I Yam What I Yam
By: Mikella Wisler
Seventeen years ago, my mother and father gave me the name of Wekesa, a name meaning harvest child. For the first seventeen years of my life, I was raised on a farm where we would grow yams. I knew my life would be farming yams. My family has lived in this part of Nigeria for many generations. My great-great grandfather began harvesting yams which provided both food for the people of the village and other traded resources for our family. Since I am the oldest son, it is believed that I am to take over the family farm after my father can not anymore. Since childhood, I have been groomed for this responsibility.
This all changed when two visitors came to our small village. A man named Dr. Merriweather and his assistant Miss Adkins introduced themselves and announced that they were here to help us to cure a disease that no one knew was taking over our village, one person at a time. This new idea of treatment for a disease so deadly intrigued me. I knew at this moment that I would make a difference for others who were suffering in other villages.
The next day I packed my bags, ready to further my education so I could follow my dream. After all my clothing and personal belonging were packed and ready to go, I went to share my plan with my mother and father. I was appalled to hear the words disgrace, betrayal, and selfish coming from my parents when I shared my plan. This idea was inconceivable to their small village minds. No one had ever left the village or gone against tradition and beliefs before and they did not think this was the time to start breaking from generational beliefs. However, I knew I had to go.
I began my journey by going to a nearby village where Dr. Merriweather had mentioned about visiting next. The two day walk in the blistering heat was enough to make a farmer call it a day, but I persevered through the arid climate by thinking of the lives I could potentially save. Dr. Merriweather and Miss Adkins were in the midst of an operation when I finally arrived at the new village. As I opened the tent flap I was shocked to see blood stained sheets and an unconscious man. At first glance, I was frightened by his lack of movement, but when taking a closer look, I saw the perfectly sewn stitches on the man’s chest that was rising up and down steadily.
“It was a hunting accident. If we wouldn’t have found him as soon as we did, he wouldn’t have lasted longer than an hour.”
I turned my head around to find the voice who had spoken to me to find Dr. Merriweather standing behind me. He spoke to me like an equal to him, which I found very astonishing. He had told me that the man was his last patient of the day and he wanted to know why I had traveled for two days to meet them at this village. I had shared my intentions of going into the medical field even though my family told me I was a disgrace to be going against our family’s beliefs. I also expressed how if I were to follow this dream I would need help with training and learning how to assist the people in need. Dr. Merriweather graciously offered for me to be able to travel with them to learn more about medicine, how to treat patients, and potentially cure them from diseases that were spreading rapidly. I immediately accepted this offer and was ready to move to the next village with them come sunrise.
A few weeks had passed and I had finally gotten past the nauseous feeling in my stomach when I saw the raw flesh that Dr. Merriweather would patch up with a sterilized needle and thread.
“I want you to help our next patient Mr. Jabari. He has been affected by the disease and you are ready to treat him.”
Those few words would change my medical career forever. The butterflies in my stomach started to fly around threatening to expose my lunch from earlier. I could see the metal instruments on the table to my right taunting me as if they knew what I was about to attempt. Dr. Merriweather had walked me through the motions dozens of times when he treated the other patients and it all seemed so simple when he performed the procedure. However, the idea of treating the patient on my own the very first time was surreal to me. I took a deep breath to regain my thoughts. Suddenly, I came to a realization. If I used the knowledge I already had practiced for my whole life, I can apply it to the needle I need to inject into Mr. Jabari’s bloodstream. Like the digging stick pressing into the ground preparing the soil for the seed, the needle needed to press into the flesh, injecting medicine into the skin preparing the body for the healing process. Before I knew it the syringe was empty and I was pulling the needle out of Mr. Jabari’s flesh, similarly to the digging stick being pulling out as the growing process continues. A smile spread across my face as I acknowledged my accomplishment and Dr. Merriweather’s look of satisfaction.
Just as Dr. Merriweather was opening his mouth to respond he was cut short by a frantic Miss Adkins.
“Sir, we just heard of and influenza outbreak in the city of Ibadan. There is a young boy who is deathly ill and needs medication right away!”
My mind went blank after I heard her say the word Ibadan, my hometown. After that moment everything seemed to go by in a blur. There were many thoughts running around in my head, overwhelming me and making my head spin. I was snapped out of this trance when I heard Dr. Merriweather addressing me.
“I must stay here to help these people. Wekesa, you will take Miss Adkins and half of the medicine we have left to travel back to Ibadan. You have all the knowledge you need to help these people. This is your chance to make a difference, now go.”
Before I realized it, Miss Adkins and I were headed back to my hometown after gathering the necessary supplies. Even though we traveled at a brisk pace, the journey still seemed to drag on for a very long time. As the sun rose the second day of our journey, a familiar scene was displayed in front of me. The local marketplace of the city of Ibadan welcomed us. I went to Adaoma, an elderly woman I had known since birth and asked her about the influenza outbreak and explained how we were there to help. She immediately pointed me in the direction straight toward the farm where I lived all my life up until recently. I sprinted up the steep hill leading to the farmhouse, opened the worn down wooden door, and was heartbroken after seeing the display in front of me. My youngest brother Idogbe, who was only four years old was lying lifelessly on the large wooden table with a shabby looking blanket on his body and a wet cloth on his forehead.
After the initial wave of emotions passed and I wiped the tears from my eyes, I set to work. I went through the step by step process for the treatment of influenza, the memory of Dr. Merriweather’s words in my mind. After about an hour, the procedure was completed. I looked up to see my mother staring at me with brokenness present in her facial expression. She seemed torn as to whether or not she should be happy I was home or not. After all, I had abandoned my family and put a halt to the family tradition, going against our beliefs. Before anyone could say a word, I took a deep breath, told everyone I loved them, and walked out the door.
I knew that there were other families with children on death’s door that needed help. This was only the beginning. Over the next thirty years of my life I traveled all over Nigeria helping and treating those who were suffering. I went back to visit my family, and even after the initial conflict from my decision, they eventually accepted me after seeing how Idogbe healed from the influenza through the treatment I gave him. Although my actions originally caused a schism within my family, in the end, my decision brought pride to my family after all I had done for them and others nearby.
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