Yesterday, one of my Ugandan friends from the guesthouse told me I was becoming “like an African.” Even though this is far from true, it was one of the greatest compliments I have ever received here. I think this comment comes from the constant surprise that I always ask for a local dish for dinner every night. I mainly request posho, a pasty bread-like substance made from corn maize (that you can eat with your hands!). Many other North Americans who I have talked with, find this food tasteless…but for some reason I really enjoy it! It baffles the cooks that I ask for it so often because many guests coming from Canada or America do not usually prefer to eat things like posho, millet and fish soup like I do!
This week’s post is one family’s story of a lifetime of hardship stemming from an untreated medical deformity. But in fact, many of the initial stories we hear from parents about the medical situation of their child comes after years and years of suffering. I have discovered that poverty does not just result in the inability to pay for a certain needed medical procedures or a decline in one’s physical health, but affects the overall mental stability of a person as well as the people closest to them. This week, one of the mothers of our patients boldly shared a story with us that was very difficult for her to talk about.
Young Azed and his mother, Mary, came to us last week at the Jinja Orthopedic Clinic. Azed has been living with bilateral clubbed feet (a defect effecting both the right and left foot) for ten years. Many children in his situation are understandably terrified to be at the clinic, not knowing what is going to happen to them. Yet, Azed stood confident and humble during my first encounter with him, and was not afraid to show his natural, handsome smile when I took pictures for his progress file outside the clinic. His eyes showed the maturity of a young man and his posture was relaxed and self-assured. I saw that his clothes were badly torn and spotted with many unidentifiable stains, but unfortunately it isn’t unusual as many of the children that come to us from Jinja’s surrounding villages cannot afford more than one outfit. It was not until I walked back inside to join one of our nurses in conversation with Mary, that I realized there was much more to young Azed than what initially meets the eye.
Ten year old Azed is the second born and eldest male in a home of five children and one single mother. Azed and his older sister, Nasura, share the same father, and the youngest three children are from a different father. Mary explained to us that both Nasura and Azed were born with clubbed feet causing them both to have a severe limp and pains when walking. After her first child, Nasura, was born, Mary tells us that her husband was very angry about the birth defect. Mary wanted the best for her child and to have peace with her husband, so she looked into a surgical cure for the abnormality in her daughter’s feet. She was soon troubled to realize her family did not have the funds to pay for the needed procedure.
After Azed was born with the same problem as Nasura, Mary’s husband was furious. He was not at all empathetic towards his two children whom he knew would most likely suffer for a lifetime with this problem. He was humiliated that he had produced two “lame” children (as he put it) and was not about to father children anymore because he was so
embarrassed. He would not even let himself be associated with his two children.
By this time in our conversation, Mary was in tears, still mentally suffering from the verbal affliction her first husband had caused and the hardship of her children whom she dearly loves. Through her tears, she told us that her husband had not only left their family, but he publicly and officially disowned his two children. He wanted no part in their lives because he deemed them as worthless and a humiliation. From this day forward, Mary and her two oldest children have been dealing with the anguish of their past, and trying to live out a “normal” life despite the horrible circumstances. She explains that she wishes with all her heart to be able to find the money for the surgeries, but she remains unemployed. Mary hardly earns enough money from the odd jobs she finds to feed her family, so the idea of funding two expensive medical procedures has always been financially impossible for her to even imagine.
Up until two weeks ago, the opportunity to have Azed and Nasura’s feet looked at by a professional doctor seemed like a very distant hope. This idea took a drastic turn for the better when the family heard of a surgical “bone-correcting” camp that the local hospital was providing. Mary anxiously took her two children into the hospital to be assessed. There are hundreds of children in Uganda who need these kinds of surgeries, (which is exactly why O4A is growing at such a rapid pace) so, when news gets around that doctors at a hospital are holding these kinds of “camps” people flood into the hospital with the hope that they will be looked at by a doctor. There were so many kids at the hospital during those few days, that there was not enough time or supplies for every child to be looked at. Only Nasura was let into the hospital camp not her younger brother. Mary was happy that her daughter would get the chance to have the surgery, but she was still very concerned for Azed. Luckily, one of the doctors working at the orthopedic camp took pity on their family and referred Azed to us.
Mary nervously brought her son into the clinic and admitted this heart-wrenching story about her family. After Azed’s initial assessment, the doctor told him that he could have his first castings put on that same day! This marks the beginning stages to correct Azed’s bilateral clubbed feet! For the first time in the lives of two young pre-teens and one loving mother, there is hope for their family. The journey towards the complete healing of bilateral clubbed feet is very long and will not be an easy one, but, this gives as all hope for the mending of Azed’s feet and a mother’s broken heart.
Ugandan Advice: If a man comes up to you on the street tries selling you a bag of fried grasshoppers , buy some. Grasshoppers are a delicacy in Uganda and they may just taste like a crunchy salted french fry!