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Tragedy and Triumph
My name is Adia Andrews. I am twenty-five years old. As I walk the streets of my hometown, I smile. The once battered shacks are now furnished homes. There is a soup kitchen at one corner, and an outstanding hospital that is free for those who cannot afford to pay. People have jobs, and a regular income. Disease rate has dropped, as has child abuse. Much as changed since I was eighteen. This is my story. I promise that I will leave nothing out. You will laugh, you will cry; don’t say I haven’t warned you. As I walk slowly, lost in my own thoughts, I drift backward in time, through a flood of memories, to a restless night, and a dream that constantly used to haunt me.
“You must go. I love you, Adia, but you must go, before you become sick also,” Dumaka whispers weakly to me, from his bed, the sole piece of furniture in our one-room shack, that we call home. I can hardly speak as tears fill my eyes.
“I will never leave you. You will not die, not after I have already lost Amina, my mother, and my sisters, Adamma and Lerato. You will get better, and become strong and healthy. Our baby will be healthy when born, and we will live happily together in a big house by a lake. There will be plenty of water, and fertile land for growing crops. We will never be hungry again.”
“It cannot happen, Adia,” My husband whispers softly. I can hardly hear his voice, so weak and tired. “I am dying. There is nothing left for you in our small village in Africa. Not now, in 2002, maybe never. You must take the baby when it is born and go far away from here. Think of our baby, Adia. It deserves a fresh start, a good life without all this hunger, dehydration, and sickness. The baby will be your little gift from god. Now GOOOO!” His hand, held in mine, clenches, and then goes limp.
Only a gnawing hunger and the wails of a hungry baby wake me from my deep slumber. I must find something to eat. My baby drinks so much of my milk, and I will not survive if I do not eat. Also, he has been vomiting constantly and cries all the time. What if the doctor should see and take him away from me?
I remember a time when Dumaka and I skipped through the meadows, laughing, carefree. I remember the place that he used to meet me, always laughing. Scooping me up in his arms and swinging me around like a little girl. Laughing, but never at me. Always helping me, talking to me, as if I really mattered. There is a dark, hollow, bottomless, emptiness inside me now that he’s gone.
I walk through the tiny village, my baby boy in my arms. My sad eyes follow endless rows of shabby shacks. They used to be neat little homes, but most people have fallen ill with all sorts of disease, and those who are not sick spend their time caring for the sick and searching for food and clean water for themselves and their families. I bite back tears as one of the village children stops me. Her dress, beautifully woven by her skilled mother, who is now ill, lies in tatters about her shoulders. She shivers, and even from a distance, I can see her ribs sticking out.
“What is your baby’s name, Adia?” she asks. Her father shushes her, whispering not to bother me, after so many in my family have died from The Disease.
“It’s alright.” I say, trying to be light-hearted. Without even thinking, I blurt out, “His name is Enam.” The little girl stares at me, a blank expression on her gaunt face. It is customary to name African babies after their father, or other relatives, especially if they are deceased. “It means ‘a gift from god’. His middle name is Dumaka, after his father. Enam Dumaka. What do you think of it?” I say in answer to her gaze. The little girl thinks for a minute.
“I like it.” She announces, smiling.
“How is Layla? Any better?” I ask her father, Naledi. Layla is his wife, who is very ill with The Disease. Naledi sighs. I can understand that he is engulfed by a stupor of rage and grief, as he helplessly waits for his beloved wife to die. I remember. I know how that feels. He must feel emptiness, a hollow pit of emptiness, and deep inside, a strong feeling of being useless.
“She is getting worse. The volunteer doctor says that she needs medication. I do not even have enough food for my family, not to mention money for medicine!” Naledi shakes his head in desperation and frustration.
“I am walking through the village to bring news that foreign missionaries have delivered a few sacks of rice for us. The volunteer doctor says that they will be back to help us. He is rationing the food out between families. First to the sick, the women and the children, then the men.” Naledi says, his face brightening slightly. “You should go while it lasts.” I thank Naledi for the news, send prayers for and best wishes for Layla, and walk, with a bounce in my step, toward the edge of the village. Enam continues to wail. He is starving for milk. His pain tugs at my heart. Why should an innocent child be forced to suffer and endure so much pain?
The volunteer doctor is handing out bags of rice, and also checking us for common diseases, that are recognizable. When it is my turn, the doctor eyes Enam, and hands me two small bags of rice and a small bottle of drinking water. He asks if Enam is still on my milk. When I say that he is, the doctor gives me another bottle of water and says that it is very important for me to drink lots of water. I nod. He examines Enam, and is moving on to me, when Enam violently vomits over the doctor. He furrows his eyebrows, a frown upon his tired and worn, but concerned face.
