Things I wish I didn’t know

Seven or eight years ago now, I was living with my parents (and husband, and son) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. I’d been an expat long enough that I could open a can of beans with a paring knife, but my mom had only been doing it for two years. She was still learning the ropes of this life.

This is a story from then. I have always had trouble telling it. It’s about not being the person I want to be. I am pretty sure that to me, being brave, isn’t being that person any more.


So, my mom got an email forward from a friend of hers. The cleaner at her friend’s office had a sick daughter. The little girl had been diagnosed with a rare brain disease. Her family was collecting money to send the girl to Germany for treatment and they needed $100,000- about $95,000 more than they had.

Mom asked me how much to give. I was washing dishes at the time, staring at a stubborn pan, and gave my answer without a lot of thought. I said “Don’t give now. The kids always die. The family will never raise 100k, your $50 won’t make any difference anyway. Wait a few months and donate when they collect for funeral costs, and you can help the family dig out of the debt they’ll accumulate trying to save the girl.”

There was a long silence. I got the rest of the crud off the bottom of the pan, and turned around. My mom was sitting at the table with tears streaming down her face.


I wasn’t wrong. The kids do always die; diagnostics are just so bad that they’re too sick for help by the time the decision is made to send them overseas. And my actual day job is improving health systems – and life in general – in developing countries to improve outcomes for kids just like that.

But. s a person, I need to do better.