These amazing brothers walked 400 miles to get to Dr. Rick!

1A few weeks ago, two brothers came to see me in clinic. Standing in front of me, I observed by his headgear that the elder is an Ethiopian Orthodox priest. The younger brother was clearly the patient, with a severe kyphosis and right-sided scoliosis.

I looked down and saw that the priest’s shoes were nearly torn in half.

“What happened to your shoes?” I asked.
“We walked here,” he answered.
“From the bus station?” I asked. The bus station is 5 miles away.
“No, we walked from Gojjam,” he answered.
“Gojjam?” I said in astonishment. “That’s nearly 400 miles from here.”
“Yes,” he replied, “it took us 8 days.”

I needed to get to know these amazing people. “Tell me your story,” I said.

Bires sat down and spoke: “I come from Gojjam in northern Ethiopia. It takes a long day by car to get to Addis Ababa. I attended school until 8th grade, but I suffered in school so I quit in order to support myself as a shoe shine boy. One day, one of my customers saw I had a bad back and told me about a government program to train disabled people to become tailors. That was in Gondar, about 100 miles away. I thought that would be a better life than shining shoes, so I went to Gondar and learn to sew shirts and trousers. But I had no money to purchase a sewing machine, so my new skills were not very useful. But going to Gondar was actually very helpful because it got me here.”

“My dad was a farmer. He died suddenly when I was 11. My mom could not plow the land herself, so she had to hire a farmer to plow our land and pay him half of the money we made. It was very difficult. I have 2 brothers and 2 sisters. My older brother is a priest and lives with his wife and children.”

“My spine deformity started when I became a teen – it’s why I quit school. The students mocked me by saying ‘are you carrying a football on your back? Take it out, let’s play.’ My life became unbearable, and I quit school.”

“You see, I started life as a poor boy and strived to get a good education, like every other kid around me. Later, I was a poor, sick boy who was mocked by everyone around me. I had nobody to help me. I could not afford to go to a doctor. Instead, I went to holy water every year. I would go for the two weeks before Easter, and one week while we fasted for St. Mary (Filseta). We fasted (ate only vegan food), helped the monks, and went into the water every day. I observed people with evil spirits and mental illness get better, but we who had deformities never improved. My spine continued to deform.”

“There was a student in Gondar named Temesgen, also training to be a tailor. After a few days, he approached me and told me a story. ‘I used to be like you,’ he said. ‘I had a terrible back.’”

“I could not believe him. He looked normal! We went to a private place and he removed his shirt, and showed me a long, thin scar on his back, and told me that was what remained of his disease. He explained how a ‘ferenj’ (white) doctor named Rick helped him.”

“I was amazed. It never occurred to me that I could be cured. He said ‘This doctor may be able to help you.’ This seemed like a dream. But it was worth a try. I spoke with my brother, the priest. He did not believe it either. But I told him I had met Temesgen and seen proof with my own eyes. He suggested we should travel to Addis Ababa to find this doctor. But we had no money for the bus. He wanted to sell a cow, but his wife refused.”

“‘OK, we will walk,’ my brother said with determination. ‘We will rely on the Almighty to help us.’ We left Gojjam at 5AM when the birds started singing. It was a Saturday – we had a lot dried injera (staple food) and 50 birr – $2.16 between us”.

“We were lucky that we were in Gojjam, and the Christian tradition includes hospitality towards guests. You have only to show up at a stranger’s home and say “I am a guest, sent by God – ye’egziabeher engida. ” They will welcome you.

“As it was getting dark, we were afraid of hyenas, and we could not walk any longer. We would simply knock on a door, we would greet them and say ‘Hello, we greet you sincerely. Have you been well? We are walking to Addis Ababa for medical treatment. We are “God’s guests – ye’egziabeher engida,” please help us.” They would let us in and we would explain that we are walking from Gojjam to Addis Ababa. They would say “Please show us your ID.” We would take the ID, and return it in the morning. They would put animal hide on the ground, and we would sleep there. Sometimes we’d sleep in the house, sometimes on the veranda.”

“Only once there was a woman who was alone and was not comfortable to take us in, so we went to her neighbor. We would leave just as the sun was starting to come up.”

They always gave us a lot of food. They would give us a basin and cold water we would wash our feet. I always offered to wash my brother’s feet, but he never agreed.”

“We spoke with people as we walked. We ate dried injera and with the 50 birr we had some drinks, “tella.”

“When we got to Addis Ababa, we were so hungry, and my brother paused to pray at the roadside. A stranger asked us what we were doing and we said we had walked from Gojjam – he gave us 100 birr. We used this to buy a real meal. ”

“We arrived in the capital and went to a hospital, looking for Dr. Rick. They sent us to another hospital. It was getting late, we went to Giorgis church to sleep. There were a lot of people there. They gave us a flattened box to sleep on, and fed us all. God bless my people. The next day we found Dr. Rick. He asked about my brother’s shoes, and we told him the whole story. He did exam and x-rays. My curve is about 160 degrees. He told me several of my vertebrae are fused together. And that I need to go to Ghana for traction and surgery at FOCOS Hospital.”

I asked what he’d like to do in the future. “If I can raise money, I’ll buy a sewing machine and move back to my home and open a tailor shop.”

I felt humbled to be in the presence of these amazing, determined people. To have a terribly deformed spine and having lost about half the lung capacity, and then set out on a 400-mile walk with a few dollars in pocket and some dried injera, relying on the kindness of strangers was clearly a journey of faith. I assured him, we’ll try to get him traction and surgery. Please help us.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.