The Journey to Now; Part IV: Nursing, The Angelic Job!
I wish I were a better nurse!
May be I would have professed what was going on.
- Salamualeikum Dr Shawqi; this is Aisha.
- Aleikumassalam Madame. How is Mohammad?
- He developed some rash on the lower part of his back, you told me to report any change to you.
- Where are you now?
- At home.
- I am coming over now.
- Is it so serious?
- I can’t say until I see him.
The doctor presses a tiny, tiny spot with the tip of his forceps and a spring of blood jumped up.
Suba University Hospital again.
‘Sorry Asha, if I should die this time, sell these books, they should feed you and your kids for sometime…hahahaha…’ that was his last joke as we wheeled him out of his room for the last time.
After some days, it was decided he needed a crafting operation to seal the wound caused by the bed sore. They would take some flesh from the thigh. No need to take him any where, we can do it here.
Suba swarmed with our visitors that morning: young people from the Red Crescent, Sea and Boy Scout, University of Khartoum, family and friends…later we learned there was a call for blood donors and word got round so quickly. He was a well read poet, and that is how sincere your readers can be!
A host of Physicians from Medical School came to visit, pretending it was a casual friendly check up.
At 4:00 pm he was taken to the OT. An hour later, Dr. Abdel Aal came out…
- We didn’t know he’s had an open heart operation recently; his heart is too weak.
The man just wouldn’t look at my face!
Another half hour and Mohammad was wheeled out in a stretcher smilingly waving at the row of family and friends on the corridor.
An unfriendly porter cleared the place of people and refused to let any one into the room. Mohammad asked me to see the kids to the gate, he insisted even though there were a lot of close relatives with them.
Coming back into the room with the papers he asked for, I found him struggling to reach a shirt on the chair.
- Give me a cold drink….Hamdulillah; help me dress…
- Why? It is hot!
- Cover me please…..
I started putting his shirt on him as whispering something…he passed away…
It is so easy and quick and painless folks!!!
Or is it???
Ask the smile on the face!
The Athan (call for prayers) was calling for Maghreb (sun-set) prayer.
I must have screamed because a tall strong woman nursing her husband came rushing into the room before the doctor…She slapped my face saying: No time for crying now!
An intern, the son of old friends, came in followed by others. They looked at him speaking in whisper, and raised their open palms reading Al-Fatiha.
People ordered me around the room and did things and helped me collect belongings…and I heard the strong woman say: (Take all, nothing is yours now), I am still pondering that sentence, may be she meant his children are the owners let them decide what to keep and what not? However, I have made use of that remark in many other situations and it has always been effective: just do, nothing is yours, and you don’t even have to know whose it is!
Eventually, I found myself sitting in an ambulance next to Mohammad’s body with a male nurse sitting on the opposite side, talking all the time…
There was a military coup in the country, the one that bred the present government, and the Khartoum was under curfew, so the ambulance had to turn on his siren and race through town before 11:00 pm.
- Mama! Why are you here? I was at the front gate when Mutaz came cycling from the shop with ‘foul sudani’ and bread for supper.
- There is an ambulance under the tree outside? (The others rushed out)
The youngest aunt, baby minding that night instinctively picked up the four year old and they all gaped at me…
What and how do you break the news to children? Your father died after
You left him joking with everyone?
How do you expect them to react?
Where do you get such strength and composure?
Don’t wait for my answers.
I don’t have any answers.
I don’t know what I said, or how I said it.
But I registered the scene after.
The big sister slapped the younger brother who’s foul and bread were scattered all over the place, and she repeated a sentence I heard earlier in the evening: Stop. No time for crying now!
Crying still delayed!
Next thing I saw was the two brothers carrying their father from the ambulance all the way to his room, no stretcher nor help.
The three of us with the guidance of an elderly neighbour attended to the Islamic rituals, the boys refusing any help until their uncles arrived.
When we came out of the room the house was packed full with people and my mother and sisters took over from then on.
