An hour later, I was in Rick's clinic, which sits outside the chapel of the Mother Teresa home for the destitute in Addis, where the Missionaries of Charity carry on the work of their renowned founder. The sisters, all identically dressed in their blue-trimmed white linen saris, cheerfully minister to some six hundred sick and dying men, women, and children. They oversee an enclave of neat dormitories nestled behind a blue metal gate guarded by a genial but firm man who has to have the fortitude to turn away even more of the sick and dying. As desperate as the condition of the people inside the gate may be, those clustered outside are the street people with no shelter or care at all.
A neat border garden greets those who make it inside, and off to the left is the chapel and a small room set aside for Rick's clinic, furnished only by a table and a few chairs and totally devoid of any medical equipment. Patients hoping to see him line up outside where they can sit on a low stone wall. Kids from the mission hang around on the days Rick is there, some hoping to be invited out for a glass of juice when he takes a break.
About a dozen years ago, Rick started volunteering at the mission in what he liked to call his "free time." But that soon became virtually a full-time job, and now he is supported in his work there by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which was founded in 1914 as a relief agency to help Jews in trouble all over the world but from its inception rendered help to those in need regardless of religious affiliation.
Rick was still at Mother Teresa's when I found him that day, seeing patients and doing his daily "walk-through," his way of appearing in each dormitory in case somebody wants to bring a problem to his attention. When I told him about the little boy I'd found and described his deformed back, Rick hesitated for no more than a nanosecond before he said, "Let's go find him"—as if he didn't already have enough work to do with the hundreds who wait in line to see him. He takes on new cases with gusto, so much so that even on the odd Sunday when he's out hiking and sees a fellow with a bad back, he actually stops the man and tells him to come to the clinic.
His patients—some are among those living at Mother Teresa's; others make their way from the barren countryside or the dusty villages that make up Addis Ababa—wait and wait for hours on end, without complaint, for a chance to have a consultation with the doctor, which in some cases will save their lives, in others, relieve them from constant pain. Some of the sickest kids who are housed at the mission roll themselves around in wheelchairs, while others stand about hoping for nothing more than a high five from the doctor. One teenager in a wheelchair crochets and sells colorful caps and carries an x-ray that he keeps showing to Rick, hoping for a new—and more favorable—diagnosis for the ailment that is crippling him.
As soon as Rick finished with his last patient, he and I and Berhanu, Rick's Ethiopian man Friday, who is himself something of a miracle worker, piled into Rick's beat-up Suzuki and drove to the place, in front of Florida Pastry, where I had seen the boy. It was a beautiful day, and the air in the eight-thousand-foot altitude of the city was sparklingly clear. Hundreds of pedestrians were still making their way down the street (the Ethiopians describe this as going "by leg"), but when we got to Arat Kilo, the boy was gone.