As the days and weeks passed, I witnessed beautiful acts of quiet kindness amongst these children. The children, the toddlers, the babies even, did not typically cry. Tears were not a meaningful method of communication, the children knew they would not be heard.
When I did see tears, they would be silent, running like streams down a small face of a tiny body crouching in an empty room, where the child was hiding till the upset past, till their little lion heart took over again and stopped the tears, then they would wipe their face with a scruffy sleeve pulled over their hand, before composing themselves and reemerging. It was quite heartbreaking to watch, a four year old already alone and responsible for handling their own battered emotions.
Amongst this heartbreak, I also witnessed moments of pure empathy and kindness. When Han arrived back from a trip to a physiotherapist, inexplicably returning confused and bald, Loc went immediately to her, as she was lifted from the back of a motorbike, he wrapped his arms around her, talking reassuringly into her ear, telling her he would look after her and she would be alright.
When Lan Chi had a scarf pulled from her head in a scuffle, the small loss and injustice reminded her small body of the loss and injustice she endured as her very being, I found her curled in a ball in a side room, crying rivers of tears. Chi meanwhile had crawled amongst energetic arms and legs, retrieved the scarf and had wrapped in round Lan Chi like a blanket and was stroking her arm and singing her a quiet lullaby.
When Thuy, newly left at the orphanage by a distant family member, realised she was not going home and clung to a motorbike for hours, stroking the leather seat, sobbing quiety, it was Loc that went to her, told her he had been scared and lonely when he first arrived too, but now he has lots of friends here and she’ll feel better soon.
When the Maes were busy and the babies screamed with hunger, it was Nhu who stood on her tiptoes to reach over the edge of the cots, to stroke their burning cheeks and comfort them.
When I was forgotten, unwanted, deemed worthless, these tiny people welcomed me, took me as their own and loved me, when my own would not, with a kindness, understanding and empathy that my own could not. Not a single one of them was over five years old.
In this Baby Orphanage, amongst these tiny souls, I saw love, I saw humanity and I felt more of both than I ever knew possible.