“When Djazim would wake up in the morning, he would go to greet his father,” said Salimatu, mother of the five-year-old. “He would say, ‘Papa, I’m awake.’ And then he might start singing a song. That would always make his father laugh.”
Djazim is a little boy with high spirits and a winning smile – he’s a natural-born entertainer, and he knows it. At age four, though, his legs began to morph – one knee began to turn further and further inward, and the other turned outward. He could no longer run, join in neighbourhood games, or go to school. Djazim was living with a genetic condition known as “windswept legs.”
Salimatu and her husband, Jubulin, began to look for help. Little did they know that the Africa Mercy was at that moment sailing for the bustling economic centre of Cotonou, only a few hours away. Through a connection made with Mercy Ships screeners travelling throughout Benin looking for patients, Djazim soon obtained a surgery appointment.
The five-year-old was one of 76 children who would undergo an orthopaedic surgery onboard the Africa Mercy during the hospital ship’s 10-month field service. Afterwards, he would spend weeks in casts and months in rehab – his now-straight legs would need time and exercise to grow strong enough to walk. This would require the dedication of patients, parents, and the Mercy Ships rehab team, but it would be a challenge well worth it.
Djazim made it through his operation with flying colours, and Salimatu called home to share the news. “But when I called, my husband said he was not feeling well, that he was feeling weak,” she remembered. Alarm bells went off in her head. Soon, her fears were confirmed – when she called again, her husband could not even hold the phone to talk. All in the space of a day, Jubulin had grown gravely ill.
While Djazim recovered, blissfully unaware and in his usual high spirits, Salimatu was wondering if her precious five-year-old would ever see his father again. “I did not feel like eating,” she remembered. “I was constantly praying for God to be merciful, to heal Djazim’s father.”
The days and weeks passed like that – Djazim, happy and making steady progress, and Salimatu, constantly praying and calling home, wondering if the tide would ever turn.
But one-day things changed. “When I called, I heard my husband’s voice on the other end!” Salimatu said. He was finally strong enough to hold the receiver.
It was only one week later that Jubulin walked through the doors of the HOPE centre, the Mercy Ships outpatient facility. He was bombarded by Djazim hurtling himself into his father’s arms. Jubulin spun his middle child around, over and over and over again. “I thought perhaps I’d never see Djazim again,” he recounted. “But I did, and he was running to me!”
Soon, Djazim was strong enough to return home. Mother and son rejoined the family, helping Jubulin as he made a full recovery. Djazim’s legs were now straight and strong enough to run, to take part in neighbourhood games, and to go to school.
And he didn’t let go of his old tradition either. Every morning he’d get up, greet his father, and sometimes break into a new song – one he learned on the Africa Mercy. “When Djazim starts to hum the ship song now,” says Salimatu, “his father just looks at him…he can’t help but start laughing.”
Story by Anna Psiaki