He was given a grand funeral procession; his parents caught up with it just before burial as they lived in another town, Wad Madani. I wasn’t part of it either, as someone found me leaning against the gate and took me inside. The last glimpse of him I had was the coffin on an open truck and my two sons standing over it.
The next hours
The following days
The whole month
I just sat wherever they told me to. I wasn’t part of that ‘carnival’.
If you pass by the big university house, you would wonder:
Are they celebrating something, or is it a public event, or perhaps a seminar or a workshop of some kind? Spot lights and groups of people and teas and coffees…
That is Sudan! I remember my husband warned me one day: When I die don’t let them make it a feast; try to carry on life normally.
They probably thought I lost my mind on my husband’s death as the old folktale goes, the expression used is :(x is hit by her husband’s tree). The connotation is clear to someone with a background of the traditional family set up, the role of a father and the implication of a tree which hits (causes a disaster) when it falls.
To break the taboo, I thought I would invest the 17+ weeks of confinement called ‘aedda when a woman loses her husband. I locked up myself in the library for hours each day and attended to the translation of Mohammad’s book (The Effect of English and American Literature on Modern Arabic Romantic Poetry), his Doctorate thesis published by University of Oxford, Ithaca Press. I managed to finish the translation according to his will but unfortunately, it still lies in my drawers – unpublished- like many other books of his.
On the 40th day, alms giving day, another unconventional event took place. Waddah and his friends booked the grand Sharga Hall and distributed invitations, rented Al Samandal music band for the occasion. After the recitation of Qur’an and a few addresses and poetry readings by friends and our kids, the band sang some of his poem and sure enough there was more joy than sorrow and tears.
A close family friend, the late Dr Fatima Shaddad came to pay her condolences while on her summer holiday from King Saud University, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It seems she saw during her visit what I couldn’t notice in my children. She suggested I took them somewhere else for a change of scene. I was not very enthusiastic, so she and Waddah got hold of my well kept transcripts and she applied on my behalf to King Saud Institute of Languages and Translation.
About five months after that I got a telegram from the Saudi Cultural Attaché with a contract from KSU, Institute of Languages and Translation offering me the job of English Language Instructor.
If one is dedicated to a cause then leaving the scene –in this case your country- is very difficult. I was so much involved in my job and education and social status of women that expatriating sounded blasphemous. I still feel like a deserting soldier. I cannot not feel blamed when people talk about deteriorating levels of education in Sudan!
There was a lot of pressure; everyone wanted me to go to Saudi Arabia. The immediate cause to finalizing the decision came from a senior colleague who, thinking he was helpful to me, pushed me fast towards quitting:
- Ustazah Aisha, we thought as the University will now ask you to vacate the house, we better transfer you to ……where we will give you residence and a promotion.
- And my children schools?
- Arrange this with your family. Come to the meeting tomorrow and….
I already went away preoccupied with the wording of my resignation.
When I arrived home, I found my sister Adla, a senior human affairs administrative. I consulted her and she advised me to apply for an early pension to which I qualify.
An understanding Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education signed my request and made the procedures very easy.
Leave Asha, nothing is yours.
These children need more than a house and a promotion.
‘Fire hurts the feet that tread over it’; no one knows your problems as much as you do.
It is not yet a year since Mohammad died on that Wednesday evening, and you leave a house full of books and all your belongings under the charge of your brave 19 year old son, Waddah. He was a year far from graduating as a civil engineer. Hard year ahead of him with his family suddenly dispersed.
You have the example of your mother; at 19 and on a Wednesday your own father died and your mother was a rock behind you. Be your children rock and nothing is yours!
With all these thoughts we flew to Riyadh after a grand noisy farewell at Khartoum airport.
Accompanied by Shiraz 15, Mutaz 11 and Reel 5 you reach Riyadh. This is what a single parent is like? You have to manage the luggage, kids, passports and other things which you do not dare mention!
- Mama that man has a sign with our name.
First achievement, our name reads: Mrs Aisha Mousa El- Said: Khartoum
No Mohammad, we haven’t forgotten, that was your school, remember?
To be continued…