Yesterday found Ross, Adelaide, and I bumping over a muddy footpath in a bajaj deep into one of the dozens of neighborhoods (which are more like villages) just outside of Mtwara town. We were actually lost; the woman we were going to see, N—-, had spoken with the driver of the bajaj over our cell phone, but apparently, the directions had been unclear, which was understandable as there are no road signs or even proper roads for that matter, just dirt ruts winding up and down hills covered in palms and banana trees. We circled a certain school that N—– had mentioned over the phone, until we came across one of her relatives, which she sent to show us the way. She and her small daughter squeezed into the bajaj to show us the way. When we got to a landslide in the path that must have been caused by the recent rains, and the bajaj could go no further, we hopped out and climbed the small hill to one of the mud houses with a thatched roof.
N—– was waiting for us under the eves of her house, next to the doorway, on a bamboo mat. She called Ross to sit on a small wooden stool, which she had apparently put out for him, and called me to sit by her side on the bamboo mat. After the traditional long introductions, she stretched out her hands to take seven-week old Addie. The skin on Addie’s arms was white and luminous, N—–’s hands dark and reflective, wrapped around Addie’s torso as she held her face-to-face, “What a big baby!” N—– exclaimed. “What are you feeding her?” I probably blushed and replied,
“Mothers milk. Totally mothers milk.”
“She will be riding a bike here by next week,” N—– said, “All by herself!”
I smiled. Then the conversation turned to N—–’s legs. She had them stretched out in front of her; both legs were swollen, but one leg was obviously swollen more than the other. “It has gone down a lot. At the New Year, it was this big!” She motioned to show how swollen the leg had been. The skin on the more swollen, left leg was peeling off all over. The skin on the less swollen leg was scarred and pitted. N—– explained her worries over the fact that she had not been able to go to work for a few weeks.
Ross met her when he was buying maize flour at the store she worked at. She had been so warm and friendly that he wanted to introduce me to her. Indeed, N—– was as warm as he had promised. She delighted in Adelaide and kindly cooed and doted over her with me. When she asked the baby’s name, I told her, “Adi.”
“Hadi?” She repeated.
“No, A-di.” I replied. This had been a problem since we had returned with the baby. We thought when naming her that “Adi” would be easy for Swahili speakers to say, but apparently, it still sounded foreign, and people had a difficult time repeating and recalling it. “People have trouble saying that name,” I said, “Maybe because it is an English name. Is there a word that sounds like Adi in Kiswahili?” By that time a neighbor woman had joined us on the mat, and N—– and she looked at each other for a second, contemplating.
“Ahadi!” Said the neighbor.
“Yes, Ahadi.” Confirmed N—–. They almost skipped over the first “A” sound in the word, and the breathy “H” glided so seamlessly into the next “A” that “Ahadi” did sound somewhat like her English name, “Addie.” I glanced at Ross, questioning, because I did not know the meaning of the new word.
“It means promise.” He said.
Promise—I thought. N—– repeated the word,
Goosebumps raised on my arms. I thought back to the conversations that Ross and I shared over the past few years, as our reason for being in Tanzania came into focus. The conversations would often settle upon the theme that we wanted to invite our brothers, the descendants of Ishmael, into the banquet of blessings that flows from God’s covenant promise with Abraham to bless all nations. And I remembered the day that we named our blog, “Sharing God’s Blessing as Children of Abraham” because of this. Yes, our Ahadi represents a promise. A special promise God made to Abraham to bless the nations. A promise we have made to stay.
When we got ready to leave, N—– said, “I will see Ahadi off.” As it clearly hurt N—– to put weight on her legs, I was somewhat distressed to see this, but N—– cradled Ahadi so carefully, took each step with such intent, and boldly raised her head that I dared not protest. It was a gift that I could not refuse.
As we jostled away down the footpath, thoughts troubled me about N—–’s leg. Although I have limited tropical-medicine training, the swelling looked like it could likely be a symptom of beginning stage Filariasis—a disease where hundreds of tiny threadworms camp out in the lymphatic system of the groin and sometimes arms.
Elephantiasis can be the result of extended disease, where the swelling, which damages the tissues of the limb, is replaced with scar tissue, and the leg becomes huge and unusable. My mind reflected upon the condition of a man who sometimes begs on the path from the fish market to the post office. One of his legs is wrinkled, pitted, as large as a stump, and judging from the smell in the general area where he sits, rotting. Diagnosis for Filariasis requires a skilled microscopist to take blood slides at night (when the worms prefer to travel in the venous system) and examine them under the microscope to look for worms, antibody blood tests, which can only be done with specialized equipment, etc. The treatment involves a strong medicine repeated over months or years, and the medicine along with the dead worms killed by the medicine can cause uncomfortable side effects. Additionally, Ivermectin, the medicine most useful in community control of the microfilariae, was impossible for me to find in Tanzania, as I looked for it intensely last year and had no success.
As my heart swelled with fondness for N—–, as she had been so open and kind, especially to my child, I simultaneously felt crushed by the weight of energy and resources it would take to even diagnose Filariasis and rule out other possibilities. We passed many people out in front of their houses; a mother washing clothes with a baby playing in the sand beside her, a man riding a rusted bike in a suit and tie, a group of women in brightly colored kangas, lounging in the shade. I thought of the mosquitoes carrying microfilaria. I looked at the windows without net coverings.
Oh, Father, My God–my spirit groaned.
I held my baby and said her name–“Ahadi.”