I learned to listen to children from a little boy named “Bebe Tot.” Translating from French, I guessed that he was an early baby. He was one of the first kids I met when I moved to Ndjole-village in Gabon, Central Africa.
My first night in my village, I was nervous. I would spend two years in this village of 200 people. The closest volunteer was 10 miles away, and the closest telephone was 25 miles. Bebe Tot and his cousins arrived at my door and promptly made themselves at home in my living room. They pronounced with enthusiasm that we were going to hang out all night, talk and talk, and tell stories. They were thrilled. I was tired and needed some personal space.
Personal space was in short supply during my two years in Ndjole. I regularly had children on my porch, swinging in my hammock, playing cards. If I had the good fortune to have a Peace Corps friend over, little heads would line the window sill, eager to understand their foreign neighbor. In rare quiet moments, the adults would see me sitting on my porch and stop to talk, saying, “You don’t want to be all alone!” But I did, sometimes.
It was a quiet day like that when Bebe Tot came into my living room and resolutely sat himself down on a stool. He proceeded to tell me the long story of his day. His mom and he had been in the forest, tending their plantation of manioc and bananas. He was running down a path to catch up to her and he tripped. His belly hit a rock. All of this was in French, and I didn’t quite understand why he was telling me.
Headquarters told us not to give away our medical supplies. We had Band-Aids, rehydration solution, antibacterial gel, and it was all for us to use. And everyone would think of us as providers, not teachers. And the whole “give a man a fish…”
So, I didn’t do anything about Bebe Tot.
The next day, I heard from neighbors that Bebe Tot was in the hospital. His mom must have caught the bush taxi into town. I did the same thing and found him in Koulamoutou.
His little body lay on the cement block that was the hospital bed. The only supplies they had were what the family bought from the pharmacy down the road. No sheets. No pillows. Only a cement block and a doctor.
Bebe Tot had a huge bump on his already-distended belly. It turns out he had internal bleeding. The surgeon operated, and Bebe Tot was running around in the village within a few weeks.
It was a close call. And I never forgot the importance of listening to children. Bebe Tot taught me something I use every day with my two boys. I can make this world a better place if I can listen to what they have to say.
Art for Good: During my two years in Gabon, I spent two hours every day making art. As a response to the Ebola outbreak, I have published a handful of these paintings into notecards and postcards. All proceeds go to Doctors Without Borders to support their efforts in West Africa. You can purchase these cards at www.chulabeauregard.com/art-for-good or https://chula-beauregard-fine-art.myshopify.com/