Friday, October 5, 2012
the last book I ever read (Marcus Samuelsson's Yes, Chef, excerpt eight)
from Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson:
At birth, I was named Kassahun Tsegie. I was the third child of a farmer and his wife, and we lived in the Ethiopian highlands, in a small village outside of Addis Ababa, the country's capital. Most Ethiopians farmed or raised livestock; my father did both. He grew lentils and chilies and had cows. Their first child, a son, had died, and after him came Fantaye, my sister Linda, a girl with big round eyes and full brows like our father's. And after Fantaye, I came along. We belonged to the Amhara ethnic group, not as large as the Oromo, who dominated our area, but still one of the largest of the many, many ethnic groups that made up the country's population. I was born in 1971--not 1970 as I originally believed--when the country was in the midst of great turmoil. The Eritrean was of independence had been raging for ten years, and Emperor Haile Selassie's four-decade reign was gasping toward an end while potential successors jockeyed for position. Political strife aside, the country had been ravaged by malnutrition and a tuberculosis epidemic that had infected nearly eight hundred thousand people. If left untreated, more than half of the people who have active TB will die. In Amharic, TB is called sambra necarsa, cancer of the lung.
By my first birthday, I had contracted TB. So had my sister. So had my mother, and her case was the worst of all. There was no medical help in our village, so the three of us set out, by foot, for Addis Ababa, where there doctors and modern hospitals. My mother worked some unknown miracle to get us through the lines of sick people outside the hospital to get us the care we needed.
My mother died in that Addis hospital and there was no record of our birth father, just a rumor that he had died in the war. Fantaye and I must have had less severe cases of TB, or maybe we found help--in the form of antibiotics--before our symptoms progressed too far to be put into check. We were taken in by the hospital, nursed out of crisis and back toward health. However long it took, we had beat tremendous odds. Months later, when we were well enough to be released, the hospital staff faced the question of what to do with us. One of the nurses, Ayem Alem--whose name meant "eye of the world"--stepped up.