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Promptly at 7 a.m. the Land Cruiser arrives to take us back to work. Before scrubbing in, the doctors inspect the results of yesterday’s surgeries. The line of squatting patients with bandaged eyes stretches along one entire wall of the hospital, around a corner, and halfway down the side of the building. Local priests with long beards and flowing robes circulate through the crowd, comforting anxious family members. They hold carved wooden crosses in one hand and horsehair flyswatters in the other. Say what you will about the efficacy of the crosses, but the flyswatters are righteously useful, and I wish I had one.

It’s difficult, looking at the six or seven hundred people gathered at Quiha, not to feel that Ethiopians have won the genetic lottery. Their café au lait skin glows in the early light. Women wear their hair in elaborately plaited shurubba, piled high over imperious foreheads. And the eyes of those who are able to see pin me in place with striking intensity.

Berhar is one of the first in line. Tabin crouches in front of her, peels back her bandages, and shines his climber’s headlamp in her eyes. Berhar, like many women in the second oldest Christian country on Earth, has a black Coptic cross tattooed in the center of her forehead. “Perfect,” Tabin says, “crystal clear.” He waves at her. For a moment, Berhar’s face remains perfectly blank, and I’m afraid the surgery has failed. Then her hand flutters up to touch the cross on her head and her eyes focus on Tabin’s grinning face. Berhar jumps to her feet, throws back her head, and ululates. Her cry is contagious. As the doctors move down the line, dozens of other women who’ve regained their sight stand and add their voices to the trilling chorus. Sometime in my life I may hear a sound that expresses joy more purely. But I can’t imagine when.

Small Victory

All day long buses and carts arrive at the hospital gate, unloading streams of the sightless. The blind walk unsteadily into the compound with staffs, or are led forward, clutching the hem of a son or daughter’s long, trailing shawl. Chansi tells me that more than 500 patients have arrived. But the crowd grows to well over a thousand. Families, unable to find solid shade, squat in the latticed shadow of thornbushes. The swelling crowd illustrates the toll blindness takes on a developing country: Not only are the functionally blind unable to support themselves, but those who care for them are pulled from the workforce as well.

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  • Tabin is a hero. Climbing 7 Summits is impressive, but it doesn't change anyone's life. My hat's off…
  • CNN Hero of the Year 2010!
  • a man with great mission. thank you for what you have done in ethiopia.
  • I am speechless and in awe!!!I am a teacher and will share this fantastic article with the nursing s…
  • This is what America is all about. Dr. Tabin left made me a proud American. Kudos, to his wife and…
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