Love in the Time of Dengue

I have fallen in love with another man and it’s no secret. Not even to my husband. For the impact of my first and subsequent encounters with Jesús was so profound, I could not keep the joy from my face each time I returned home after seeing him. It was like being hit by a thunderbolt if there were such a thing.

I met Jesús on a Saturday morning, a day that began differently than any in my life so far. When I walked into the crowded room that morning, he looked at me as if no one else existed. No words were spoken but none were needed. Dark curls framed a beatific face the colour of cafe au lait and his black eyes flashed with a spirit that was impossible to contain. He rushed towards me with arms open as if to say, “I have been waiting for you all my life”. Resistance was futile as I prepared for his mighty embrace, my heart caught like a branch in a quickening stream.

I’ve never been to an orphanage and was prepared for the worst; the pictures in my mind painted by Hieronymous Bosch rather than Norman Rockwell. At the suggestion of a friend, I had decided to give up my Saturday mornings to holding babies. The Baby Brigade I called us—three women with motherhood and grandmotherhood between them, and me, with neither of those experiences to draw on.

When we stepped into the bright and open foyer that morning, the childen could be heard but not seen. A security guard took our names and a young woman came to lead us to the nursery. We found out later Carla was raised in the orphanage and now she worked here, life full circle. A pack of adolescents ran past us on their way to the school that occupied part of the building. The corridors were cool and shady and open to the outdoors. Little patches of misery between the buildings caught my sisters eye as I heard her say, “We could plant a garden here”. My heart grew less heavy as we ascended the walkway to the babies rooms. A sea of 4-year-olds flooded our path, anxious to touch and be touched. I smiled back at these clean sparkly faces, and the young women who herded them along.

The door to the nursey was closed, and once the children behind us had gone, it was eerily quiet. I thought to myself, the babies must be sleeping, why aren’t they crying? They are babies after all and babies cry and make loud noises. We cracked open the door like kids ourselves, unsure of what we’d find. And that’s when I saw him.

Jesús was in the first of 11 cribs that ringed the room, a room that smelled of freshly washed laundry. Two young women greeted us warmly as music played softly from a phone nearby. I was overwhelmed by all these little bodies, each face looking up at us with expectation. I was struck by how quiet they all were, but maybe this is typical of an orphanage where time and emotions are regimented, even amongst the very young. I honestly did not know what to do next. I went from crib to crib, cupping each face in my hands and repeating the names labelled by each bed. Cinthia, Angela, Cecelia, Aidan, Fernanda, Christian, Christopher, Gaby, Victor, Adriana, and finally, Jesús. When I stopped at his crib he lit up like the morning sun and reached his arms to the sky. I looked at his caregiver who smiled and nodded, and in a heartbeat he was in my arms, as if they were made for him.

Footnote: There are 3 Baby Brigades that alternate at the orphanage Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. We’re not allowed to take photos or this would have been a photo essay – so profound was the joy on all our faces that day.

In October 2012, I drove 6,800 kms with my artist husband, Ric Kokotovich (, and my dog Iggy, to spend 6 months in our adopted city of Merida. Leaving the fast paced world of Calgary behind, I packed my books, art and entrepreneurial spirit, and set off to explore what lay beyond the borders that had become my life. In October 2013 we hit the road south again, hoping to find out what ‘living the dream’ really means. This is my adventure.

19 comments on “Love in the Time of Dengue

  1. You have the most amazing gift of storytelling and touching lives.
    I believe that Jesús must read this one day.

  2. Beautiful Alison!!!! Sums it up completely!!! In the morning, I walk through those halls filled with anticipation of those dear wee faces and outstretched arms and leave with my heart full to bursting with love and joy! The most special moments of my time here…

  3. Rock Paper Sister(s)

    What a story to fill my heart this morning. Teary eyes and poignant joy as I imagine that scenario. What a courageous commitment for you to say ‘yes’ to and opening your heart to those kids!

    • You said it sister – terrifying for about the first 10 seconds then it was one giant lovefest. They fill me up, to be sure, and I think its mutual 🙂

  4. You’ve left me in tears, Alison, thank you for posting. I can tell you that the babies don’t cry because they have learned early on that no one comes. In all the research I have done since bringing our baby home from China, the book “Silent Tears” finally answered many of my questions : a diary of an American woman who volunteered in China’s orphanages. Our baby girl did not cry either. And still hardly does. She endures stress, fear and pain without crying. It breaks my heart and so I go overboard anytime she hurts herself trying my best to help her cry. And I can tell you that she is the light of our life. She has made our life beautiful, as has Jesus already to you. These beautiful children are such a gift. When in China we vowed to adopt our second right away and wanted to go back for many more. If only we could take them all!

    • Jackie – what a wonderful response – I so appreciate your very personal perspective. Thank you for reading and sharing your words – besos y abrazos!

  5. Al, you have a gift, your words filled my heart and I was there with you, looking into those beautiful black eyes… you brought tears to mine…what a wonderful way to spend your Saturdays. XO!

    • Well thank you Karen – this is a story that is touching many hearts but I guess babies will do that. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts…I am very touched.

  6. It would be heartbreaking to leave and heartbreaking to go back, only to leave again. I wonder what kind of hope these poor children have. You are a brave soul to allow yourself to leave.

    • Children are a rare breed that can actually live in the moment – something that is lost to us as we get older. We leave them happy, fed and falling off to sleep and arrive to big smiley faces so its not actually heartbreaking at all 🙂 Many of the kids have a family that simply can’t care for them, so the orphanage is like a foster home of sorts. Some go back to their families but most stay until they are 18. And some truly are orphans. Although the scenario is not perfect, the kids seem very well cared for and loved. Thanks for reading and sharing your comments my friend. xx

  7. Merrill Wattie

    A beautiful and touching piece, your emotional response to the experience came strongly through your writing. Love to you and the boys


  8. Beautifully crafted, deeply moving story. Great opening too, pulled me right in. 🙂

  9. So wonderful, though rough edged, to read your piece. These lives, these stories burrow deep under the skin. I read the comment by your friend Jackie, and many years as director of a long term shelter for abused women and their children thrust back up: Those kids hardly ever cried, shouted, spontaneously or uncontrollably laughed out loud either. A different though equally stressful conduit to a different institutional setting, but some similarities, I think. Children with small, immediate but quiet joys, the response in the moment but perhaps with little thought of a reliable future, often – maybe always guarded. The constant, noisy, self confident demands we know from our grandchildren not any part of their lives.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your own experience Lucinda – I’d love to talk to you more about it. These Saturdays are a joy, I think for all involved, but who knows what happens when they start to grow up and there are fewer volunteers to hug and hold them. I try not to think about that too much and just impart what love I can. Coaxing a smile and laugh out of a reserved and silent little soul has been very rewarding.

  10. Wow – what a truly beautiful story. I can picture you there with your arms wide open to embrace what’s before you, like you do everyday of your life. And to get back the same embrace from a wee one makes it all the more special. Big hugs

    • One little girl never smiled when we first started going but last week she toddled between two of us, back and forth, back and forth, squealing each time she ran into our respective arms. Such a small thing – a smile, a laugh, but if we can leave that behind every Saturday, then it was a good day. Thanks for reading and commenting my friend.

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