Hungry Eyes & Moving Scalps
I won't forget those huge round eyes, too big for her face and too empty and sad to be found on a child. The evening was dark, night surrounded us as did the ever-changing sounds and smells and sights of evening in the Jemaa_el-Fnaa, in Marrakesh, Morocco. Late November, actually Thanksgiving evening in the US, and it's unusually cold for this night not quite into the North African winter. In the bustling mix of snake charmers, sizzling meats and veggies, hot sweet mint tea, the warm elixir from snails guaranteed to cure all ails and the buzz that comes from crowds of people and music; I see her alone. She's closer to 1 than 2 years and appears fragile, ragged, simply standing in the dark night not held onto by anyone in the crowds, receiving neither love or warmth from an embrace. I am afraid she will be trampled. I shiver for her cold that goes much deeper than her skin or mine. She is lost, not simply in the crowd but in the world. How can she be here alone in the late evening, in the cold crowd, seeming to stare but not see, and seemingly not seen by anyone? She can't be much older than my son who is nearly 18 months yet there is little that is childlike about her except her size. I find warm milk to give to her but she doesn't drink well from the cup.
I can't abandon her in the crowds yet no one seems to notice or be concerned that she is alone. Through conversations in Arabic that I don't understand and walking and weaving through the evening crowds in the center market, we arrive at the police station. This nameless, abandoned little girl had a brother who is already deceased from a life lived in the elements born to a mother who lives on the streets in an endless inebriated condition. Are we simply to wait until she follows her brother out of this life?
I ask questions but there aren't answers.
I have become the American woman who is interested in the children, do I want one for myself? No, I explain I have two only 12 months apart and both under 18 months - one 5 months, the other 17 months. I do not need another child at the moment. I am a little harder to ignore - the tourist who will go away but married to the Moroccan who can take them to task for the negligence of the children.
Now, many children begin to come. They have requests and needs. I don't understand them, I don't speak the language I don't know what they ask of me yet I see the need in their eyes. Someone translates for me, a young boy's words. He is 9, I think. He wants to study but needs books and materials for school. It is late evening and he is fervently speaking. I reach out my hand to pat his head and just as my hand hovers ever so close ... I freeze. His entire scalp is moving - not some tiny little nit, no, his entire scalp is covered with live, moving bugs. He idly swipes at his scalp with regular waves and my hand withdraws away from the full grown lice. He wants notebooks for school. I cannot concentrate on anything other than his head and my sudden need to scratch every surface of my body. He wants notebooks for school.
This "Just doesn't make sense" and it's not "the way it oughta be."
My desire and commitment for fair trade and opportunity takes hold just a bit stronger here near the Atlas Mountains.