Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Abdelkrim's 2009 Visit

Twenty four years ago my uncle began conversing with a doctor/scientist about his many conditions, one of which was Lou Gehrigs disease. They wrote letters back and forth and talked on the phone. I'm not sure how Danny (my uncle) found Abdelkrim or through which medical organization, but a friendship was made.

(Sierra with Abdelkrim. He said his colleagues inthe lab will think she's a movie star!)

My uncle then met a woman and found a pen-pal in her. Again letters went back and forth and something more than friendship evolved. Once he saw their relationship was getting serious, he asked my mother if she would be interested in writing to this doctor Abdelkrim Alileche. She said she would and they have had a wonderful friendship ever since.

(Lena kept wearing his houseshoes. It was the sweetest thing ever! Abdelkrim said he was going to send her a pair for her birthday!)

The first time Abdelkrim visited us he flew in from France where he was working. My mother, my sister and I drove to Houston to pick him up. It was such a HUGE deal for us. Us, from our small little country town of 5000 people, driving to Houston to pick up a scientist flying in from France! I remember being in awe at all the different people. I had NEVER in my life seen such a diverse number of nationalities. In my town we had white people, hispanic people and black people. And that was it! In the next town an hour away there was a Chinese restaurant, so when we went there we saw a few Chinese people. And Abdelkrim was flying in from Paris, he was from a country in Africa called Tunisia. This was truly a huge event for us.

(The table was ready for his visit with his favorites...lamb-kebobs!)
A reporter from our little town newspaper interviewed him and my mother. Yes, it made the paper. Imagine that... it was such big news in our little town, his visit made the paper! He continued to visit periodically. I don't think he visited when he was in Australia, but once he started working here in the states he has been coming every year. One year he came two times! I even had the privelege of working with him in New York. It was such amazing work and truly a time I will never forget. Since I was little he would ask me if I was going to work beside him in the lab and I would always say "yes... we're gonna work with anthrax!" He would laugh and tell me I was crazy this was too dangerous. When I went to NY he would not tell me what we were working on except that it was cancer (his specialty) and I would have to wait and see til we got in the lab the next morning. Imagine my suprise when he told me we were killing different cancers with anthrax. My dream had really come true! I could see myself working as a scientist and feeding cancer cells, recording the data and examing cells under the microscope. I loved sitting at the hood and dropping the anthrax into the petri dishes of cancer... my hands shaking so much.... the only thing seperating me from the anthrax was a ventilation system under the hood and nothing else. I loved the excitement.... I loved the work... it was a dream!
(Abdelkrim was really ready to dig in!)
Abdelkrim has remained and will remain not only our friend but a part of our family. We don't always agree with what we think or feel but he always brings a different perspective to things. He has come down to earth ALOT since we first met him. We laugh that the short time he was in NY he became VERY Americanized! He even throws in the occassional curse word. He is fun to be around and interesting to listen to. Next year will mark 25 years of friendship between him and our family. He is planning a huge party. He said he will begin sending the equipment for cous-cous a few months in advance so that everything will be here waiting for him. He wants our whole family together and I hope we can make that happen for him.
(Mom and Abdelkrim in front of my winter tree)
He loves Emil so much. They talk hours and hours about politics and science. I swear I hear them exchange the same story three or four times over but they enjoy it and laugh hard like it was the first time either one heard it! He wants Emil to be his assistant chef for the party and my mom to be the other! I get to make the coffee... yippee! Well, I do love my Keurig!
(Abdelkrim with this best friend, my Papa Bear, Emil. These two love talking and going back to their home countries... the stories they tell are funny, sad, interesting and sure to keep you listening!)
He also loves the girls. He has gotten to see them grow up. I love it because now he asks Lena if she is going to work with him in the lab and she says yes. Then he tells her, "You know your mom worked with me in my lab." I hope my girls will get to experience that. It is something they will NEVER forget....!
(Lena was pooped out from all the food and excitement. She didn't get to tell him good-bye but I have a feeling Abdelkrim and his "little devil" will be having many phone conversations!)
My uncle ended up marrying the woman he was writing. They were married for some time. And most of that time she was good to him. I think he lived as long as he did because she was a huge health nut. At least that's the way we saw it in my little town. People just didn't take vitamins to be healthy and take herbs and eat vegetarian. That wasn't normal. If you were sick you took vitamins to get well... herbs.. well most people down there probably smoked it...not used them for medicinal purposes and vegetarianism....not down there! My lord NO! Sausage rolls, steaks, deer hunting, you name... vegetarian just wasn't part of the menu! So Danny lived longer than doctors thought he would. However, paralysis took over most of his body ...well all of his body. At the end he had to put a pencil in his mouth and punch letter on a raised keyboard. I don't call that living. And the wife? Well, she met a preacher. The way the story goes, she asked my uncle if he wanted to go for a drive, which apparently didn't happen often because of the difficulty. He did and she drove him.....straight to the nursing home. She dropped him off, divorced him shortly after and left with her preacher man. We have never heard from or of her again. My uncle just gave up on life and refused all his medicines. He died eventually. He wanted to see Dr. Kevorkian...the death doctor as he's known. I know people have their opinions about this and I respect them. However, I saw my uncle at the end and how he suffered. It wasn't living. His mind was 100% alive and well and active... his body was gone though. I can't imagine living like that. So I think he should have had the choice to end things with the help of a skilled doctor. It would have been so much more humane than the slow death he had to experience from refusing his meds!
But my uncle left us with lots of fun memories, good stories and a friendship with Abdelkrim. It's amazing to look back through all this and see how life takes us through twists and turns and many fun and exciting adventures along the way. Who would have ever thought that a small family from a small, small town would develop a friendship with a doctor who has worked on AIDS/HIV with Gallo and assisted in developing a drug to prevent the spread of HIV in the body... and who has made huge strides in the cancer field. Who would have thought that I would have traveled to NY alone... to work in his lab.... and who would have thought that he would come for his yearly visit to see us....but mostly for Emil's lamb -kebobs and conversation!
Who would have thought it would have all started here.... twenty four years ago?!


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