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Aladdin’s Cave at Abu Dis

by Teresa Breen
photos: CNEWA files


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In the Arabian Nights Tales, Aladdin falls into a cave finding a treasure far too great for his eyes to believe and his life is changed as a result. A treasure can also be found high above Jerusalem, near the village of Bethany, at the Abu Dis Home for the Aged. The lives of the elderly residents at Abu Dis are changed for the better by the care and concern of the Sisters of the Seven Dolours who run the Home.

Subsidized by the Pontifical Mission, sister organization of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Abu Dis has cool and cloistered courtyards which are a welcome relief from the heat and glare of the Near Eastern sun. There are brightly decorated and furnished rooms, cool sitting parlors and balconies. Besides the inviting surroundings, there is companionship, creativity, good humor and above all: love.

One resident of the Home, 83-years-young Eskandar (Michael) is a slim and venerable figure with a fine white beard. Forty winks holds no charms for Eskandar who speaks Spanish, English and his native Arabic. Twice daily he goes down to the Souk (marketplace) in the old city of Jerusalem with his baby buggy which he fitted with a cardboard box. While in Jerusalem, he does errands for all the men and women in the Home, climbing the long steep hill back to Bethany, a daunting task even for the young and strong.

In his room, a veritable Aladdin’s Cave, there are all sorts of gadgets and helpful items. “If you need a screw or a fuse or a tool,” said one of the Sisters, “Ask Eskandar and he will produce it from his treasure trove.”

Love and concern are also illustrated in the story of a man and his elderly deaf and mute sister. Each morning the man calls on his sister to see if she has had a restful night or if she needs anything. After breakfast, which is served in a communal dining room (or in their rooms, depending on the resident’s needs and wishes), the brother takes his sister walking in the garden. It’s no wonder she is alert and cheerful for she has the love and companionship of her brother, who lives in the men’s wing of the Home.

Fierce determination is evident in the tale of Arronciac who was a nurse in a local hospital for 30 years until it was discovered that she had a cerebral tumor. Surgery relieved the condition, but left her epileptic and paralyzed on one side. Now in Abu Dis, her cheerfulness and great willpower make light of her disabilities. A bad fall resulted in a broken arm on her “good” side. However, her determined efforts to exercise it after it had healed, now enable her to use a walker, insuring her independence and mobility.

A Carmelite Sister of the Third Order spends her time doing marvelous embroidery, and finds a ready sale for it.

Abu Elias, who was admitted eight years ago as a dying man, eats only at breakfast but it is a good meal with all his favorite foods, even a glass of wine!

Mahbout came to the Home 25 years ago when it was first opened. He is now blind and bed-ridden but very peaceful. In the same room is a Moroccan, also blind and bed-ridden who was so ill when he was admitted a year ago that he had to be fed from a teaspoon. Now he is well enough to enjoy his food.

Since the habits of a lifetime are hard to break, the old people are awake early. In the afternoon many indulge in a siesta and in the evening television is an interest, or maybe a soporific.

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Tags: Jerusalem Sisters Caring for the Elderly