Time has a way of spreading cities out and causing them to consume near-by villages. When we moved here seven years ago there was a tiny village of thatch roofed huts just down the street from us. The town stretched out and around it and kept right on growing. It seemed to pay no mind to the people already living there. It was that way with Yella, Mrs. Sim’s village.
Every other day for more than a month, our family drove the three miles to Yella to treat her granddaughter for burns on the whole of her right leg. And every time we made the short drive, I thought of all the days Mrs. Sim walked the same long, dusty roads to work and back home; to church and back home. That’s not to mention the hours spent cooking two meals a day over open flame fires, and the time bent over soapy bucket water washing clay stained clothing each week. Yes, Mrs. Sim is a good, hard working woman.
As soon as we pulled in the children came running. Mrs. Sim always met us at the rusted metal gate with a smile as bright as the African sun. “On Jaaraama!” She greeted us swinging the gate wide and shooing off cattle with a straw twig. The Fulbe are like that. They just swing the gate of their lives wide open. They share everything even if they can’t afford to.
Upwards of twenty children followed us into her courtyard where we sat on a wooden bench worn smooth by years of visitors and endless hours of afternoon conversation. I pulled out my medical supplies, and on one particular day, I lay out three extra items. They were for the high-spirited, red-eyed boy. He was short with a slightly rounded, malnourished belly. I had been watching him. One day he neighed and bucked like a horse in the stones while I debrided the girl’s burn. Another afternoon, he amused the children with wild dancing to pass the time. Though I didn’t know his real name, I dubbed him Ham.
After I finished caring for the girl, I gave Ham two medicated eye drops to treat his pink eye. Then I unrolled something else. The day before David brought me one of his mouse eaten shirts and asked if I could breathe new life into it. Yes! I knew exactly what that shirt was meant for! Now I held in my hands a new pair of grey shorts. While the children seemed not to notice the enormous holes in the inseams of Ham’s filthy white shorts, the holes left him exposed and naked. He was dirty, and I wondered if he was also ashamed. I handed Mrs. Sim the shorts and a pair of blue underwear, and she passed them onto the angry little boy. He wasn’t at all happy about the medication.
When we returned a week later, Ham’s eyes were no longer red; they were yellow. The medication cleared the pink eye and revealed another condition: jaundice. I looked down at his shorts- green! And no holes! At least he was covered and no longer rubbing seeping eyes.
The burned girl made a complete recovery. There was no evidence of infection or scarring although it will take some time for all the new skin to appear.
We left with payment for our medical services in hand: a bag of ripe mangoes. We will visit Yella again I’m sure. There is a new baby boy who was born on Thursday and a new bride there too. We will take traditional gifts for those life events. We’ll build on our new-found friendships and exchange fresh fruit and cloth and warm greetings and the Good News. And God will be made known in our rural, growing city.