Going the extra

2012-07-09 00:00

THE article by Matthew le Cordeur (Witness, July 4) brought back memories of Easter, 1994. The evening before Good Friday, I got a call, saying that Edendale Hospital staff were on strike and that there were many abandoned babies who were not ill, so couldn’t be transferred to other hospitals.

Three of us from Prestbury Methodist Church went out to Edendale, and found the hospital eerily deserted. But in the children’s ward upstairs we found Dr Neil McKerrow. He was on leave, but had come straight to Edendale. He said: “What else could I possibly do? Someone has to care for these babies.” He was feeding them, changing nappies and generally acting as nurse to over 60 children. There might have been others with him, but I only remember meeting him.

As he picked up babies for us to take home, he hugged and spoke to each little one before handing them over. It was such a wonderful, loving gesture, and it really impressed me. He also knew all their names. With no children of our own, I balked at coping with one of the tiny ones, and also decided that two would be easier to cope with. So Neil gave me two little boys of about three years old. We walked out of the hospital with five babies, two toddlers and a bag of baby nappies, which is all that Neil could spare.

When I got Sifiso and Nkosi home, we discovered they’d never encountered dogs before, so our two small dogs made them hysterical. I managed to get some basic supplies from friends and neighbours that night, and was very glad that someone lent me a waterproof undersheet. Diarrhoea was certainly an issue during those first few days.

The boys woke up screaming in terror very early the next morning, as they didn’t know where they

were. We brought them through to our bedroom, where they looked around curiously — and spotted the full-length mirror. They’d obviously never seen themselves before. Sifiso covered his eyes and kept on peeping to see if that other little boy was still there.

Nkosi immediately smiled at himself, and spent ages just looking at his image. It was fascinating to watch their reactions. After church, I was inundated with clothes for them. Items with pockets were their favourites. We were given only one pair of slippers, and the two boys came through to us the next morning wearing one each. They obviously decided that whoever wore an item first took ownership, but there was no fighting about it. I was just told by gestures that that item belonged to the other. How different to more privileged children, who often try to grab the best for themselves.

Our Zulu vocabulary grew amazingly, but they, too, quickly caught on to some English words.

The strike continued, so they stayed with us until the time of the first general election, when we had to ask for them to be taken back, as both of us were election observers and would be unavailable for several days. On our return, we were told that Nkosi had been adopted by a family, I think in Rosetta. We were so glad for him, but really missed his bright cheery face. Sifiso wasn’t able to be adopted, as his father visited him at the hospital occasionally. His wife had left him, and his house had burnt down twice during all the troubles in the townships at that time, so he couldn’t care for his little boy. We continued bringing him home at weekends for the rest of the year, and really grew to love him, and to delight in his progress.

In December, the hospital phoned to say his father would be taking him home the next day, so we immediately brought him home for a last night with us, and gave him an early Christmas. We then met his father and his new wife, and we were so reassured to see how they were obviously pleased to have him going home with them.

We kept in contact for a while. They all visited us, with Sifiso showing them “my room” and “my dogs”. We also visited them a few times,

but decided we needed to get out of his life so he could settle down

with his new stepmother, who he obviously got to love dearly. His father died, and since then we have lost contact. He had Aids, so we wonder whether he survived in those pre-ARV days.

Our lives were turned upside down for a while, but what a privilege to deal with those two little boys. We often wonder what happened to them, and whether their lives were changed for the better because of that hospital strike.

Well done to Neil McKerrow, and the Thandanani team for their amazing work over all these years.

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