One evening at the end of November 2017, at dinner time, the phone rings in the guest house: they call from the OPD (Out Patients Departement, which serves as an emergency room) for a newly arrived girl in the throes of seizures.
I go there with Maria, the young pediatrician from Turin in training at Neema.
We find Joyce, eight years old, in a state of epileptic disease, which means that she is unconscious, breathes badly with drool at the mouth and has repeated jerking movements of the limbs due to disordered muscle contractions. The father immediately approaches, a still young man who greets us cordially because he recognizes me. A few years earlier I had visited Joyce and referred her to one of our Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) centers specializing in physiotherapy for children with cerebral palsy. I remember he had a problem present from birth. The usual cursed story of poverty: in the shack, without competent assistance, a difficult birth during which the child's brain had suffered irreparable damage. The consequences for Joyce are still a mental retardation with learning difficulties and, fortunately, a slight paralysis in the lower limbs that does not prevent her from walking and running, albeit in a way of her own.
George, this is the name of the father, tells us that the child has recently had these crises and asks us with concern about her condition. While Maria together with the nurse on duty begins the IV therapy, he tells me in a firm voice without complaints that his wife died last year.
I don't feel like asking why.
After a few moments of silence, he offers me two packets of peanuts. He sells them by wandering around the slums in the Kasarani area, a very populated area located immediately behind our hospital from which most of our patients come. I observe him: jacket large for his size, shirt a little crumpled at the neck, clean, he does not have the usual flip-flops but shoes and this too, in addition to the way of expressing himself, gives him a certain dignity. I ask how much the two packets of roasted peanuts he put in my hand cost, but he doesn't want money: I insist and in the end he tells me they are 20 shillings each.
I go to the room in guest house to get the money and crossing the sunny square I think I could give him at least a thousand shillings which for him would be a nice sum (and for me they are the modest sum of ten euros), but his dignified appearance makes me think that he is a man who does not it must be humiliated with charity and at the same time I don't want to put myself on a pedestal of the white benefactor. I take 50 shillings and bring it to him, he thanks me smiling.
The child's crises subside, we can take her to the children's ward for the night.
The next morning we see her in the ward jumping and running in the ward, her recovery is beyond the most optimistic forecasts: she is a docile child, she responds to a smile, she speaks with difficulty due to mental retardation but we cannot expect more from her. its conditions.
George is ready to take her home with the therapy prescribed by Maria who will check her periodically. They both leave.
Soon they will mix with the crowd of the slum, among a thousand shops where everything and more is sold, including mud, stray dogs, chickens, ducks wallowing in puddles and goats grazing the little grass among waste scattered everywhere.
But what can I understand of that world? I see it with the eyes of someone who knows it will never be hers. I still keep those two bags of peanuts, they are on my desk: I see them, I think ...