“Balagan,” the Hebrew slang word for chaos or a mess, was just about the first word I heard upon entering 16 Haviva Reik. Since then, that word has continually echoed throughout the SACH house. “Don’t make balagan!” “YOU! Very, very big balagan!” I can hear those phrases resounding downstairs as I write this post from my bed. Let me be clear: “BALAGAN” is used for everything. And I mean everything.
Two weeks ago, this word was new to me, and it is used so frequently in conversation here that I quickly realized I needed to do some research before integrating it into my own sentences. I discovered that this word actually has quite a long history. With Persian origins, it made its way to Russia and was later adopted by other languages as well, such as Hebrew and Lithuanian. To me, “balagan” soon became symbolic of the SACH home, both because of its literal definition, and because of its pilgrimage to Hebrew. Just like the etymology of this word, the home is comprised of a mishmash of different cultures, foods, tongues, religions, families and traditions that do not simply coexist harmoniously, but share with, support and feel genuine love for each other.
Amadou, a sixteen-year-old boy from Gambia, is quite the “balagan” user. As the oldest child in his temporary home, he sweetly and selflessly assumes responsibility for the younger ones and looks after them as a role model and older brother. The first time I saw him, I remember being drawn to his eyes, filled with warmth and kindness, yet also longing and frustration, as months awaiting surgery stretch on and he naturally misses his real home. I watched as he gazed out the window, scrunching his eyebrows, and creating a crease in his forehead, while resting his elbow on the shiny, white table and stretching out his legs. I wanted to walk toward him, or say something to him, or just give him a hug, but my feet melted into the ground beneath me, my mouth was dry and my arms were stuck to my sides. I mean, we were practically the same age! I couldn’t simply hand him a toy or doll and immediately bring a smile to his face. So what could I do to connect with him? I soon realized that the flaw in my interactions with him was that I tried talking to him like a little kid. At the beginning of my time at SACH, I treated the children differently because I knew what they were going through. But I quickly discerned that just because they are sick, that doesn’t mean they behave any differently than healthy children their age. Amadou is just like any other 16 year old in spite of his weakened condition and as soon as I began to see him as a capable teenager and treat him that way, we clicked.
I always longed for younger siblings. These past two weeks have given me 30 of them. I cannot adequately express my gratitude for this opportunity to live in the SACH home, alongside my brothers and sisters, as balagan as they may be sometimes, and become part of this very diverse and loving family. Although now I must say goodbye, I will think of each of them every time I hear a Frozen or Moana song, “Waka Waka” by Shakira, or “Cha Cha Slide.” As much as I was there to help them as a volunteer, they have changed me as a person, and I am inspired to live up to their bravery, strength, and resilience. And of course, “balagan” will always hold a special place in my heart.