According to the early Greek philosophers, people got sick because they suffered from some kind of imbalance in their body.
According to the traditional belief, a person is taken ill for two reasons: either the body is not functioning well or the soul has been disturbed by evil forces.
For the first case, traditional healing methods from herbal treatment to bleeding or rubbing the body with various concoctions, are tried. When they fail, the patient is taken to traditional spas where hydro-shock methods are used. The sick person is made to stand under a waterfall early in the morning. The chilly water tapping on their skull does the trick. The patron saint of the place is of course there to expedite the cure.
“Why am I sick?” asks aunt Tsehai. “Could it be that the Good Lord is countenance in my de-mise?”
“How are you aunt Tsehai? Are you feeling okay?”
“Well, let’s pray that nothing more terrible than this becomes my lot!”
Aunt Tsehai has been bedridden for the last fifteen days. What’s her problem? Why is she not seeing the doctor?
The world is such a terrible place to live in that from time to time humans have to learn to take things for granted. Going to the doctor means refusing to take your share of misery in this cursed world.
If Tsehai is lying in bed groaning and moaning the whole night, it is something she has to face in life, she says. And anyway, she prefers to get her medical treatment at home. The moment her family decides to take her to hospital, her optimism declines and her chances of survival with it.
So the neighbors think it is their duty to visit her and console her.
“You will soon get well. The Lord has the power to heal.”
“Well, if He thinks I am not needed here anymore, then let Him do as He pleases.”
On the night table by the bedside stand bottles of milk, juice, and small bags full of oranges and bananas. They had been put there by the visiting guests. But aunt Tsehai has neither the energy nor the appetite to drink the milk or eat the fruits. So they will be sitting there for a day or two until they mysteriously disappear, probably feasted upon by the younger members of the family.
Once, an Eritrean abroad went with a friend of his to an Italian hospital to visit a mutual friend that had a serious bullet wound to the leg. They brought a bottle of milk and some bananas. They expected him to say jokingly, “Do you think I am some kind of a gorilla?”
His friend had told him to take flowers instead of bananas. “Flowers are symbols of freshness and good health,” he tried to convince him, “and Europeans prefer flowers to a bottle of milk.” But the Eritrean insisted that he respect his tradition.
As they walked along the doorway, they saw his name written on a door. He was inside, gravely sick and probably groaning, the Eritrean thought. The door also had another message: No visitors allowed for the moment. “What?” He wondered. “We came all the way to visit this person and now we can’t get in?”
They asked why and got a reply that he needed absolute peace. “Absolute peace, my foot!” mut-tered the Eritrean.
You see, human beings have more power to impact the desired peace than anything else.
“What is wrong with these Westerners? Doesn’t chatting with those who love you have more healing effect than staring blankly at the ceiling?” he continued in dismay.
As they turned to leave, he could see through the door left ajar that the patient was reading his favorite magazine.
They didn’t know what to do with the bottle of milk or the banana. They entered a small teashop, ordered tea, and proceeded to finish the contents of the bottle and the bag undiscovered by the idiot.
The same Eritrean, back home to his beloved country now, made it his habit, following humiliating experiences in the past, to visit relatives before they expired. But this one, Tesfai, was not in a hurry to depart this world. However, for people from the country-side who came to visit him in his ward, he might as well have left years earlier. Why? His leg had been amputated by the doctor. According to Eritreans from the countryside, a one-legged man is as good as a dead man.
So the women folk among the visitors began to cry and weep before the eyes of the surprised patient. When he told them to stop crying, they began to prepare coffee with a glowing brazier right in the middle of the hospital ward! And all the time, they never stopped talking of his misery and misfortune.
“What a plight, what a calamity,” would whine the ladies.
“ How have the mighty fallen,” would sigh the men.
The amputee could say nothing but stare at the ceiling, asking himself where he went wrong.
In our culture, a good visitor is the one who visits a sick relative while the former is alive and kick-ing. Going to the funeral of a person who you forgot to visit in the house or the hospital rubs one’s conscience the wrong way.
One Sunday afternoon, Tesfai (back when he still had both his legs intact) went to the hospital to visit a friend. He knew he was still in the hospital because most patients stay a week or two before they are discharged, dead or alive. As usual, he had his kilo of bananas inside a paper bag ready with him.
The hospital gate opened at 1pm exactly. The queue was long and he had to wait for some time before it was his turn to have the contents of his bag sniffed by the Derg soldiers stationed at the gate.
He could see the person who was right in front of him carrying a bag containing three bananas. Tesfai knew the man was poor, but inside he was very rich. At least he remembered his friend lying desperate in some hospital ward.
When Tesfai’s turn came, the Derg solider did not sniff at his bananas. But the lady who was behind him was told to reveal the contents of her siltania (lid covered enameled bowl). Derg sol-diers hated covered containers, for they thought they contained plastic bombs to blow up the hospital.
Tesfai’s friend was in ward B. He walked along with other visitors and located the block and the room. Inside were about fifteen visitors sitting on both sides of the three beds and chatting, forgetful of the patients. The night tables were laden with milk bottles and fruit. Tesfai looked around but could not spot his friend. He asked one of the patients the whereabouts of his missing friend.
“Are you a relative?” the patient asked in a somber voice.
“I am his friend,” Tesfai replied.
“A real friend?” he inquired.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Tesfai, perplexed.
“Teklai left about three weeks ago,” the patient sighed.
“Where did he go?” Tesfai asked.
“He went the way of all flesh,” the patient stated.
Served Tesfai right. All he had to do was make frequent visits to enquire about his friend’s health. He felt miserable that he was not there when he died.
He donated his kilo of banana to the patient and left.