By Theresa Henry
The bajaj let me out a quarter mile from the hospital, where the pavement ended. I felt the hot Ethiopian sun beat down on my white skin and summoned my energy for the walk uphill along the rocky dirt road. I stopped along the way to buy some bananas and bread from the women along the roadside sitting on their colorful but dirt-stained blankets.
As I neared the hospital, my heart began to pound a little stronger and faster, and my senses became more acute. I knew that with each step, I was headed toward a place I did not want to go.
The guard unquestioningly opened the gate for me to enter the hospital compound, because although I did not know him, I am sure he knew me. Everyone in town knew me—they knew that I lived at the Don Bosco compound, that I taught English to the high school students, that I lived with another American volunteer, and for the most part, the people in town knew me as a good person who had the best interests of others—their people—at heart.
As I continued to walk toward the hospital, my heart was heavy. My goal this day was to visit a boy named Masresha, but in doing so, I would have to once again face the ugly reality of Dilla Hospital. As I walked into Masresha’s room, my eyes wandered from the mud-caked floor and walls to the dirty tables. I sarcastically wondered if “sanitary” was even a word in the Amharic language. I noticed the windows, covered on the outside by metal bars, as though I was in a jail cell rather than a hospital. To me, being a patient in Dilla Hospital seemed to be a cross between being a prisoner and a resident of the poorest slum in America.
Masresha smiled when he saw me – he was always smiling; his grandmother was faithfully there beside him. The room also held about six other patients and their families. As usual, I drew all the attention when I walked in. I asked how Masresha was today. This time he had been in the hospital for pneumonia. From what I gathered from talking to his grandmother, he was ready to leave the hospital but could not because they could not pay their bill. Because Masresha was one of the children belonging to the Feeding Center at the Don Bosco Compound, he was one of the children which the Catholic Church in Dilla took care of, so I organized for Masresha’s bill to paid later that day. I gave him and some of the other patients in the room some bread and bananas and talked to them for a while. I left telling Masresha that I would check on him again later. He smiled.
Masresha’s smile and innocent beautiful face hid his difficult past. Masresha was always carried by his grandmother, as his weak, bent legs with swollen joints could not bear his weight. His rickets had developed from 4 years of being locked in his hut with no sunlight. His father had disappeared, and his mother, having to work during the day, could not look after him. Locked in his hut was where his grandmother had found him after his mother died. When he was found, he was severely malnourished, his distended abdomen suggested that it was full of worms, and his lung sounds suggested pneumonia. The doctor treated him with prednisone for the pneumonia but said that he would never be able to walk.
With better nutrition and medicine, he gradually grew stronger. When I left Ethiopia, he had begun to learn the Ethiopian alphabet.
After I left, a fellow volunteer, Jayne, continued to work with him. She was like an angel to him—watching over him, praying for him. Because of her work, Masresha can now walk, albeit bow-legged.
Masresha is living proof that the human spirit is strong. When I look at Masresha’s face, all I can think of are the words of a song by the group Kutlass: “Impossible is not a word. It’s just a reason for someone not to try.”