I didn’t know I was dying until they moved me to a hospital next to a cemetery. That night and every night at the hospital, I fell asleep thinking, dreaming I was closing my eyes for the final time.
I was eight years old and I knew I was dying. I knew what death looked like. I knew what the boys and girls next to me looked like in their beds before they stopped moving. I knew they couldn’t eat anymore. I knew they couldn’t speak anymore. I knew they couldn’t move anymore. And I was becoming like them.
I couldn’t eat anymore. I couldn’t speak anymore. And I could barely shift my body from one side of the little bed to the other. I wasn’t the healthy, happy, playful boy I used to be. I knew I was dying. Every night, I believed that just as my frail body was carried from my home to the hospital, my lifeless corpse would be carried from the hospital to the cemetery too.
Weeks earlier, I was an energetic and athletic eight year old boy, and I was the captain of my school’s soccer team. But I got sick. So I was removed from the soccer team. Then I was removed from school. And I believed I would be removed from this world too.
I didn’t have a father. I didn’t have mom. And I didn’t have a bed either. I was sleeping on a mat on the floor day and night. I became so frail, I didn’t have the strength to reach for a cup of water next to my mat. I became so thirsty throughout that time, I had dreams about drinking water.
I needed to see a doctor, and I did. But I was so frail, so fragile, that a 20 minute walk to the doctor took several hours. That walk, till this day, is the most fatiguing thing I’ve ever done.
After the doctor diagnosed me, my relatives immediately moved me from my home in Accra to a hospital in Tema, Ghana. I was born in that city. And I believed I would die in that city too.
The hospital was lonely. I was all alone with a multitude of strangers who didn’t know me, strangers who didn’t love me. My family couldn’t visit me at the hospital. My family was on the other side of the world. Mom was somewhere in Canada, struggling to create a better place for me. My father was somewhere in the world, creating a better place for himself.
I was sick, and mom was worried sick over me. Mom tells me that she prayed and fasted for me even while she was pregnant with my little sister, Nadia. And God listened to her prayers.
One morning, I was able to shift my body from one side of the bed to the other. That morning, I was able to reach out for water on my own. That morning, I became less like the boys and girls who stopped moving in their beds. That morning, I knew I wasn’t dying anymore.
That morning, for the first time in weeks, I ate a meal on my own. It was jollof rice. It was the best jollof I’ve ever had. My nurse was surprised when I ate everything in my bowl. I was hungry. I was starving for weeks. So she asked me if I wanted more jollof. I nodded my head.
The nurse walked to a bed to my right, and she asked a boy if he wanted to finish his bowl of jollof. He shook his head. He didn’t want to eat anymore. He couldn’t eat anymore. He could barely move. I ate his bowl of jollof that day. And the next day, he was carried out of his bed. He stopped moving.
Malaria kills a million people in Africa every year. It killed that boy, it killed other boys and girls at the hospital, and it almost killed me too. Tomorrow is my 32nd birthday. It’s 23 more than I believed I would have every night at the hospital. And I am grateful.