By Dr Lemma
Health is not just physical well being. Trust me I am not repeating the health definition by WHO which we recited several times in medical school. Nonetheless, it has a truth to it and I have a true story to tell.
I met Murshid on the famous street of Jimma town, Ferenj Arada. He was a young boy around 11 years old living on the streets. He looked short for his age, was a little chubby and full of smile. It did not take too long before we became friends and he was a regular visitor to our rented house where I used to live with my roommates.
One day he told me people used to call him crazy just because he carried his belongings, mainly clothing, in a plastic bag wherever he went. He was actually taken in by few families as a foster child but was kicked out because of his nocturnal urinary incontinence (bed wetting), a condition that can easily arise from the stress of street life and difficult childhood.
We did provide him a small mattress with a plastic covering underneath and he stayed with us. We eventually trained him and his urinary incontinence improved.
The grand plan started when I asked him more details about his family and where he grew up. He told me he was born in a small village called Aleyo located few hours from Toba. He left his village when his mother passed away from some unknown illness. Toba is a small rural town; around 2 hours drive from Jimma with a public telephone service and few shops here and there. I asked him if he wanted to go back to his family. After initial hesitation he said yes. I spoke with a social work department, an office that helped street children re-unite with their families, and they offered help to take Murshid back to his home.
That day came when we would take Murshid back to his village, to the place where he was born and raised, to meet his brother, his father and his step mother. He had been away now for few years and was not sure what to expect. He was not scared though, neither was he too excited. He knew he had to see them someday and was especially longing to see his father and his brother.
We headed from Jimma to Toba with a minibus. Once in Toba, we asked people where Aleyo was located. They told us it was few hours from Toba, behind the hills but the only way to get there was either on foot or ride a mule.
We found a mule for a fair price. I was a bit scared at first but thought that it would be a quick ride to Aleyo. An hour passed by. There was no one we can spot. We zigzagged through the alleys and after another 2 hours including crossing a thick forest, Murshid spotted his neighborhood from distance. Tears swelled up in his eyes. He pointed to the direction of the grave where his mother rested and immediately turned his face. It was against the custom in the village to keep on looking that way. So we turned around and continued to his father’s thatched house surrounded by many other similar houses. His neighbors immediately recognized Murshid. They placed their hands over their heads as a sign of surprise and immediately send for his father who showed up within few minutes. I still remember that moment when his father met Murshid for the first time after several years and kneeled under his boy’s knees and hugged him…we were all in tears.
I was invited to go in and share a cup of Ethiopian coffee, sweetened with salt. I did not see his step mother though and was wondering how she will react.
It was getting late, I didn’t stay much longer, a three hour trip was waiting for me to get back to Toba where I can catch the last minibus on the way back to Jimma.
Murshid met his father, his brother and the rest his folks and felt at home. His face told it all. He was happy.
I still felt that being with his family, however poor, was better for him than the streets of Jimma and the unstable life in foster homes. I still remember the moment when he hugged his father; the palpable joy in his face. Weeks later, Murshid surprised me with a collect call from Toba. It was at the end of a market day. He was with his father. He had picked up farming to help his father along with a crash course he had to take at the only elementary school for the entire surrounding community staffed with a lone teacher.
Months would pass. I was walking with my friends in Ferenj Arada. It was early evening.
We stopped by a street vendor to buy some roasted corn.
There was a young boy, rather skinny, walking alone carrying a plastic bag …I walked faster to get close…he started running…
Murshid, It is me. Don’t be scared…
He run faster and disappeared in the dark Jimma night.
I always ask myself if I ever did him a favor by taking him back to Aleyo but I will never forget the lesson that it is not just enough to treat a symptom unless one deals with the root cause.
Dr Lemma went to medical school in Jimma. He studied Hematology and Oncology at the Karmanos Cancer Center / Wayne State University in Detroit, MI.