Other than cardiac and rheumatic heart disease, many of the children and mothers at the SACH house struggle with homesickness. The older children in particular grow tired of puzzles and crafts, and they miss their families, their friends, and their freedom. Last Wednesday, the teenagers in the house were uninterested in joining in any activities, even playing football, listening to music, or talking with one another. Several of them did not know when they would be having their heart surgery and were anxiously awaiting it, and many were having trouble communicating with their families and friends back home, if they are able to at all. While they are in a different country for heart surgery, some of the children have no way to contact their parents or siblings, either because they do not have a phone or their families do not have a phone, or both. Jade, the occupational therapist at SACH, received permission to bring the older children to a local park in Holon, and once they heard they would be finally leaving the house for an excursion, they began jumping around, hugging, and singing.
Rashidi, a teenage boy from Tanzania, had been sitting by himself the past two weeks, not wanting to talk to anyone or do any activities. This was completely opposite from the Rashidi I met when he first arrived here two months ago, who would often play football with me, chase and tease the other teenagers, and cuddle the babies. He had become lethargic and homesick, sometimes lying by himself and putting Tanzanian music to his ear and quietly singing along. Hearing that we were going to the park, he began playing football with me and joking around with Mudrik, a teenage boy from Zanzibar. Jade packed up water and snacks and gathered Rashidi, Mudrick, Paulina, Nazifa, Fatma, and Zainabu, along with a few interns and volunteers, and Rashidi and I smiled and held hands all the way to the park.
When we reached the park, they paused for a moment, then excitedly split up to go on the swings, the slides, or the jungle gym. I climbed up and went down the slides with Rashidi, Mudrick, and Paulina, and then Nazifa slowly made her way over, nervous about the big slide. She insisted I go first, then followed after me, laughing and stopping herself from going too fast. “No good, no good,” Nazifa laughed at the end of the slide, but I was proud that she was brave enough to try it. During this time, Rashidi had found a spinning playground toy, and we all eagerly jumped on, and I took Fatma’s hand and we held on together while Rashidi began to spin. Faster and faster, Rashidi spun us around, and the louder we laughed and screamed, the faster he spun. Beginning to get nervous, because these are teenagers with heart conditions, I urged Rashidi to slow down and stop, and we eventually stopped spinning and staggered, dizzy and slightly sick, back onto the grass. Once we felt better, I climbed up the jungle gym with Rashidi, Paulina, and Nazifa, who were unwavered by the heights, and then rested with water and snacks before making our way back to the SACH house.
For the rest of the afternoon, the teenagers were tired, but smiling. They played games and laughed with one another, rejuvenated by the reminder of the rest of the world they will soon be able to rejoin. Even today, a week after we had gone to play at the park, Paulina greeted me in the morning by asking if I remember how Rashidi was spinning us so fast around and around! I told Paulina, I remember! It was the happiest I had ever seen him.