A shorter post this weekbecause I’ve been running around like a headless chicken with the book launch. Plus, I felt this particular story needed to be told on its own.
One day, Rosanna was awaiting my arrival at the field hospital with great impatience. A young woman had been brought to the hospital after a wall of her house had collapsed, burying her completely in mud and rubble. She couldn’t move her legs and Rosanna needed another woman to help her lift and examine the girl. She was afraid the girl’s mother-in-law could not understand the need for minimal movement to avoid further damage and, although any one of the Translators could have done it, the women would not allow a man to be present for the examination.
Together we undressed her carefully. When at last her tunban – baggy trousers – were removed, we discovered the village women had administered their own form of first aid. From waist to thigh, back and front, between her legs, the girl had been plastered with a homemade compress of cow dung and mud which, dried to a hard crust, took forever to clean off. It was clear as we soaked and sponged the girl could feel nothing from below the waist. There was no response, no flicker of movement.
Rosanna was pessimistic, but held some hope that after the initial trauma had passed the girl might recover the use of her legs. She inserted a catheter, teaching the mother-in-law how to empty the urine bag and promised to visit her at home the following week. She carefully explained the girl must be kept flat on her back, not moved in any way, until her visit. The family agreed.
She asked me to go with her on the house visit a week later. As we bounced over the potholed, boulder-strewn road I winced at the thought of how it must have been for the family trying to keep the young girl immobilised on their return home. As she examined her patient, Rosanna’s face reflected a mixture of anger and compassion.
Indicating we should move to another room, out of earshot of the girl, she asked through Iqbal the translator what they done. The girl’s mother-in-law said, ‘We couldn’t do nothing. She couldn’t move, couldn’t walk. We had to try something.’
‘What did they do?’ Rosanna asked again.
After a few moments, Iqbal translated, ‘They waited for two or three days but when she showed no improvement they called in a local healer. He manipulated the girl’s spine. They say it made no difference.’
To me, Rosanna muttered, ‘It made a difference all right. He’s inflicted such damage, there’s no longer the slightest hope she’ll ever walk again.’
She was eighteen and had been married for just one month. Her husband had gone to Iran to earn enough money to allow them to build their own house.
He would know nothing of the tragedy until he returned, perhaps after one or even two years. Custom does not allow bad news to be sent to a person who is far from home. Many a migrant worker has returned home, money for the family in his pocket, to a tearful reunion with loved ones. All too often they are tears of sorrow as he learns that, in his absence, his mother died or his brother was killed in action. His hard earned savings may well have to be spent on ceremonies to commemorate a death rather than provide for his family.
The return journey was subdued. Everyone’s thoughts were with that young girl. She had not uttered one word of complaint. I wondered if, when alone, she raged and cried out, as I wanted to do on her behalf, or if she calmly accepted what life had dealt her?