“Does he cry constantly, even when there is milk for him?” The doctor questions gently, sorrow dripping from his lips.
“Yes.” I gulp, my heart pounding with fear. Not Enam too. He feels Enam’s forhead, and curses viciously under his breath.
“The child is sick. He needs medication.” He sighs, and examines him more closely. “I don’t suppose you have money for medicine, either. No one does.” I shake my head. He shrugs helplessly in defeat, already turning away. “Keep him inside. Give him plenty of milk. Drink lots of water. I am truly sorry, but I cannot help you any more. The child needs medicine, or he will die.”
“Nooooooo! He will not die. There must be some mistake! He only needs milk. Wait, someone, help me, please! Please…” The doctor sighs and continues on his way, his head in his hands. I feel dizzy as thoughts swirl through my head. A picture forms of Dumaka on his deathbed… but it is not Dumaka that lies there. It is his only son…
“NOOOOOOOOOOO!!” I hold my head in agony. The picture will not go away. I stumble blindly to my shack, Enam in my arms. I lay him on the bed, and collapse on the floor; perhaps from fatigue, but more from grief. Images flash through my mind- Adamma and Lerato dying, only three days apart. Their weak smiles, telling me how strong I am. Amina, my mamma, holding my hand, telling me that she loves me, her saying goodbye. Amina teaching me to say mamma, cheering as I take my first steps. Amina’s face as she tells me about the father that left before I was born…
Now two days later, and the rice is gone. The water is gone. Pretty soon, Enam will be gone too. There is a knock on my door. I wipe my eyes and stand up. I must not fail Adamma and Lerato- if only for them, Mamma, and Enam, I must stay strong. I must have hope, even in the face of death.
I open the half rotted door with caution. You never know, in these times, if once respectable people will steal from you, even hurt you. Although it may seem it, the world cannot be all bad. There must be some good people in it, and no matter what, god will be there for me. Maybe he will send someone to help me.
A tall, young, white man stands outside.
“Do you speak English?” he asks. I am wary. Hesitating, I reply,
“Yes.” He smiles.
“May I come in?” he asks. Enam starts to cry, and I have no other choice but to let him in. When Enam finally falls asleep, the man starts to talk again.
“Don’t worry. I am not going to hurt you. I am here to help you. My name is Michael Andrews. I am twenty years old. I am from the United States. Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?”
“OK.” I waver. “My name is Adia Denhya. I am eighteen years old. This is my son, Enam.”
“Are you married?”
“My husband is dead. Disease.” My voice trembles with emotion.
“Mama is dead from disease. My father, Fenyang, left before I was born. My sisters are all dead from disease.”
“I am so sorry. Are you and Enam healthy?” He asks gently. I shake my head.
“Doctor says Enam is sick. He needs medicine. I don’t have money for medicine.” Michael thinks for a minute, and then his face brightens slightly, and rather suddenly. A look of grim determination settles over his face.
“We want to help you and the rest of the villagers, but it is hard, as most of them do not speak English. Would you be willing to translate for us? You would get paid, so you’d be able to pay for Enam’s medicine.” He gazes steadily at me, and somehow I know that I can trust him. I feel my glimmer of hope growing stronger, but I hesitate.
“I cannot wait for money. Enam is very sick. If I wait, he will die.” I say slowly. A grin spreads across Michael’s face. It is as though the sun has come out.
“I am willing to pay you in advance if you sign a contract to work with us, and agree to live at our new headquarters.” Still I hesitate.
“Why must I live there?” I question him. Michael sighs. I wonder if he has family in America, who miss him as much as I miss my family. Is his family still alive, or has he also walked beside the dreary road of death, not in the coffin, but as the only one carrying it? Do they have The Disease in America?
“I do not think you would, but there is a chance that you would take the money and run off. Tell me, will you please translate for us?”
“I will do it.” I find myself saying, without even thinking. It is as though fate has played it’s part, and some greater force has made up my mind. I smile as I recall my earlier thoughts. It must be god, sending help for me.
I think of my new life. I will help my people, so that no one walks the road of death, but that of hope. I know that Amina, with her love; Leratto, with her hope; and Adamma, with her praise, would be proud. I smile. Perhaps I will become a missionary like Michael. I drift back from my thoughts, to Michael, and the large question that I have just answered, changing my life forever. I am ready. As Amina would say: “Watch out world, here comes Adia.”
“I am glad. You will be a great help, and a joy to work with.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Michael’s only answer is a grin.
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