“Iris and the Baby in the Thorn-bush” by Rinda Hayes
Four months ago a baby girl was found in a thorn-bush next to a slaughterhouse – a pre-mature baby, placenta still attached. “A tiny girl,” Iris said, her velvet- soft voice saying the words with such reverence. “A tiny girl who was sunburned from lying in the sun, and with a stick protruding from her back. That’s how my baby was found.”
The man who found the baby took her to the health center where Iris worked. Iris knew this baby was meant to be hers. She severed the placental cord, whispered love into the baby’s ear, and breathed a sigh of relief when no mother was found. She named the baby Malkia, which is queen in Swahili, and also Malaika, which means angel. Iris repeats her name, Malkia Malaika, with reverence, her eyes shining. “Queen Angel. I will treasure her as God meant her to be treasured,” she says.
There are some people that defy description; their presence so strong that you must feel them, not hear about them. I wrote a blog about Iris years ago when I was so struck by her spirit (https://www.kenyakeys.org/the-world-is-good-the-world-is-bad/ She affected me profoundly.
But since you can’t meet Iris, I will try to take you to her small home where she lives with her new little “queen”.
Iris is the nurse at the Samburu health center. I use that term loosely. It’s not a health center like you will picture on hearing the term. Don’t picture medications and trained professionals and scanners. This health center offers rudimentary care for pregnant mothers, patients with AIDS and children suffering from malaria. It’s a catch-all place, as bare-bones as you can imagine, where Iris is the nurse. She’s seen it all in this place; birth, death, agony and despair. She’ll be the first to tell you her training is inadequate. High school graduation, then two years training to get her nursing certificate. She says, “With only a certificate you doom your patients and you doom yourself. You must keep training yourself.” Every spare minute Iris has is spent reading, learning, trying to train herself in doing more life-saving procedures –because she’s all this area has to offer. Options are a luxury that doesn’t live here. The nearest “real” hospital is 90 miles away. Women needing C-sections die in this neck-of-the woods. That’s just the way life is. Iris must do the best she can. Sometimes the only balm she can offer is comfort and love, which luckily come easily from her. She exudes them in rich abundance, knowing they are the essence of life.
Iris’ life has been a tough one, to say the least. She was born with a club foot. Her father wanted her “gone”. When her mother refused to make her “gone”, the father tried to burn down their hut with her mother and Iris in it. Her mother, with Iris under her wing, left after that. Poverty stalked them at every turn. Despite her handicap, and challenges, Iris thrived, her spirit full of light and gratitude.
“You remain single here in Kenya, if you are a woman with a crutch,” she says. “Men want a woman who can haul water and wait on them. I was doomed to be single -but God has always been there for me.” Despite being single, Iris had always believed a baby was in her future; in fact recently she had even purchased baby clothes, believing she would be blessed with a baby.
And sure enough, in the last few months, she had become a mother. The baby rescued from the thorn-bush, by the slaughterhouse, had become hers.
This would be a happy story, if not for one thing. Iris has cancer. Last year I’d arrived shortly after she’d had a tumor removed from her spine. She thought that was the end of it. But just recently she’d gone to Nairobi to get checked, only to find that the cancer had returned – with a vengeance, no less. The day we went to visit her, she was wracked with pain and nausea. She was to leave for Nairobi on Monday to get chemo. How would she afford the transport, let alone the chemo, on her salary of $250 a month? And would the court hearing next week even grant her legal adoption of Malkia with her now having cancer on top of her disability? How would she manage to carry Malkia, while using her crutch, and get on public transportation to travel all the way to Nairobi, (six hours away) where her mother would care for Malkia while she received chemo?
So in Iris’ home, we talked. She gazed at Malkia Malaika, her eyes brimming with love. “I’ll be okay,” she says. “God will make a way. He always does. He loves us so much.” She stops, as pain washes over her. “Just give me a minute. I need to let this pass.” She wants to get to work at her clinic, where she is supposed to be on duty. She musters her strength and courage, digs deep to find them –pulls them up and straps them on like armor. She looks up and prays aloud, a radiant, glowing smile on her face, asking God to make her His strong instrument. So sure, so very, very sure that God is listening to her praise, as well as her plea for the ability to go help her patients. “I’m ready,” she says, with solid determination.
She hobbles down to the clinic, both wincing and smiling. She’ll ease for others what pain she can. After work she’ll hobble back to sleep with Malkia, Malaika – queen angel, a lofty name for such a child with such a beginning. The two will softly drift off to sleep below the bright stars of the African sky.