Many may know that I am currently stateside in Kansas visiting my beautifully pregnant sister and hoping to catch a glimpse of the new family member before I jet-set back to Tanzania, at the end of the week, to wrap up life and work. Luke is hunkered down at home/the village making sure our life, work and most importantly the dog continue to thrive (thank you Luke!).
With ample electricity, never ending wifi and the quietness of American life (zero neighbors knocking on my door to “visit”) there is no better time to reflect, work and well…tell y’all more stories.
Today: The Story of Sili
I am sure I have mentioned Sili (short for Silvanusi) once or twice in my blogs before. If not, here is a summary: Sili is the kid next door; the kid that brought us our first banana tree; the kid that lends a hand; the kid that got a dog, convinced us to get a dog, and cares for our dog when we are out of town; the kid that farms all morning then comes to my house for morning oatmeal and chai; the kid that is, well…partly our kid for now and probably forever.
With our help and Sili’s dedication to life improvement, he started car mechanic school in April. Two months before that, he sat with me twice a day to read 4th-grade level Swahili books to improve his reading and writing. I guess it is important to mention that Sili is 16, finished the equivalent of 5th grade but actually has the reading and writing skills of a 3rd grader.
In April he packed up his possessions (I think a t-shirt and pants), gave his mom a hug and got on a bus with me to head to town for school (an hour and a half from the village). His brother who lives in town took him in and promised to feed and shelter Sili as we would pay for school fees, supplies and small incidentals.
While we knew going to school in the city was what Sili wanted and we had all worked hard to get him there, it was hard. Hard to take a kid from the only home he ever knew and leave him in a strange place. I had fears, he had fears.
In the months between April and now, Sili has learned a lot. He reads and writes better than I could imagine, he speaks enthusiastically about car parts and break systems. He asks me to google pictures of car parts when I am in town so he can explain them to me (he knows what google is now). But it has also been hard.
The worst incident occurred in July when Sili fell ill. First, a bad tooth. He had it pulled but with no pain meds or anything!? He was traumatized. No one was there to help…
A week later, Malaria. Malaria is totally common and not a deadly disease when treated early, but Sili is a 16 year old boy remember. On the day it got the worst and Sili had little energy to move he calls and asks for my advice. “Well, Sili, you need to get your butt to the clinic and get some medicine.” A friend of mine in town took him to the clinic, got him all set up with proper meds and some lunch, Sili went home to sleep.
An hour later I started receiving the strangest texts from Sili…they all had something to do with death. “Sam, I am so hot but so cold, I can’t stop trembling. I think death is better. How can I die?” I thought he was just being a little over dramatic, so I called. On his end all I heard was the ghost of a human, someone so exhausted that life truly seamed to have left. I was terrified.
I really had no idea what type of pain malaria causes till I heard the absence of his words and spirit. Then a couple weeks ago, I came across a passage in a memoir written in Africa. The passage below helped me feel the pain which I could not imagine and his texts finally made sense.
“The attack arrives quickly, sometimes quite abruptly, with few preliminaries. It is a sudden, violent onset of cold. A polar, arctic cold. Someone has taken you, naked, toasted in the hellish heat of the Sahel and the Sahara, and thrown you straight into the icy highlands of Greenland or Spitsbergen, amid the snows, winds and blizzards…You begin to tremble, to quake, to thrash about.
The malaria attack in not merely painful, but like every pain also a mystical experience. We enter a realm about which a moment ago we knew nothing, though it now turns out that it had existed alongside us all the while, finally capturing and incorporating us: we discover within ourselves icy crevasses, chasms, and abysses, whose presence fills us with the suffering and fear. But this moment of discovery, too, passes, the spirits desert us, depart, and disappear, and that which remains, under the mountain of the most bizarre coverings, is truly pitiful.
A man right after a strong attack of malaria is a human rag. He lies in a puddle of sweat, he is still feverish, and he can move neither hand nor foot. Everything hurts; he is dizzy and nauseous. He is exhausted, weak, limp. Carried by someone else, he gives the impression of having no bones or muscles.”
Did Sili survive? Absolutely! How, I don’t really know–it seemed he had taken the medicine too late. But he did, and two hours after the worst of it, he called with spirit and strength in his voice to tell me he wanted food. Typical boy :)
This story is just a snapshot into our relationship with Sili. Sometimes are stressful but generally he trucks along nicely. Right now he is “interning” at a car garage learning the ropes first hand. He calls every morning to assure me that he is on his way to work and when he gets there and then at lunch…he feels good having a purpose and it feels good helping him find that purpose.
Not sure how we will get along without each other, the three of us, after we leave. But I know we will. And who knows maybe Sili has a little America in his future…?