Maybe you’ve seen the story. Mathew Hogg, now 33 years old, was born normal, like the next kid in your neighbourhood. Only that after a few years, he discovered he was always as stoned as a Sahel desert chimp after a meal of amarula-fruit salad.
The teetotaller that he was, he couldn’t comprehend how it was that he was always drunk after meals. It was not until after 20 years that he was told he suffers from a strange condition known as auto-brewery syndrome. His stomach brews everything he eats.
Now, I know a few Rwandans who’d pay all to have our American friend’s syndrome but surely our hearts should go to him. True, many of us don’t mind a pint or two – even one extra too many – but none of us would enjoy being strung out three times a day. A whole 12 sober hours, if not 24, should be mandatory for all.
Because, imagine it: from home you stagger to office, stone drunk after breakfast. At lunch time you are nursing a massive hangover but then the pangs of hunger set in. You have to eat a morsel but then it’s a trigger for the whole brewing process all over again. Three daily massive hangovers, after three drunken after-meals, God forbid! Let’s pray Hogg gets a cure soon.
When I saw the story, it reminded me of this guy who lived in a Ugandan newspaper called Kapere (a cartoon, to be exact!) He liked his tipple so much that he ‘wore’ its smell like a badge. So, one time his wife is walking with their young son when the small fellow sniffs the air and quips: “Mommy, this place smells like dad.” They were walking past a brewery!
None of us would wish that, leave alone carrying that badge of drunkenness dishonour all your life, despite your innocence.
I can imagine Hogg being Rwandan in one of our villages in Rubavu. As a Rwandan, he’d be, say, Hobe. Hobe lives on a piece of land bequeathed him by his late widower father and therefore he is a reasonably well-to-do peasant, with a family of a young wife, Mrs Mukahobe, and a young son, Rubyogo. They live off their land.
But because tilling land is strenuous, with energy sapped by constant conditions of drunkenness and hangover, Hobe cannot continue tilling the land and leaves it to wife. He goes searching for a less demanding job.
Luckily, in Kigali he lands one that involves working with peace-keepers in Darfur. Wife and son happily see him off in Kigali and return home. Wife will till the land and supplement her work with hired hands, courtesy of money sent in by husband.
All is well and family is doing well, with Rubyogo attending a nursery school near home, where he can sometimes walk home.
It’s on one of those afternoons when Rubyogo is playfully skipping a rope on his way home that a heavily-laden lorry rumbles towards him from the direction of the brewery in Rubavu. Rubyogo stops skipping his rope momentarily, to let the lorry pass.
But just when the lorry passes him, Robyogo catches the whiff and runs after it, yelling: “Stop, I am here. Stop, Daddy, I am here!”
He is sure his dad’s driving the lorry laden with beer but, poor boy, he sees the lorry rounding a corner in the road and off it goes. Sobbing, he turns to go back to his side of the road but it’s too late. A car is fast bearing down on him and unable to stop in time. It’s the end.
I don’t know if in USA they can do anything to avert such distressing occurrences, since even they’ve not yet discovered a cure for Hogg’s syndrome. But at least they’re able to identify the condition. If such a situation arose, serious investigation has a chance, however remote, of considering it.
In Rwanda if we had such a real-life Hobe, wouldn’t we all be quick to dismiss him as a good-for-nothing ‘drunko’? Who would give his protestations of innocence a fraction-of-a-second’s consideration? Wouldn’t even relatives avoid his son’s burial lest they be associated with Hobe?
Knowing we are behind in medicine, we should strive to enable our youth study all conditions, including this wackiest one of them.