February 22nd- April 2nd, 2019
My heart hurts.
The past three weeks have been hard.
It started with me in my house planning my next club session and all the sudden hearing crying and shuffling next to my house.
Abba had collapsed.
People ran to him and carried him into the house crying.
We could tell he was getting weaker, he had commented on stomach pains on and off for months now. They took him inside the house, laid him down, and that was the last time he stood on his own.
For the weeks following, I found myself constantly going into their house asking him “Wayya Qabdu?” (Do you have health?) and sitting next to him to keep him company. I have said it in a previous blog post. If one is sick, we are all sick. Meaning he will never lay alone. It is a very intimate part of this culture. We all will take turns sitting beside him, feeding him, helping him with whatever he needs.
A few days after the fall, a few brothers took him to the nearest hospital about 30 minutes away and he received some injections. They were told that he needed to be taken to the Jimma hospital; a hospital three hours away on a very rough, bumpy road.
They came back home and Abba didn’t get any better with the injections. I asked them repeatedly if they were going to take him to Jimma because in my head, in my American privileged way, of course they would.
They didn’t. They couldn’t.
Taking him to Jimma required money for transportation, for medicine, for staying the night, for food, the list goes on and on. The transport itself was going to be too much for Abba. Not only did they not have enough money, but they and Abba himself didn’t want to take the bumpy ride; it would be too much of a risk. He was just too sick.
So he stayed. He stayed in his little corner of the house.
I watched for the first time in my life, a healthy, happy man fade.
Everyday I would go into the house and instantly feel a pain sear into my stomach.
What if he was in America? What if he was able to have the doctors we have? What if he was able to have the medicine we have? Could he be healed? Could whatever was eating his body disappear?
Every time my mind raced….Just because I was lucky enough to be born in America I have all these privileges related to medical care.
Why me? Why not everyone? How is this fair? How is everything we have and everything they don’t fair?
It’s just not.
I watched as Abba was no longer able to sit up by himself. I watched as each member of the family would pull a pillow up behind him to sit on and place their legs and arms around his body and let him rest back on their chest. There are no fancy beds with remotes to move them upright or back.
I watched them eventually have to hold his head upright when they had to start feeding him.
I watch as his body rejected every single ounce of anything they tried to put in it. To the point where Abba himself was starting to refuse the food because it would make him feel so bad.
I watched the family work their asses off 24/7 to be by his side. Including nights, where they would rarely sleep. I saw their faces become long and tired.
Family. Over. Everything.
I tried to take a seat in the back most of the time, as I didn’t want to be in anyone’s way. I wanted to give people their space. As I did this, it allowed for observations.
I watched as people from all over the town were constantly coming in to check on Abba and sit with him. I watched as people would shed tears because we were all thinking the same thing.
But what made my heart tug the most was watching his wife. The mother of the compound, who is a feisty little lady become this fragile woman who was on the verge of tears every minute of the day. I watched her try to feed him multiple times throughout the day. I watched her lay across the small room from him curled into a ball and just stare at him like nothing else in the world existed. I watched her try to look into the room where the men were washing his body because she couldn’t stand to not be by his side as he let out yells. I watched her hold his hand like it was a precious jewel. I watched Abba sit up and let out a hurtful moan and look her in the eyes and say “I’m dying”
What does death feel like? To know it is happening, to feel it…
I watched as Abba’s body, one that was already thin become literally skin and bone. I watched as his eyes started to become hollow when he looked at me. At first he still told me to “Dhubadhu” (talk) and “Nyaadhu” (Eat) but after a couple weeks he looked at me like he was no longer there. Like he was hypnotized. I felt like I was looking at him and searching for those twinkling eyes I loved so much.
On March 31st, 2019, I sat next to Abba for morning coffee and felt weird leaving to head to Jimma. I needed to turn in my quarterly report for Peace Corps with WiFi, but as I watched him now unable to lift his arms or legs…my stomach didn’t feel right.
After getting a hotel and spending three hours in Jimma, I received a text from a friend:
“Abba is gone.”
I can’t tell you everything that went through my head. But all I knew was that I needed to be back with my family. I needed to get back to Chime as fast as I could.
Family. Over. Everything.
I sent my poorly written report, packed my bag as quickly as I could, and fled to the bus station at 4:30 pm on a Sunday. Meaning I was just in time for the last bus.
I rode in the bus the quietest I have ever been.
He is gone.
It’s always a strange feeling when he is still alive and you know it is coming, but when it actually happens it still feels almost unreal.
I couldn’t help the quiver in my voice and the few tears I allowed myself to shed. I was pushed in every direction as I sat in the middle of the 3rd row. The only way I could get comfortable was by placing my arms on the row in front of me and laying my head on top which allowed me to look out of the window.
As I did this, the rainy clouds had opened just a wee bit and this outstanding, bright light pierced through.
“There’s Abba ” I thought.
The bright, beautiful light that he was.
