Thursday, April 16, 2009
Having To Say Good-bye
I've known Omar Abdel Salam for over fifteen years. He's still a young man, about 45 years old, father of a number of children, the youngest of whom is about eleven. Happily, all the older ones are married, many of them with young children of their own. When I first met him, he was a groom at Sakkara Country Club, one of the best. But he wanted more from his life and as our ancient farrier at the Club was losing his sight, Omar convinced Am Yaseen to take him on as an apprentice blacksmith. It wasn't the optimal arrangement since Yaseen was in his late 80's and almost blind, but Omar learned all that he could from the old man.
A while later, an American farrier came to do some work at the breeding farms and a group of us arranged for Omar to work with her to learn more about his craft. He was less than thrilled at the idea but watching Sara turn an iron bar into a perfect eggbar shoe in about 15 minutes convinced him that she had something to teach him. In the following years, Omar took on two apprentices, one of his sons and another young man, and he taught them much of what he knew, having realised from his own experience that waiting until he was too old wasn't a good plan for anyone.
Omar and his boys have been taking care of my horses' feet for about 10 years now and he's more than just my farrier. Omar is a friend, someone whose company I always looked forward to when it came time to shoe and trim my horses. Sara still comes occasionally and she always makes it a point to bring something interesting in terms of tools for Omar. Farriers' tools are not in plentiful supply here and for the past few years he's been working against a tool account with me. I keep track of his tab and order rasps, cutters, nippers and so on for him and his boys.
The last time Omar came to me in February he was complaining of dizziness that was driving him nuts. He'd been to doctors who had been treating him for an inner ear infection, but he was still dizzy. He had Shaban do most of the trimming and nailing of shoes, but when we needed to shape a new horseshoe, he got out his anvil, seated himself in front of it and set to work. He was going to see a neurologist the next day, having felt that he'd exhausted the ear possibilities. The next thing I heard was that Omar was in the hospital. When his son and Shaban came to do my horses just recently, they told me that he was diagnosed with brain cancer. The doctors had done a biopsy removing part of one tumor that was pressing on the nerves that were making him dizzy, but there were five more that they couldn't really touch as they were mixed up with his optical nerves and other rather important items. Damn.
I went to visit Omar today. He's been released from hospital and is back at home in the midst of his family, but has been going into the hospital for radiation therapy, I believe. My Arabic vocabulary gets a little shaky in these technical things. His wife told me that there are two more sessions and then they will do an MRI to compare it with the earlier one. My father died of brain cancer and I remember all too well the progression of his illness. My bet is that Omar will not be with us much longer. He seems at least twenty years older than he was last month and he tires easily, has trouble speaking and his eyes don't track very well. This is a very aggressive cancer, something that his son confirms to me. His family asked what they could do, would there be medications abroad that might help him. I had to say that I thought that it was most important to keep him happy, comfortable, and as pain-free as possible. The doctors have told them the same. My friends and neighbours who are all his clients have all sent word that if the family needs any help they are just to say so and we will be there in force. If only we could just bring Omar back.
copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani