- Monday, June 27, 2011
A reminder that Ameera was gone now from Jamil’s world. The woman who’d first introduced him to Isa. He’d heard her voice only once since being expelled from Kabul. When he again reached a place where his cell phone functioned, her own phone was out of service. He’d called Rasheed instead, only to be told that Ameera had returned to her own country and he was never to call again.
A burqa was pouring tea when Jamil heard the scream. Its anguished pain was too great to consider propriety. His host’s own distress was such he hadn’t objected to Jamil following into the family quarters. The screams came from a boy no more than two years old. Water boiling for tea had been removed from a cookfire onto a nearby stone block. The toddler had pulled the entire pot over himself. Panicked women were yanking off wet clothing, blistered skin sloughing away with it.
Jamil reacted with pausing for thought. Grabbing a pottery jar of water, he elbowed through the shrieking circle to pour its contents over the child. A chill winter breeze made the wetting as effective as an ice pack.
“For such burns, you must cool the victim immediately so the fire does not burn deeper. And you must not disturb the skin.” Jamil indicated raw, red flesh where scalded skin had been peeled away. “It will protect the boy while new skin grows.”
The boy was moved to a tushak in the reception chamber, and Jamil urged to stay on as guest. Jamil showed the family how to rinse burns with mildly salted water against infection, how to spread petroleum jelly so healing fingers and joints didn’t become fused together.
In return, his grateful host not only allowed Jamil to read Isa’s words, but summoned the rest of the village to his compound. As news spread of the visiting healer, they arrived with their own aches and pains. An abscessed boil. A poorly set broken arm. An infant with diarrhea. An infected eye. Nothing Jamil couldn’t handle. One advantage of these people’s harsh lives was that if they survived to adulthood, they were as tough and enduring as cured goat skin.
And they stayed to listen when Jamil spread his patu to read from his Pashto New Testament. After all, did not everyone know that Islam’s most prominent prophet beyond Muhammad himself had been a great healer? If not usual, there could be no harm in hearing words purported to come from Isa Masih. Especially when spoken by one gifted with healing hands.
Yes, whether or not Jamil had actually saved the boy’s life, he’d certainly saved him from serious infection and scarring. Though not from pain. Which was why Jamil now fled for his own life into the darkening twilight.
By the time Jamil had settled his primary patient that first evening, his host had ended the toddler’s moans with a pinch of opium paste. Jamil hadn’t been happy, but his own supply of painkillers was long gone. Opium was the only medicine available to poorer Afghans. So Jamil held his peace and kept a sharp eye on his young patient. Though useful, opium paste was harder to regulate than its processed cousin, morphine. An overdose slowed breathing. Every winter across Afghanistan, hundreds died of respiratory failure after taking opium to calm flu or pneumonia symptoms. Within days, Jamil had coaxed his host into curtailing the opium to a single nightly dose. By now he was no longer a stranger, but favored community member. So much so that his host had invited Jamil to tour the commercial venture that fed the village during harsh winters.
The carpet-weaving workshop was a dark, dank place, its air thick with dust and the acridity of fresh dye so that Jamil had to smother a cough as he followed his host among the looms. Once created by Afghan peasant women to adorn their own homes, the beautiful patterns were now far too valuable to be wasted on the poorest caste who toiled over them. As long as light slanted through the small windows, these weavers would not stir from their crouched positions. But neither women nor children working as steadily as the adults displayed any objection to the tiresome squatting and repeated motion.
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