You'll find hundreds of files on cleft lip, cleft palate here on

This one is about: Connecting With Others

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Connecting with Others - A true story

by Renee Santo

In the Peace Corps in 1995-6, I was assigned to a small Russian factory town in the former Soviet Republic of Kyrghyzstan. As was my usual habit in the bazaars, I went from stand to stand of vendors just asking about prices and rarely buying anything. At one table I asked a pleasant cheerful Kyrgyz woman (Mongolian descent) about the prices of some tampons. She immediately picked up my foreign accent though I looked very Kyrgyz. She seemed kind of concerned (how could an American woman survive in this country - and she even has her period!). Next thing I know I'm invited to her house for tea.

I was chattering, practicing my Russian trying to articulate and gesture about all kinds of things. She like most people were patiently tolerant of my low language abilities and droned responses to me though not quite sure what I was saying. But when I tried describing the surgeries I've had in my life, I pointed to my lip and she suddenly became interested and asked me detailed questions. I cheerfully answered that I had a cleft palate (I had a very good cosmetic job).

She said she had a daughter born with a cleft palate. Back in those days there was only one special hospital that could close the palate, and the cost was thousands of dollars that they would never be able to afford. The baby died. She said the little girl starved to death, the milk kept coming out her nose.

She pondered the causes. First of all her real job was an anesthesiologist, though now the only way to make ends meet was to sell products in the bazaar. Perhaps some chemicals got into her system. But there was also her husband who worked in the mercury mines, where they didn't have any protection from the mercury, no masks or anything. Perhaps he killed the baby after picking her up to hold her and transferring chemicals from his clothing to the baby. Who knows?

This woman was wonderful, and I wonder if I made her sad or if I became important to her. Or maybe neither.

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