Wooden Needles

Give me a needle.

“I don’t have one.”

Ok, then give me a knife.

My ten year old host brother eyes me suspiciously. “You really don’t have a needle?” Wait a minute. I go inside the house. I did have one at some point, but it seems to have disappeared under piles of rubble, clothes and books, a hammer and nail, stacks of student exams. I sigh and go back outside. “No needle.” “Ok, give me a knife,” he responds. I stare at him. “Why??” I ask incredulously. “Are you going to cut part of your finger off?” He has a wound on his thumb. “No. I’m going to make a needle out of wood.”

Oh. I never would’ve thought if that.

I go inside and get my paring knife and give it to him. I watch him whittle down a stick until it’s sharp and fine at one end. Then he raises his swollen thumb and pokes it. Out oozes disgusting, grey-green pus. He winces, but doesn’t say a word.

“Can I have some hot water?” he asks me. Yes! Of course. There is something I can contribute. I have no idea what his maladie is or how to treat it, but dammit I can give him some hot water.

I go inside and fill a pot, then set it on my gas stove and turn on the heat. Outside, my host brother’s thumb is now bleeding, but the pus is gone. This looks like a good sign.

“Just a few minutes,” I say, and I go back inside where the water is already boiling–the secret blessing of self-lighting gas stoves. It’s a luxury here for sure.

I bring a can of water outside to him. He touches it with his unhurt hand. “It’s still too hot.” “Then we’ll wait,” I say, and I sit down beside him. The two of us lean against the wall, staring out over my gate. We wait in silence. I don’t know what to say. There’s still a lot of medical vocabulary I don’t understand, not to mention the types of maladies that can occur here from plants and animals. Living is an occupational hazard.

When the water cools, he pours it slowly over his thumb, a little at a time. I watch him work, his eyes sharp and his hands steady. He’s about eleven years old. Did I mention that?

He shakes his finger. “Pare.” Ready. He blows on his thumb, and that’s that. The worst is over. And now, like so many other things in the country-side, we wait.

My host brother and I on a non-injured day