A dance, a hug, a good-bye

Today the sun rose bright and warm, and the leftover fog drifted away white and thick and gleaming, and the streets shined wet and fresh, and there was happiness in the air and in the halls of the safe-home.

Today was five-year-old Nteboheng’s day to go home, back to her grandmother’s care. This morning the bo m’e gave her new clothes and a new bag with Disney princesses on it, and she smiled at her new belongings.

Yesterday, the bo m’e washed the clothes and the hair of Nteboheng’s favorite doll – which she long-ago named Nteboheleng – so it would be clean for Nteboheng’s departure. I’m so happy she gets to take the doll home with her.

For months she has carried it everywhere, wrapped in a little blanket on her back, just like the bo m’e carry the babies.

In her daily mimicry of the bo m’e, Nteboheng would feed her doll with one specific toy she pretended was a bottle, half a plastic egg shell she pretended was a snack container, and a hinged doll house she pretended was a refrigerator. She would talk to the doll just as the bo m’e talk to the babies, with a smart, perfect intonation that always got the bo’me to laugh.

It’s been amazing to watch Nteboheng’s progression. When she arrived here at the beginning of March, she was emaciated and horribly skinny, lethargic and quiet. Her personality was unknown to us. She was HIV-positive but not on medication. For kids her age, a CD4 count of less than 500 is considered “severe suppression” – and her CD4 count was 6.

Today she is a happy, outgoing little girl who talks up a storm and who has boundless energy and the undeniable personality of an unapologetic and witty m’e-in-training.

She is the cutest dancer in the world, I’m convinced of it, and danced throughout the morning in the playroom. She has great rhythm, and has a signature two-step that she does with puckered lips that makes everyone smile and the bo m’e whoop in laughter.

This morning, before she hit the road with outreach, the bo m’e turned on music in the play room, and the volunteers Claire, Quinn and Emma, who have gotten close to Nteboheng the last week and a half themselves, held the other babies and took pictures as some of the bo m’e and I joined Nteboheng in dancing.

I had an easy smile on my face and was laughing, dancing to the cheerful music with Nteboheng as the sun shone through the big playroom window. The moment seemed so good and pure and simple.

Later, just before she left, Nteboheng came into my office and gave me a hug. Then I watched her form the window as she walked off to the car with outreach, swinging her Disney princess bag and smiling.

Another TTL success story, one that was especially important to me. After so many losses, it helps to have the scales balancing out again, to once again see a result that’s in line with our mission: a child going home happy and healthy.


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