Wednesday June 20, 2007
A young man died on Sunday night. He died at the holy water place, which is where people go when there’s little hope left. He was a teacher who spoke relatively excellent English. For several months he begged me for English lessons whenever he saw me on the street, and when ELIP started in January he came twice a week with enthusiasm. And then he stopped, and I didn’t see him anymore. I wondered about him for a while. He came to my house about a month ago, but his words didn’t make any sense. I asked him where he’d been and he didn’t answer me. I asked him if he’d been sick and he said no. He didn’t seem quite okay, but I remember thinking that it was probably just a communication problem, that his English probably wasn’t as good as I remembered. But he did say “I need help.” He said it. But when I asked what was wrong, what he needed help with, he didn’t say anything. And I rushed off to work, brushing him off, not imagining that the problem was as big as it was. He came another time when I wasn’t at home, but I didn’t find out about it until after he died.
His parents were dead and he lived with his younger sisters and brothers, for whom he was the main provider. Nobody’s really clear what was wrong, what he died of – only that his behaviour was very strange for the past three months or so, staring into space for hours, screaming, running outside in the middle of the night with no clothes. I think his sisters tried to keep things quiet, because here, like most places, mental illness, more than most disabilities, is shameful. Whatever he died of might have looked like mental illness, but I suspect it was probably something very physical. His family took him to the doctor, but medical care is limited here, and the doctor didn’t know what was wrong. And he asked for help, from me, and from other people too, but he didn’t get any.