It was at one of the first eye patient screening days in Congo that I first saw Pulcherie. As she slowly moved along in the line of people entering the gates I could tell she was blind by the way she walked. She was carrying a baby on her back. Soon it was time for me to examine her and I really wanted to be able to help her. I examined her right eye but soon discovered that her cornea was damaged and there was nothing we could do to fix that.
I switched my attention to her left eye which was our last hope. There was a thick white cloud over her left eye, but it was a cataract and that we would most likely be able to fix. I asked Pulcherie if she had ever seen her baby. She smiled and with her hands drew the shape of Guychelle’s face in the air. “I have only ever touched her,” she said. “I know her by the feel of her nose, her hands and the smell of her hair.”
Pulcherie told me that she had been blind since she was 15. She was married but her husband abandoned her when the baby was born. It made me think of my own story and how I had been adopted. I was about the same age as Pulcherie when I got in contact with my birth mother. I can still remember when I phoned her for the first time and she immediately asked me if I was ok, what colour was my hair and immediately explained that in 1965 when I was born she didn’t want to give me away, but they took me away from her as soon as I was born and she had never even seen what I looked like.
With tears streaming down my face I told Pulcherie that in one month she would receive a free surgery on our ship and that we hoped that she would be able to see again. The day after her surgery, when it was time to remove the eye patch, I was there. The first thing she did was look down at her dress and exclaim; “it’s orange”. After that she looked at the Africa Mercy and said “my goodness what a big boat that is”!
When Pulcherie got back to her parents village she took her daughter and sat under a mango tree. She studied in great detail every inch of her from her beautiful eyelashes to her tiny little toes. You should have seen the look of sheer joy on her face! A few months later I was able to visit Pulcherie in the city where she now has a job and can support herself and her daughter. She still can’t stop smiling every time she looks at Guychelle and now believes that she will be able to see her daughter grow into a happy, healthy and very much loved young lady.