I made it home by 9:30 pm and immediately went into their house. It was already filled with people in the middle of eating diner. A dinner that women from all parts of town had brought for the family and guests. The room was filled, as in every corner of the room had bodies squished together in the house. A couple family members called out for me to sit next to them as they saw my face. They were in awe that I had come back. They asked me if I had made it all the way to Jimma.
“And you came back?” They asked.
“Yes, mati koo” (My family) I said.
“Abba koo” (My father) I said as my voice shook.
And then I scooted myself back away from the candle light and covered my face with a scarf.
My dearest Abba Oli. What a pleasure. What an opportunity. What a blessing you were to me this past year.
I thank you for taking me into your compound, into your home with loving arms.
I thank you for your smile that always greeted me. The smile that made your eyes squish into little crescent moons with a bursting twinkle that showed your love.
I thank you for always seeming interested in the work I was doing or where I was going.
I thank you for letting me sit next to you and Ima and sort through all those coffee beans as we were able to learn more about each other.
I thank you for telling strangers that came over that “Izzy Beradhu dha” (Izzy is beautiful) and “Izzy Mucca Koo” (Izzy is my child).
I thank you for your loud vocals as you sung the call to prayer. The other voices sound so much different now.
I thank you for always joking with me about buying meat at the market “Foon bite?!” (Did you buy meat?!) I wish I had the opportunity to have bought it for you.
I thank you for scaring off the little kids who came to stare in my house. I am going to miss that wobbly run of yours
I thank you for yelling at the teenagers and I when we got to loud playing volleyball and then coming back by my house after they left to laugh about it.
I don’t think there is a single person who Abba didn’t like or who didn’t like him.
He greeted people wish such a smile and grace; he made you feel like you are the world.
Monday April 1st, 2019 was Abba’s funeral. Early morning I immediately went into their house and sat next to the two sisters and mother. Instantly, a massive flow of people came into their house, girls inside or around the back of the house and the men in the set up tents and everywhere else.The compound was literally filled, people were in every direction. People from towns as far as 3 hours away. We sat quietly squished together as we slowly let our tears wet our faces. We were constantly brought coffee and injera throughout the whole day. Every once in a while a woman would show up bawling and it was like a switch to let everyone else let their cries out again.
2 pm rolled around and it was time for the men to carry Abba in his wood coffin to be buried. The culture here is that only the men can take Abba to be buried, the women must stay inside. We could hear them discussing and getting ready to take him. Women tried peering outside to watch him go. The sister’s and mom’s tears started increasing as they overheard.
Then the youngest daughter shot up to look outside the above window and yelled “Nagatti Gali” (Have a peaceful trip home) between sops and became hysterical. Screaming at the top of her lungs “Abba koo (My father) “Maal Godha” (What am I going to do) her body went limp as the women surrounding her caught her and brought her to the floor. The older sister and mom were rocking back and forth weeping, letting out hollers of their own. All of us surrounding them trying to quiet them, hold them, and tell them it is going to be okay.
Then the youngest daughter went silent. She closed her eyes and went completely still. Some thought she passed out as she looked like she was sleeping.
But it was as if the sadness took over and shut her down. She let her body go limp and the girls moved her into a more comfortable position as they fanned her off. She refused to move, she refused to open her eyes, she refused to talk. It was as if opening them would allow the pain to come back. She just wanted to lay.
I found myself ending up in the corner of the room silently having tears roll down my face watching the women continue to take care of these girls.
Their heart break was tangible.
I thought to myself “I never, ever, want to have to see these girls, these girls that I am the closest with, like this again….Ever.”
The day was filled with people coming in and out all day. It was quite an emotional day to day the least.
Oh Abba, how you will be missed.
Abba is a Muslim Ethiopian man that I fully believe I will see one day again in the clouds above.
I know some of you think that he is Muslim, that he doesn’t get to go to heaven or whatever people want to call it.
The peril of humanity is that some choose to believe that they are greater than their fellow human.
It’s indoctrinated privilege that ruins everything.” -Albert Mullins
But in my world.
We are all equal.
We are all human beings.
Sure practice your religion, I have no problem with that, but I think all religion has similar ground rules.
Not a single one of us are better because we have the “right” religion. Or we have a “higher paying job” or we have “white skin” or we are “heterosexual”
None of that matters.
It doesn’t matter what religion, what job, what skin, what sex your heart loves.
None of it matters. Why would it?
We are all humans.
We are all equals. Why do we have to categorize. I don’t believe the man upstairs gives more grace to certain kind of people because their is only “one” ultimate way to live. We are humans. We are meant to be different, unique, and messy.
My person upstairs is love.
And my person upstairs doesn’t discriminate.
And my person in the clouds doesn’t give someone a higher ranking than everyone else.
My person is simply love.
I will see Abba Oli again regardless of his religion or the color of his skin because
My Abba Oli… was love.
It has been a week since his passing and I am happy to say that the family is doing better, slowly. Things are starting to seem more normal. There are still moments, and I am positive there is going to be plenty of them where he comes to mind and a somber takes over. But, we are better. Abba Oli is in a better place now and we have to be grateful that he is no longer suffering.
Rest In Peace Abba,