His name was Ashraf, he was 48, and he lived with his sister in a small guesthouse by the sea. He had spent most of his life in the deserts between Lebanon and Jordan, a soldier in the Syrian army who had raised his family among the nomads.
My mother used to take him and his sister out on the beach every Saturday, to hang out with their father’s sons. One of them was preparing lunch, and Ashraf wanted to help. He told my mother that he did not have enough money to buy anything, and offered to help herself to one of the two pills she had hidden. A wafer of yellow liquid that had swallowed that day would have continued to decay inside him, making him more exposed. My mother refused him. Ashraf had come from the coast, not the country. I guess she thought he was mad.
But Ashraf would show up again a few days later, a wall covered in bruises, another parent coming to see for herself. In spite of all her warnings, the seasickness was getting worse. My mother passed the pills to her son Ali, who was 26 at the time. Ali followed Ashraf out to the city and passed him the medicine as well. There was something wrong with him, something that neither my mother nor Ali could explain.
It was a terrible time, and so I felt responsible. I didn’t want to lose my father because of my sickness. But I could not understand what this sickness was. My mother would gently scold me and tell me I should keep it at bay, and that it would get better. I was a young girl. I didn’t know how bad it really was. My mother did not call the doctor; she was not a doctor. Nor did she keep records for us.
I later learned that my father had tested positive for dengue fever, something he had contracted during his Army service. It was a type of mosquito-borne disease common in the Middle East and Africa. My father died from it. The virus caused brain swelling and leukosis.
It is still almost impossible to understand dengue fever. My father had died in a few days, but in that same period he contracted a kidney infection and three or four other illnesses. There was no good diagnosis, no good treatment, nothing.
The great sea stood close to me, in the way it sometimes does. It washed the dead bodies of my father and his sisters in and out, in the way it sometimes took away my school friends. It played host to mosquitoes that would get into my nostrils and infect me.
When I finally found a doctor, I remembered the last words I had heard from my father in the house in the desert before he left for heaven, that Allah would have pity on his children. I prayed to him, as he had prayed to me. I hoped that if we prayed hard enough, Allah would heal us, heal us, we would survive.
It was almost three years later, and I was 25, and fighting an 11-year-old case of dengue fever myself. I could not go to the doctor. I tried to treat it myself, but when that didn’t work I was sent to the hospital. That is when the nurse took my urine sample and sent it to the lab. I had been poisoned.
My father had a lump on his neck. We buried him on the night of May 15, 2018. It was the day after the wedding. I did not go because it was too close to the date when my father died. I was tired of the pain. I was also tired of others coming to take pity on me. I was much too old to feel sorry for myself. But I was worried, especially since I was the second one, a baby sister who came to me in the earth, sick.
Dengue fever has ripped into my family. My sister went through the same thing with my father, she was exposed to the virus and began to lose her mind. She tried to kill herself with pills, drugged her legs with sleeping pills. She too died.