It is recent news that the elderly nursing home Mekedonia has acquired 10 thousand hectare of land from the administration of the city of Bahir Dar. Each time I hear about the amount of money that was raised by the public for the nursing home, and the sizes of land city administrations all over the country gave as gift to the home, I always go back and remember the interview that the founder once gave some years ago to the media. When the interview was conducted, the founder was sheltering and caring for the elderly from his family’s home in Addis. So, in that interview, he indicated that he has no plan of restricting himself from welcoming to this home the mentally challenged elderlies lying on the streets of Addis with no one to care for them. When asked how he plans to shelter so many elderlies in a house than can only accommodate a limited number of people, his answer, which I may not have phrased exactly as he said it in the interview, was simply ‘I trust in God, he will make it happen’. I admired his deep believe and determination in the cause. Today, we are witnessing that his determination has paid-off. Thousands of elderlies who are not only suffering from the burden of old-age but also from illnesses that would repel most people, from loneliness and from poverty have found a home that would care for them until they cross to the after-life.
The past few weeks, I’ve been reading a memoir written by an Ethiopian who left Ethiopia by fleeing political tensions during the Derg regime. He travelled to the US and was welcomed by a host American elderly family in New Jersey. The reception made by the American family was like no other. The elderly cared for the Ethiopian refugee with the warmth and love that only a loving mother could provide. The difference in culture and skin color didn’t matter. The fact that he was part of a rebel group back in Ethiopia and could have a violent behavior didn’t matter. Only his humanity mattered. It made me wonder, ‘how many of us would welcome in our homes a fully-grown adult male who is not only a refugee but was also part of an armed rebel group, and treat him as we treat a long-lost son?’. So, in the memoir, one of the things the author described is the very small importance that the western society gives to the elderly. So, when his “adoptive” American elderly father fell-ill and was admitted to the hospital and later passed away, he witnessed the cold-hearted responses of friends and family to the unfortunate events. He mentions that not a single soul came visiting him at the hospital, and only few individuals (who did not bother to visit at the hospital) attended his funeral. Before he passed away and after leaving the hospital, he was admitted to an elderly home which most elderly people dreaded. According to the author, those admitted to nursing homes in the Western world are those elderlies whose children see them as burdens and would do anything to escape the responsibility of taking care of their parents at the time they most need their love and support. I realized how sad and depressing it is to grow old in such places!
If you ask me, the book made me appreciate my culture. In Ethiopia, the most respected and revered are the elderlies. Old-age means wisdom. As our parents and grand-parents grow old, they get the most care, love and respect from their children and grand-children. Caring for elderly parents and grand-parents is not a subject of discussion. It’s just a given fact. We do it out of love and not obligation. Elderly homes such as Mekedonia and others are only for those who have no one with means to care for them. Although I would love to see more nursing homes like Mekedonia, I do not wish for nursing homes to replace one day the love, care and support of homes of children and grand-children!