David Ford is alive and well, and to my knowledge has not gotten the coronavirus. This is not that kind of goodbye. Ba Yesus sim!
David Ford, like Ford Prefect (who may be a distant relative) is the sort of man you might see in movies. Or read about in books. Ford Prefect came to Earth “from somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse” (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams) and was sent here to warn the human race of its imminent demise. After observing life on Earth, Ford Prefect mistakenly concluded that automobiles were the dominant life form and chose a name he thought would blend in. If you know David Ford well, you get the idea that like the other Ford, David studies humanity and tries to blend in. He also has important things to say, should you be lucky enough to listen to him.
David Ford came to live with us at the beginning of the COVID-19 nightmare, when the world was shutting down and everyone went indoors. He was one of two COVID-19 refugees to come under MCC’s protection over the past year.
Most of David Ford’s colleagues at the SIL Bible translation office in Ayer Tena where he worked went back to the US or into their apartments. Church closed. There was no longer Tuesday night hockey at Bingham Academy, where he and my husband used to go along with a bunch of other guys to bash each other with sticks. (I know that’s not the point of the game, but I’ve seen the gashes.) David Ford lived alone, in one of the coveted government-subsidized condos in the Kore neighborhood. When he saw his life constricting to his small apartment (nice as it was) he knew he couldn’t survive and asked if he could live with us.
David Ford is a Brony. I’ve seen him galloping between the house and the office when he’s happy. I didn’t know what a Brony was until I met him. He gave us the documentary to watch. Essentially, Bronies like David Ford are unabashed fans of the TV show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. You may be thinking right now, like I did, “That’s creepy! Why would a grown up man be a fan of a TV show and merchandise designed for little girls?” followed shortly by “What’s wrong with an adult male liking a clever TV show about values like courage, honesty, and friendship, even if is for girls? Isn’t that playing into a stereotype that pure and pretty things should only appeal to little girls? Hey, that’s sexist!” If you’re engaged in that sort of mental whip-lash when you learn about the Bronies, you’re not alone.
David Ford also has what used to be called Asperger Syndrome, a high-functioning placement on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. My interactions with David Ford were limited when this request came to us. He usually ran the PowerPoint at our small and rather disorganized church (where Pinkie Pie or one of the other rotation of ponies regularly appeared as his desktop background before he loaded the PowerPoint) and he sat on Church Council where he took meticulous minutes for every meeting. He was part of a game night where the attendees played Settlers of Catan: Cities and Knights and nothing else without fail every Sunday evening. Did we know this guy well enough to bring him home?
Our son Daniel had just come home from boarding school in Kenya, and then Kenya closed its borders and it looked like he might be stuck in Addis indefinitely. Then Jacob’s school in Addis shut down. It looked like the boys were home to stay for a while, which suited me just fine. But we didn’t know if we would be able to travel to the US over the summer as we had planned. We didn’t actually know if anyone would be able to travel ever again. Our NGO was getting slammed with budget cuts which meant our work was getting very tricky and time consuming and stressful. People we knew would undoubtedly be getting sick and maybe even dying from this novel disease. Essentially, the whole world was falling apart and we had no idea what would happen next. Was now a good time to bring an autistic Brony into our home? David needed a place to go, that was clear. His parents lived and worked (and were stuck in) Lebanon and going to the US, his “home” country, was not an option.
We sat the boys down and told them about David Ford’s request. After a long discussion, they eventually said what we expected them to say–that if they were to make a decision from their own point of view, they would prefer not to have someone else living with our family just now; but if they made the decision from David’s point of view, they would say yes of course. They made the decision from David’s point of view. Flexibility and generosity, hallmarks of third-culture kids. I’m so proud of our boys.
David Ford came to live with us in March. We co-quarantined with another family from church and continued our tradition of Sunday night games and added a few other social events within our quarantine bubble to try to stay sane. As much as we could, we went hiking every weekend.
It’s not always easy to live with someone with Autism. David Ford is extremely intelligent (don’t play Scrabble with him unless you are a gracious loser) and tends towards rigidity. He likes his routine. He follows the rules. He claims he’s not a dog person, and after husband and kids my dogs are right up there. David Ford hates spontaneity. And changing plans. He is logical to a fault. Like many other “Aspies”, he has a touch of the egoist and assumes that the way he sees the world is the right and natural way, and everyone else should see it that way too. This didn’t always add up to an easy ride for the duration of our COVID-confinement.
