The Clash: Visiting the Sick and the Somali Culture
By Ahmed Hadeed,
Without wanting to tempt fate, I need to get something off my chest today (in more ways than one, as you’ll see below).
For the last few days, I’ve been suffering from what Somalis refer to as “gaas-ta-rik”. It’s been giving me chest pain, back pain and occasionally putting me in a very foul mood. While in one of these moods, I told my wife that, should I end up in hospital (because of this or any other future ailment), she must make sure I have no visitors whatsoever.
As most of you know, when someone is ill, Somalis visit in their hundreds. Close family, distant relatives, friends of friends and even random Somalis who happened to be passing by at the time, all flock to the hospital in droves. They don’t recognise the universal hospital rule of two visitors per patient (six is the average). Once it’s discovered a person has been in hospital for more than three days, they all descend on the hospital in large numbers and you spot them loitering around the car park, the lift or outside the wards (waiting for the ones already in there to come out).
This is a lovely tradition that shows community care and the insistence of Somalis to ensure that our ill and infirm are not forgotten. It’s also, as every ‘islaan'(woman) will tell you, a sure fire way to get “ajar”. Therefore, they’ll come, they’ll sit and they’ll impart advice on the best course of treatment and how Abdi (who died last year) suffered from the same problem and briefly got better after having a mixture of “Xabbat al Sooda” and ginger three times a day. The actual ailment doesn’t really matter; this magic cure is supposed to work on everything from skin conditions to cancer.
Now whilst I understand and appreciate such sentiments (and I’ve actually taken part a few times), it becomes a whole different ball game when it’s I who is at the receiving end of such visits. I mean, is it not enough that one has to deal with whatever illness put them in the hospital in the first place? Furthermore, if you’ve been there for more than a day and your condition requires you to stay in bed for the duration, wouldn’t you stink? Wouldn’t your hair, nails and beard grow? Wouldn’t you look like death? This will surely be accompanied by an understandable irritation and the last thing an irritated person needs, is an old woman pointing to the inmate in the next bed and saying “wuxu qofaac xuma”, not realising the said cough kept you awake for the last three days. Worse still, you’re lying in that bed with a white sheet covering your entire body making you look like an animated corpse. This is usually because of that awkward gown hospitals give you. You know, the one that doesn’t really cover much of your body and you’re forever trying to cover up an exposed butt-cheek.
The visitors, to be fair to them, don’t visit intending to irritate. On the contrary, most come to make you laugh or take your mind away from whatever it is you’re suffering from. Some come for pure hypochondriac curiosity, so never be surprised if some Xalimo, upon hearing that you suffer from some rare form of Adam’s Apple bacteria, starts stroking her own throat and saying “anba baryahan way I cuncunaysay”.
This is why, whilst I appreciate all the well-wishers, their good intentions and the fact they travelled for hours to come and see me in hospital, I hereby give notice that, should I ever end up in such a place, I point blank refuse to entertain any visitors. Iga baxa, and close the curtain on your way out.