A soft touch on the back of my leg came to my attention as I reached for my bag to grab a bottle of water. I turned and saw two beautiful black eyes staring at me. A little boy, at most seven years old, somehow managed to find a way to the guarded examination room and was now asking me for water. ”How did you manage to pass the guards without being noticed?” did I ask. An innocent glow of shyness came over him while he directed his gaze to the ground. ”I don’t know doctor, please don’t tell the guards. I only want some water. My mother and my little sister need something to drink.”
I don’t know what was worse. Seeing those innocent eyes begging for a poor bottle of water, or handing them over that same bottle knowing it would be just a short-term solution. Somehow I felt guilty when I gave this bottle of water to this hands of which I knew they would be begging again soon. I was confused. What was I contributing to here? What purpose did I serve here other than providing an illusion of temporary happiness?
I left the boy out through the backdoor and reached to the guard. ”Bring me the next patient please, sir.”
Back at my desk, I waited for the next patient to come in. The door opened. Just not in the same way as it did the whole morning before. Its crackling noise sounded as if it wanted to prepare me for something. Two wrinkled, dusty hands were the first parts revealed of an old lady whose spirit would be carved on my soul forever.
My heart fell apart, for the umpteenth time this journey, as I saw this old lady crawling her way into the examination room. The inanimate sand and the worn stones on her knees and elbows spoke more than a thousand words. She stopped right in front of my desk and looked up to me. ”Hello son. It’s crowded outside with all this people. You must be tired.” she said. Her calm reassuring voice reminded me of my grandmother. “Welcome, madam. Don’t worry. Are you able to get up and come sit on the chair in front of me?” She smiled, ”No son, I can’t” There was my grandmother’s voice again, every single word of this old lady seemed to touch me. ”But how did you get here then?”, I replied curiously. Her inexhaustible calm voice continued, “I came here in the same way as I did for all the other places in the past ten years, my son. Crawling. I live in a nearby village, not more than ten miles away from this hospital. So my journey was not too long this time.”
I felt my eyes getting wet. For a little moment, I slightly lost it. I got harassed by the thought of my grandmother crawling in dusty streets, towing herself over little stones and twigs to a hospital, in the same inhuman way as this woman just did. I took a big breath of air, smiled and tried to answer her in a proper and professional way. But I couldn’t help it. My trembling voice betrayed me.
”Don’t worry son. Look at me. I’m still alive and I’m healthy. I’m thankful for being able to come here by myself. I’m okay, really. The only thing that I came here for is my curved spine. Maybe with your help, I thought, I could walk straight up again someday. But if that’s not possible, it’s still okay son. Don’t be saddened by my situation. I’m a happy and thankful human being. And I want you to be that too.”
I think those were one of the most powerful words someone ever said to me. And they left me bewildered. Having myself struggling with the fact that I couldn’t understand how this lady could be this strong with such a poor life quality. And at the same time I was somehow ashamed of having myself being comforted by my own patient. I know this is in some way embarrassing to write, being a professional medic. But this is a story I couldn’t have left untold. The world needs to hear such stories, I think. And if this is what it takes to pass this valuable lesson to the world. Then it’s worth it.
The following couple of days wouldn’t be much different. This medical mission was an endless confrontation between our comfortable naivety and the absolute reality. Both the experiences in the clinics as the orphanage left an unerasable mark on our hearts.
Many souls came to pass our hands. Each single one of them bearing an own story. Stories of which the load and intensity had torn us apart a many times during this journey, but which also made us grow as human beings. Nonetheless, among this great variety of stories, there is a single thing which all those souls had in common. It was their imperturbable smile. Their unconditional happiness and the enormous gratitude for the unbearable nothing that they possessed. Unimaginable thrilling. If only they knew what they had taught us, simply by showing us their neat souls.
Altogether, the greatest gift given to us by this journey was the feeling of coming home, in a strange country. As muslim volunteers in a non-muslim country we were welcomed with open arms. We got treated as honourable guests and cared about like family. There was mutual validation. Mutual love. Very special.
After all, I believe this is what we muslims live for. For the bigger things. To contribute to the world. Each one of us in his or her own way. Islam is about making a positive difference in others’ life, whether it is for muslims or non-muslims. It is our responsibility to leave footprints on this world, in which direction the next generations can continue their journey. We are muslims. We are human. We serve all.
Peace be upon you.
This article is written by Sulayman el Mathari