I was quite too young, as well as too philosophically virgin, to understand what the heck Voltaire was speaking about when I first read this quote. Yet a few weeks after what I then perceived as a boring philosophy lecture, on a hot April day (yes, hot) at the ‘special cases’ unit of Al-Sajanna Orphanage in Khartoum, Sudan, I met Asaad. At the time, I was a fifteen-year-old boy with the mental abilities of a fifteen year old and the body of a 7 year old. You think god has screwed him enough? Well, get this: he’s fully paralyzed, and he can barely move one of his arms and his head, and he talks very slowly. He was also born with his thighs attached together.
God’s part is over. Now let me tell you what the human race did to this boy. First, Asaad was born, a baby with legs not fully separated, but other than that he was just fine. That didn’t last very long, because few hours later, his mom, whoever she was and for whatever reason, tossed him out! He was found a whole day later, covered with newspapers, and with his mom’s blood and uterus fluids still covering his tiny body—when a passerby heard him screaming while cats were fighting over who gets him. With the poor medical attention in that village, it’s a miracle that he survived. But Assad lost his ability to move that day, only day two of his life…
Little did poor baby Asaad know that all what happened to him up till that point was just the tip of the iceberg, and what was waiting for him in the upcoming years was going to make that seem like a trip to Disneyland. See, the law in Sudan, for some weird reason that I still don’t understand, forbids adoption and child fostering. So, the minute Asaad was [relatively] healthy enough to leave the hospital, he was sent directly to hell. Well, not Muslim or Christian hell, with fire and guarded by a devil holding a pitchfork, but the second best hell they could find. That hell is called Al-sajana orphanage. And the hell keeper is a fat guy in an Armani suit. And the role of fire in this hell is played by the glorious hydrogen ball that we orbit.
Asaad’s condition required very delicate attention, and the minimum requirements for him to survive were a mechanic bed, air conditioning, and a lot of love. Yet, he received none of those. He grew up in a smelly, dark, humid, and extremely hot room with no TV to watch, nobody giving a damn about how he was doing, or taking the time to read him a bedtime story. His nurse saw him only twice a week to give him a lousy sponge bath. That was his routine, up until the day I met him.
When I first walked into his room, and despite his ridiculously big smile and the happiness on his face to see new people in his 4×6 world, I could tell he was in pain, physical pain. It didn’t take long for me to notice the yellow & red stains on the sheets. The rather unpleasant combination of extremely hot weather, humid room, bad hygiene and the fact that he couldn’t move on his own left him an easy target for fungal infections and bedsores. I remember crying my eyes out all day that day. It had been the worst day of my entire 15 years on this planet.
Fast forwarding a year to May 3rd, one day before Asaad’s 16th birthday (and his first celebrated birthday). You should know that by that time Asaad had a surgery to separate his legs, had a Room with a TV, and AC, and had a private nurse. After explaining to him what a birthday is and what rituals of birthdays are, I told him that tomorrow is his birthday and that he also will have a celebration and the works. Tears came to his eyes. I was totally prepared for that, tissues and all (though I wish I had brought enough for me as well). After I was done crying like a baby, I asked him what he would like as a gift, his words, roughly translated were “what would anyone one like me want?” He was still tearing, and I had no idea what he meant, so I asked “what do you mean? ” He responded, “God gave me much more than I could ask for, God gave me everything.” Then, right at that moment, Voltaire began to make sense to me. I gave him an MP4- I had to corrupt him just a little bit J Asaad and I are still friends, and he’s still the happiest guy I know, if not the happiest guy in the world.
Mohamed Salih Abubahkr