With the derelict state of St. Valentine’s, such as the leaking roof and broken windows, I’m concerned about the boys’ health. Someone is always sick in the house, whether it’s an exotic (for us) illness such as typhoid or malaria, or more mainstream infections such as tonsillitis or bronchitis. My goal on this trip is to begin baseline health assessments for each boy, which starts with a visit to the doctor.
On this day I will be taking three of them to a local medical facility and as I pull up to the top of the dirt path in a taxi, I see the boys waiting for me. They climb into the taxi, beaming and chattering excitedly. Today is full of firsts: first time in a taxi; first time seeing a doctor; and, astonishingly, their first time downtown (which is only a 20-minute walk from St. Valentine’s). Even after all these years, sometimes I’m still startled by how sheltered these children are from the outside world, even in their own city.
Despite getting blood tests with their first needles, the boys’ excitement is on par with a trip to Disneyland. The taxi ride is a thrilling adventure, their heads whipping back and forth as we zip through town, and they take in the bustling crowds with awe.
We have a four-hour wait before the doctor sees us, but the boys don’t complain – the entire day is a treat for them. Little do they know that I have a surprise waiting to reward them for their courage and patience. After getting a clean bill of health, I tell the boys that our day together is not over – we are going for lunch in a restaurant!
The shock and delight on their faces is priceless – these boys look like they’ve won the lottery. They fill their bellies with a delicious Cameroonian meal (eating at a restaurant is another first) and recount their bravery from the doctor’s office. I can see their confidence growing before my eyes. They boast about their heroism, each trying to outdo the other.
I hear them repeat a phrase as they walk back down to St. Valentine’s with a new swagger in their step: “We be big men.”