Third Place Winner!

All the Problems Disappear

Written by Pete Steciow

As a young boy in an impoverished town in South Africa, the days were long, and the nights were longer being so hungry. Zola, my father, tried to make out sustenance living with a small plot of land and several animals. Zahria, my mom, always had a smile and a hug to make it better. Mom always had a prayer for her six children before bed each night.

The Northern Cape has always been the best farming in South Africa. The years of 1991 -1992 were devastating for the Northern Cape, especially our family, with a most severe drought. Making living conditions much worse was the continued fighting which had killed five-thousand people since 1987. At the same time as the drought, the conflicts erupted, with seven-hundred seventy-one people dying in the first four months.

At the wrong place at the right time, my father was killed in this uprising. Our only saving grace was mom’s work ethic and the favor she had won working for Thomas, a prominent British landowner. Thomas was from a prominent family in Britain. His education at Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world, profoundly affected Thomas. He was always loyal to the British Government for the opportunity and the protection to farm in the Northern Cape. Thomas was God-fearing and felt empathy for humanity, yet he had to work within the confines of British and South African rule, not drawing too much attention to his actions.

Zahria was such a faithful employee for Thomas that he offered to hire her second eldest son Thato, who was eight, to work on the farm tending the animals. Thomas had three lovely daughters but no sons. His wife was always busy caring for and attending to their needs. There was a void in his heart that was unexplainable. Many people worked for Thomas on his six-hundred-hectare estate, but none captured his imagination more than watching Thato. His natural ability to care for the animals was inspiring.Thato was a quick study, and Thomas needed someone who could keep accurate records on the farm. Thomas started providing Thato with books during his lunch break. When possible, he would read to him and teach him math. These newly acquired skills of Thato proved to be invaluable to Thomas. He knew how much raw material he was using on the farm and compared it with the output.

In 1985 a new American -British film “Out of Africa” caught Thomas’s daughter’s attention. Thomas shared it with his family, Zahria and Thato.
Thomas continued to be impressed with Thato’s ability to save many farm animals with his care that usually would have died. He started providing him with science books. Now Thomas did not have the time to provide the extensive training that Thato needed. Thomas discussed the matter with Amelia. Educating workers was quite out of the ordinary, so Amelia suggested that they offer Thato private tutoring at the compound.

As the years passed, the tutors were amazed, and the estate benefited handsomely in the return of crops and animals. Thomas realized that something was lacking in his life and was before him this whole time in Thato. He wanted him to go as far in life as he could. Amelia, who had been consumed with his daughters and knew that Thato brought him the same kind of joy she was experiencing in her children. She said, “I wish there were a top-notch school that could challenge him to his ability.

That did it; Thomas took it upon himself to contact his Alma mater. After many communications, Thomas informed Thato he would be accepted at Oxford University. But he said he could not accept this offer because there was no one to replace him and help mom.

“Oh,” Thomas replied, ” Zahira was saying that your brother Ebrahim is interested in taking your job. Of course, you will have to train him before leaving for school.”

When it was time to go to school, Thomas gave him a big hug and a handshake with tears streaming down his face. Just then, Amelia said Thomas, you have work to do. Each week Thato wrote Thomas and Amelia about his progress in school and his new friends. One letter, however, shocked both Amelia and Thomas when Thato notified them that he had won a prestigious entire medical scholarship to Oxford Medical School. Amelia gave the letter to his mom to keep.

After completing his medical school training, he returned to the Northern Cape estate of Amelia and Thomas to reunite and share all that had transpired. He would be working with noted trauma doctors through South African Hospitals. Thato always took time from work in South Africa to visit family, Amelia, and Thomas for the holidays. As Thato’s work continued in South Africa, he met many beautiful people. The “Doctors Without Borders” was one group that especially took an affinity to Thato. Baragwanath Hospital, the largest hospital on the African continent, convinced him to join the organization full-time.

His experience and unending commitment earned him the position of the leading doctor in “Doctors Without Borders” in all of Eastern Europe.
A letter home to Amelia and Thomas reads: I had a tough week for me, nothing is going right in my world with no electricity, nurses, beds, supplies, and I am at my wit’s end with the endless stream of mutilated humanity as his savage war conducted by Russia and the Syria Army of Bashar Hafez al-Assad continue.

I want to go to bed and sleep until all the problems disappear.

Now, in Mariupol, Ukraine, carrying on the mission. I wish I could go to sleep and close my eyes and hope that I could be anywhere but here. Amelia and Thomas received an urgent phone call from “Doctors Without Borders.”

Awake, everything is different, and I don’t recognize anything in my new world. Where am I, and what happens in my future?

Zahria, yes?

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