He had just bought a new set of teeth. Oh and was he proud of that beautiful smile! But Garus was beautiful even without teeth. His face was simply so kind, probably because always wore a big toothless smile. When he was four months old, his mother, who was drunk at the time, rolled him into the fire and that is how he lost his foot. Growing up, he lost his teeth from falling so much. To make matters worse, Garus had severe asthma. I remember our first meeting six years ago – that was when I tried to teach him how to use my son Joshua’s inhaler as he gasp for air on my front porch. Our friendship grew over the years as I helped him manage his asthma and he helped me visit people in Mwefu who were sick with HIV/AIDS. Garus was a Christian -- one of the very few Christians back then when I first arrived. It’s different now – everything has changed -- but when I first got here, Garus was one of only a handful of Christians in Mwefu. And I remember that he would often take me to visit the local “witch doctor” who needed HIV treatment as well. I would often “buy” his beautifully perfect winnowing baskets -- for which he would never let me pay. So, when I heard on Monday morning that Garus had died the night before, I really felt I had lost a friend and an ally.
Going to Garus’ funeral was more of a community event. Everyone was there, as everyone loved Garus. And even in his death, it seemed he had yet found another way to help others. As we were leaving the funeral, a young man stopped me to explain that his wife’s condition had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. Please come. I was lucky that day as I had a Finnish doctor with me for the whole week. She had come to stay with us to give a bit of extra training to Msafiri and Dicta who serve at our clinic – and to travel around with me to see what we do every day out in the villages. (This is always a little intimidating for me as doctors like to see “the unusual” while I’m always just hoping and praying for a drama-free day.) And there was Maria lying on her mat grasping her head. The headache had come on suddenly and she couldn’t bear it. Her fever was extra high and her neck was arched and stiff. Menigintus. She was to be number 6 in the last few months that we have lost to this rare form of menigitus that hits my friends fast. Fortunately, we had in the car just what we needed for first aid for menigitus (a high-powered anti-fungal, anti-nausea tablets, and Ibuprofin) and that is where the doctor and I started her on her treatment - with a crowd watching on and with Maria’s four-year-old son sitting quietly cross-legged observing his very sick mother.
Maria made it to Kibao the next day. I communicated with the sisters by phone. On the second day they said ominously, “she is now in the Lord’s hands.” I couldn’t bear seeing that little boy lose his young mother. We all prayed and prayed. And on the fourth day the sisters said that she had made a miraculous turn for the better and then, on the fifth day, they said that she was ready to be discharged! The Lord had answered so kindly.
I went to see Maria when she got back to her village. She was all smiles and looked perfectly healthy and that sweet little boy of hers was back to playing and laughing as all four year olds should be. And when I look back on it all, I couldn’t help but think that it was because we were all gathered at the funeral for Garus that things were set in motion to save this young mother. Garus used his life day after day to save so many. And even in death, Garus managed to help save the life of even another.
Garus always said that the Lord is good.
He is good indeed.