August 5, 2015

​When Cholera Closed the Clinic

We would like you to close your clinic during this cholera epidemic,” a public health officer said to me. “It will be much better if your facility is not contaminated with the disease. If you could help us at our government clinic, we would greatly appreciate it. And we would also like for you to accompany us as we travel to surrounding areas to give immunizations.”

“We will do everything we can to cooperate with you,” I assured him.

Challenging Times

Our clinic was located on a barren desert that had been plagued with drought for two years. There had been no rain at all for the past year. Now it was Ramadan, which made it even more difficult for the Muslim population. They drank no water during the daytime, and, of course, ate no food until after sundown, if they had any.

For several days three of us on our team helped at the government clinic. One day we accompanied three government workers in a Land Rover on a trip to outlying villages and to a school. Along the way we gave immunizations.

After stopping at several villages, we came to many humble homes strewn along a dry riverbed where numerous palm trees provide welcome shade. The 112°F (44°C) heat enveloped us as we stopped at the school. Beautifully woven papyrus mats covered the earth floor, while 10-foot poles supported an overhead framework intricately thatched with palm fronds. Low walls were also thatched. About 75 children and teenagers sat in little groups on mats while two or three teachers helped them read their Arabic texts. They were all clean and alert, a delightful sight indeed.

A Personal Request

We set up to give immunizations. Soon I had the opportunity of visiting privately with the head teacher, a tall, handsome, dignified sheik, a perfect gentleman.

“Do you have an Arabic Bible you could give me?” he asked quietly.

“Do you have an Arabic Bible you could give me?” he asked quietly.

Indeed, I had five hidden away in the bathroom in our house, but we were not supposed to give them out. I wondered, Is he setting me up?

“Why do you ask me this?” I spoke slowly, softly.

“About 18 years ago I went to another country to earn a B.S. degree at a Muslim university where they taught hundreds of students to be sheiks. The first week of school one of our professors gave us a long list of forbidden books that we were to become acquainted with at the university library. He told us that we needed to know them well enough to recognize them when we returned home to work.

“One day I went to the library to look at the long shelf of books. As I reviewed them, I discovered one called the Holy Bible. As I read, it thrilled my heart. For four years I studied it every day. It brought me very close to the heart of Allah. We became real friends. When I graduated and came home, I was very sad. For many years I have searched, but I can’t find one. I hope you have one I might have,” he spoke in a near whisper.

“I do,” I answered, quietly concealing my joy.

With no change of expression he whispered, “May Allah be praised! I am so thankful!”

The Right Moment

Then he cautioned me that he had a well-laid plan to receive the book. “Please do not tell anyone about this. Do not bring it. Twice a week I will take my 6-year-old son on my shoulders to your clinic for treatment. He is not sick, but you can check him and sell me some medicine. Do not mention the Bible at all. After I have come several times I will decide when I should take the book.

“In the meantime, please wrap the book in several sheets of newspaper, then wrap it in a white cloth. Then someday in the examining room I will say, ‘Please bring it.’ Please be sure you always see us in the room that has a door out the back of the clinic. You can go out that door to get it, then bring it in the same door. I don’t know when I can come.”

“I will do as you say,” I whispered. “Be sure the clinic has opened again before you come.” We then rejoined the team.

As our group traveled home I wondered, Will I ever see my new friend again? He would have to walk at least 12 miles each way with a child on his shoulders several times, in intense heat, with no food and water.

A few days later our clinic reopened. Not long afterward he arrived with his child. We acted as if we had not previously met. I checked his “patient,” then gave him some vitamin syrup while I assured him that I needed to see them again in two or three days. Then I watched him stride down the road that led to his village.

Two days later he arrived again; in fact, he came five times in two weeks. That last day he whispered, “Please bring it.”

I slipped out the back door and soon returned with a bag containing the wrapped book.

Taking it out of the bag, I handed it to him. His child was already on his shoulders. He slid the book between the child and himself. The white cloth covering blended with their loose white clothing. In that joyful moment I watched him as he walked out of the clinic with a bottle of medicine in one hand and a child on his shoulders. Unobtrusively I observed him as he strode down the dusty, rocky tracks. Tears welled in my eyes. “So this is why our clinic was closed,” I exclaimed silently to God. “How else would we have met?”

Susie Hamu is a pseudonym.