One day as we gathered our rusty bicycles for the Orphanage, filling our baskets with fruit, milk and books, BJ, always in training for a trialthon ran, grabbed her trainers and ran ahead, to give her strong legs a head start on our wobbly wheels. She took a left and headed for the Baby Orphanage. Five minutes later, we pushed off and took a right, for the Home of Affection.
BJ only realised she had confused the schedule when we did not cycle past her whooping and weaving, and did not catch up with her at the Baby Orphanage. After running for nearly an hour she decided to stay, playing with the toddlers outside, then wandering into the baby rooms. Maes busy elsewhere, the tiniest baby was sucking on his propped up bottle, lying on his back on a double wooden bed frame. BJ sat next to him and chatted to the toddlers as they wandered in to the baby room, to giggle with her and the other babies.
When he started to splutter, she looked down. When he stopped breathing, she jumped up. As he turned blue, she lifted him and screamed for help. She describes the scene as chaos. Maes came running, screaming, crying. Startled pushed aside toddlers looked on silently. As the women crowded round and tapped the baby’s tiny arched back, someone found an aspirator to clear his throat. As he gasped in air and breathed again, there were sobs as he was wrapped up and buddled in a car to hospital. BJ stayed to look after the children who were being cared for the Maes who had left with the baby to hospital, arriving back late, flustered and excited, to tell us what had happened. My hands moved to my face with shock, for the baby that turned blue and for all that I realised had taken place that day.
Miss BJ, in taking a wrong turn, had changed a world. She saved a baby’s life.
When we arrived the next day I went straight to the Baby room, not stopping to put down the children who had jumped into my arms, wrapped their arms around my legs and were now stroking my hair and clothes and chatting excitedly. Our little entourage kicked flipflops of various sizes and colours, tiny shoes flying in all directions. One of our small hands pushed open the door and we entered the Baby room. I saw the empty space in the wooden slats where our newest, quiet little bundle had been, the tiny blue mosquito net and small bundle of blankets more silent than ever.
My eyes then went straight to another empty cot and another unused blue mosquito net. Another baby, this one suffering from dehydration, had joined his tiny roomate in the hospital, whisked away in the night.
Mae Ba came rushing towards me, her hands held to her face, quiet tears running down her sculpted cheeks. “Oh Mae Ba”, I said, softly putting the children down from my arms and taking her into them instead. She wiped the tears from her face and head half bowed, with a look of penetrating sadness that seemed to radiate from her core, explained to me in Vietnamese what had happened. The tiny baby choking, the next baby so sick he was rushed to hospital in the dead of night.
As I listen to this tale again, unsure of the fate of either child, with quiet little arms wrapped around my legs and quiet heads leaning against my calves and thighs, I was touched and relieved to see how much she cared about these babies. She was all they really had and if she did not love them, no one would.
I took off my necklace, the one so coveted by the Maes, and placed it round her neck. Grasping her hands, I spoke in English, asking our Translator Mr Tuan to translate, the first of only two times I would ask him to do this, in all my time to come in this remarkable country and heart wrenching, heart warming place.
Through our translator, with all my words, I told Mae Ba that we loved her because we saw and knew how much she loved and cared for the babies, that the babies in hospital would be well and back with us soon and that she should have the necklace that they all thought so beautiful because she was the most kind and beautiful Mae there.
Tears continued to run down her cheeks as she smiled, nodded, touched her hands to her heart, then went back to caring for her babies.