No longer alone

Moussa in his village before surgery.

Moussa’s village seems like it’s on the edge of the world. To reach the nearest large town requires passing through dry underbrush on foot or by motorcycle, crossing a river by canoe, and driving for hours down winding dirt roads.

When his condition first began as the result of an untreated dental complication, Moussa realised that it wasn’t going to go away on its own. He felt helpless. With surgical care costing far more than the rice farmer could afford, he could only use traditional medicine — and pray.

But, when Moussa heard over the radio that Mercy Ships would be hosting a patient selection screening the next day, he immediately left his village and travelled through the night for a chance to be seen by the medical team.

The fifty-five-year-old had lived with the fear for six years. He was terrified the tumour in his mouth wouldn’t stop growing, and he was prepared to journey any distance to be free from it. As the growth developed, Moussa found it increasingly hard to eat, speak, and work. He stopped labouring in the rice fields, leaving his nephew to take the mantle as the provider of the family. Over time, Moussa — once a proud and enigmatic leader in his village — began to feel ashamed of how he looked. He covered his face with a shawl to hid the tumour and kept his eyes downcast. He stopped sharing meals with his family, instead choosing to eat in a separate room so no one would see him struggle to eat.

For Moussa, hours of travel and standing in line were nothing compared to the hope that he might have a chance for a brighter future. When he was told he was eligible to receive surgery, even the daylong bus ride to the port city where the Africa Mercy was docked couldn’t keep Moussa’s joy at bay.

After arriving onboard, Moussa’s tumour was removed and he spent the next several weeks being cared for by nurses as he recovered – from his surgical wound and his emotional scars. During his time onboard the Africa Mercy, he was welcomed into a community and loved by strangers, causing him to slowly step beyond the emotional walls he’d built around himself.

As he began to come out of his shell, his true self emerged. Moussa returned to his village once again confident and proud to see his community. He was celebrated by a crowd reverberating with dancing, singing, and laughter.

‘I feel like a president,’ Moussa said as he shook hands with everyone in sight.

Being welcomed back into his community and once again sharing a meal with his family, Moussa feels his life has changed in more ways than one.
“I would surely have died if not for this surgery,” he said. “I’m very grateful!”