The picture below is the one on the front of my autobiography. It was taken in the mid 90’s in Soddo, Ethiopia. I developed a fairly close relationship with the boy who is walking with me. He was deaf and dumb. There was a blind school nearby but he wasn’t blind. There wasn’t anywhere near to help him. In my early days there before we got a vehicle, I often walked past his home going between our home and the hospital. If only I hadn’t had an already heavy schedule…. but had the chance to meet the family and know more about him. I got to hear his story from the workers and did my best to be a friend to this little guy isolated in an overpopulated area inside his silent world. So we’d walk together sharing a chocolate bar, pointing out things that interested us, but sadly absolute silence. If only we’d known ‘signing’ …. Our home was about a kilometre beyond his and when I was walking home he’d walk with me but then after a while suddenly break off and run home to his area of safety.
Then we bought an old 4WD and as I drove past he would climb up on my knee and steer for maybe half a kilometre before tapping my arm to stop, hop out and run home. I think that either his playmates indicated that I was coming or he, being deaf and dumb, appreciated the vibrations from the car transmitted through his feet. At any rate it was rare for me not to see him coming to the side of the road, waiting for me as I drove past. When we left Soddo one of the saddest things was leaving him. He did not have an intelligence problem, and hopefully as things progress medically in the land, he will get help. If only I’d been able to find an appropriate school…
I did meet him again several years later when I visited the Soddo area again. He ran up to me with a very broad smile but scratching himself all over. He was covered with scabies. The diagnosis was easy and the treatment relatively cheap, but not all that easy, as it involved bathing and washing clothes. Having worked there just a few years earlier I quickly worked out how much to get him seen, and medicine ordered, then added a little for inflation and gave it to one of the hospital staff to sort out. I was told that after I had left the pharmacy had been privatised and costs adjusted (in)appropriately. Thus the money which I was offering was now insufficient to even get him a card to be seen. I added more, but had to leave and am not sure who prospered from my money, the boy or the one sent on an errand. If only I’d been able to stay and look after him myself….
Life has so many ‘if only‘ situations. You’d go mad if you held onto them too tightly.