“How are You?”

“How are you?” This simple question changed my life forever. The three words themselves are not profound, rather it was ‘who’ asked them that so impacted my life.

Her name was Salimatu, and I met her in Freetown, Sierra Leone while she was a patient on board the Mercy Ship. Salimatu was a survivor of the bloody civil war Sierra Leone experienced from 1991-2002. She was captured by rebels that attacked her village. The rebels hacked off both her legs, and in a further act of cruelty they decided to cut off one of her buttocks as well. This ensured that she would never walk and never sit properly again.

Salimatu had problems with her amputated stumps, and came on board the Mercy Ship to have surgical revisions done and be fitted with prosthetic legs. I was working as a nurse during the night shift, and was making the rounds, and suddenly in the dark my flashlight caught the bright gleam of her smile.

She was ‘sitting slumped’ to the side, breastfeeding her 9 month old infant, her bandaged leg stumps protruding in front of her… and then she said it… “David, how are you?”

The irony of her question hit me like a ton of bricks. Salimatu, experienced immeasurable suffering, yet possessed such an incredible attitude, poise, perseverance, strength and grace. Despite all she faced, she could still enquire about my well being… “how are you?” (a person who comparatively came from a very ‘charmed and easy life’)!

The moment was truly sobering and humbling, and left a mark on my life forever. Not only did Salimatu receive surgical care and new legs, but during her recovery period, crew members from the ship taught her how to knit and sew, which then allowed her to become a seamstress and provide for her 4 children, as her husband had long deserted them.

Often when talking about humanitarian work, it is easy to forget the ‘humanity’ behind it. We hear the ‘nebulous numbers’ and statistics about something going on ‘over there’ in some distant part of the planet, and can easily remain detached and apathetic. However, the many thousands of people helped by Mercy Ships every year are people like you and like me, real people with a story… people like Salimatu. I’m forever grateful to meet this incredibly brave woman, and to have her story so profoundly effect my story. I will never forget you Salimatu… Thank you! 

Dave Albrecht