S.O.S.

So when you’re near me darling can’t you hear me S.O.S. (Abba)

That came on the radio as I was driving Brendah, a fellow who has been here from Uganda for the past year, back from getting a physical at CamCare in Paulsboro. I had been thinking quietly to myself how funny life was to bring the two of us together in my car, and how vastly different our worlds are, when she said, “oh, I love this song!” and started singing along. I had been helping her navigate our medical system that morning and had been struck repeatedly how brave she was to come across the ocean to such a foreign land…the difference in language, in culture, in value systems. I had helped her write her first check, which was then rejected because it didn’t have her address on it. We were there because she needed proof of vaccination status and had no idea what she had received as a child. I recalled the first time I met her, when she was ill, and when I went to take her blood pressure she recoiled in fear…”will that hurt??” because she had never had her blood pressure taken before. I asked her how she would receive vaccines in Uganda. “Would you have to pay if you didn’t have insurance?” She answered that first she would go to a public hospital, but chances were, with the corruption, that no medicine would be available there so likely she would need to go to a Prefect, which would be a private facility where she indeed would have to pay, a lot. So vastly different and yet there we were, singing along to a tune we both liked.

It would prove to be a day of juxtaposition. While I sat in the waiting room at CamCare, tucked away in a corner so my Apple products I was using to get some work done wouldn’t stand out too much (on my laptop, looking things up on my iPhone, deciding not to pull out the iPad because, well, that was just too obnoxious), I listened to the conversations of the poor around me. As I was typing up the questions of the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study that I am planning to screen youth with this fall. I type “have you ever witnessed your mother being struck, beaten…” and I hear a young woman say, “I hurt my jaw when I fell down.” Her friend asks, “how did you fall?” She answers, “oh, I don’t remember really” RED FLAG for abuse. I type, “did you live in a household with someone who used alcohol or drugs?” I hear, “Then my mother stood up to help me and staggered and I said, ‘see Mom! you’re drunk again! I told you you drink too much!” What numbers would I get if I gave everyone in the waiting room the ACE test? Then a drug rep walks in and I recognize him from my days at Wolfe-Simon, which some days feel light years away. I keep my head down because I just feel like being anonymous.

We headed to Rutgers after Brendah’s visit because that day was All Camp Day for UrbanPromise. Remember field days at the elementary schools? Well this is like that on steroids. All 8 camps gather – 4 younger, 4 older, in their colors, with their mascots, for some serious competition. All in the hope of winning the golden crate, a tradition that goes back many years. I am including a picture here to get a sense of the colors, and if you are a friend of mine on FB you can see a video clip I posted to hear the noise! These kids, who likely all have high ACE scores themselves, were happy and loud and so proud! They were dancing and singing and cheering – truly a sight to behold. After lunch they each performed their camp song with such passion. And can they move! I’m sorry, but white kids would never get it going like this! This is UrbanPromise at its very best – children happy, in a safe environment, where even tough 8th grade boys dress up and allow themselves to be vulnerable (and young) for an afternoon.

Guess it was an apropos song to sing that morning, for the next line reflects what UP does for these youth:

The love you gave me nothing else can save me S.O.S.

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