The mother who looks terribly malnourished, says she can’t afford it. The child beams into a smile and then shyly buries his head in his mother’s saree. He looks ok, and that is because he was till recently breastfeed.
They come to me with a note from the doctor saying “Give them advice on nutrition.”
This goes beyond nutrition.
The family has no income, they stay in a thatched roofed hut on a relative’s land. The neighbours occasionally help by providing food left over from their table. The father is seldom home and squanders the occasional money he gets in daily wages on alcohol.
‘The poor need comfort to bear their poverty.’
The mother is illiterate, was married at 15 years to her maternal uncle, a very common practice here. She therefore gets her mother to stay with her which is a blessing.
Fruits are too costly, vegetables seasonal, since they are home grown or borrowed from the fields when there is plenty. The government provides the child an egg twice a week, which is sold for a few rupees, their only income.
They have a diet rich in carbohydrate, no vitamins, no minerals, no protein.
I resist starting the usual preachy message “You have to give the child healthy food.” But what do I tell them?
I would love to take them home, the mother, baby and emotional baggage.
I could ask the mother to join a vocational rehabilitation center and empower her.
I could send the father to an alcohol de addiction program.
I could apply for financial support from the government, so they could buy vegetables.
I wish I could, but those options are not available.
“We will be fine”, she says suddenly, as if reading my thoughts, “God will take care of us.”
It startles and confuses me.
I am obviously not their solution (as I would like to think I am).
But what I usually hear is “If there is a God, why would he make me go through so much suffering?”
And since I don’t have the answer, I stopped talking about God a while ago.
But I smile, and she smiles back.
The child briefly peeks through the folds of the saree.
She has hope.
She has an anchor.
She loves that child.
She has just managed to console me.
So I finally tell her that things would get better.
She should give the child whatever she gets her hands on.
She should take care of herself.
She should try not to give away the eggs.
She should come back to see me, whenever she could next afford to.
This is the prize of poverty.
That you speak words that are meaningless,
But silently understand.
That there are no solutions,
But that is ok.
That you hope without basis,
But it is not in vain.
That you believe there is a God,
And that gives you comfort.
“Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Matt 5:3”
Photo credit: http://www.world-traveler.eu