with you all. Part of me feels it is necessary because we here in America tend to live much more perfect lives than we think. Yes of course some of us are without jobs, some are going through divorce, others are in a crap ton of debt, and many of us have lost someone we love. But, at least we know we loved them and they loved us as well. Unfortunately, some people go through experiences where family members show no love or mercy to them, especially in hard times. This is one of those stories.
As I sat at a table in Zambia I listened to a boy, an orphan. He was tall and thin enough that his ribcage was showing. He had high cheek bones that I am sure would have looked nice with a smile if his cheeks hadn’t been so hollow. It was quite evident that he was starving. The sadness in his eyes is what really got to me though. He just had that look of helplessness and brokenness in his eyes that reached in and tugged at your soul. I listened to him talk while I contemplated this in my mind also remembering that he was only 15.
He first started out saying both of his parents are dead. They died from the AIDS virus that has swept the continent. This did not shock me because all of the children in the room were orphans. Still there was that twinge of pain that shoots through my chest every time I think about how awful it would be to lose my parents, especially so young. He explained that he has an older brother and three younger siblings as well. His older brother would try to care for them and provide enough food so they would not all starve to death. Together they sold food they had grown on the side of the road every day all day because there were no other jobs available. I could tell the boy sitting a few feet away from me trusted that his brother would take care of them all.
One day he said he was standing outside the school they went to. He saw his brother and shouted for him. His brother ignored him and went into a small building that was a bathroom. The boy followed in after his brother and repeated his brother’s name. The reply he received were aggressive hands as his brother tried to choke him to death. His brother beat him repeatedly trying to kill him. His face was bashed and he cried for help. After several minutes a teacher ran in and ripped the older brother off the younger. Some other people came to help take the older brother away as the boy sat there on the ground in a pool of his own blood. Later he found out his older brother had tried to kill him because there was not enough food and if he was gone it would be one less mouth to feed.
I can still remember the silence that sat in the room after the boy finished telling his story. The betrayal he must have felt is beyond imaginable. I personally will never forget this boy’s story and the way his eyes announced his pain. I will also never stop being thankful for the people who love me.