There was the argument about washing dishes. David always did the dishes the same way–with cold water running throughout (many apartments in Ethiopia don’t have hot water, and it never occurred to him that dishes should be washed hot) and with as little soap as possible. He seemed to wash the inside of the dishes only, sometimes leaving grease stains or fingerprints on the OUTSIDE of the clean dishes. Sometimes the dishes weren’t entirely clean. I decided to reeducate him about how to wash dishes, and that didn’t go down very well. David got defensive and I fell into a Mennonite conflict-avoidance trap and just let it drop, re-washing the fingerprints off the glasses later on. “Aspies” benefit from clear and direct communication, and I should have just told him that I had a better way of washing dishes and explained why I thought his method needed improvement. I’m sure it would have been fine. But I chickened out. What if he got mad? Or just lost it?
David did lose it occasionally, when the constraints of his autism ran into the real life stress he had to manage. Remember, this was during the season when the whole world was falling apart and no-one knew what was coming next. Even for neurotypical people, 2020 was a stressful year. (Neurotypical–I love this word! I learned it from reading David Ford’s paper, linked at the bottom.)
There was the time we took all our staff for a 20 km hike from Entoto to Yekka mountain. We prepared for this for days, and there were all sorts of logistics to work out to get there and back in a COVID safe way. We packed lunches. We divvied out the water between the packpacks. Our housekeeper made sambusas, and we arranged to pick them up along the side of the road, freshly fried and piping hot, on our way up the mountain. David Ford was looking forward to going along. But the night before he couldn’t fall asleep, insomnia being one of his more difficult challenges. When I got up early the next morning there was a handwritten note on the table saying that he hadn’t slept all night and would not be coming. He still wasn’t sleeping though and came out of his room in tears, clearly torn between coming along and getting his rest. He ended up coming along and enjoyed the entire hike with the rest of us.
Then there was the time he tried to vote by absentee ballot. This was only the most important presidential election in the history of the world. David Ford had voted by absentee ballot for years, having lived most of his post-college and -grad school life in Ethiopia. I took all three of our sealed ballots and dropped them off at the US Embassy. We were all voting in Virginia. After a few weeks, we started checking our ballot status on elections.virginia.gov. Bruce and my ballots got through, but David’s didn’t. Remember also that the postal service sort of malfunctioned prior to the elections? David’s ballot was going to Richmond and it never got there. November was drawing closer and closer. David had to do something complicated like cancelling his first ballot and getting a special emergency ballot and printing it off in our office. I’m not exactly sure what the process was. But the clock was ticking down. The stress in the US was of such magnitude that it leaked out into Americans everywhere, even normally calm ones like Bruce. Then our office printer malfunctioned. And David Ford lost it right there by the copy machine.
And I really kind of admire the guy. Because what American in this election season could really hold it together under the darkest, most dangerous domestic crisis the country has experienced in living memory? Who among us didn’t feel like weeping, just weeping like a child, unreserved, with gasps and hiccups? Weeping in rage and frustration and fear, unable to be the change we want to see. I would be a more honest person if I could allow myself a fraction of David’s emotion that day in the office next to the copy machine.
David Ford was able to mail his ballot in time for the election and all three of our votes counted in the State of Virginia. They didn’t even need to be counted twice.
During his nine months with us, David Ford became a comfortable part of our family. He tutored Daniel and Jacob through The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time which they played on a vintage Nintendo 64 console. In the evenings after we went to bed they worked their way through the web show RWBY. We watched a few of the short episodes with them and decided to leave it for the younger generation.
David Ford never forgot anything, weather it was a meeting we’d scheduled, or feeding the dogs. He quickly got over being not-a-dog person. Mbwa, Friday, and later on Bella won him over. In the cool and rainy summer months the little dogs found a place on his bed next to the space heater. And when we did go to the States, we trusted David with the hardest job of all. Our beloved dog Mbwa, whom we had carried with us from Kenya, was diagnosed with lymphoma early in 2020. We knew that his final days would be while we were in the States, and we left David Ford with the somber task of calling the vet when the time was right and overseeing our beloved Mbwa’s death and burial. David graciously agreed.
Right now David Ford is visiting his parents in Lebanon. He moved back to his own apartment while we were in Kenya over Christmas, and left for Beruit while we were in quarantine upon our return. We didn’t see him. The dogs still slip into his empty room to sleep on his bed if we leave the door open. And yes, I miss him too.
We are leaving Ethiopia next month, on February 18. David Ford returns to Ethiopia on the 19th. We won’t see him.
Goodbye, David Ford. I’ve learned a lot from you, and not only about the Bronies.
Blog approved and edited by David Ford.