A Walk to Beautiful


Five women, isolated in their own corners of the Ethiopian hinterland, undertake a pilgrimage to a free hospital in Addis Ababa. All of them have long suffered from obstetric fistulas—tissue tears from pregnancy trauma leading to an unceasing drip of incontinence. In the context of village life, this means ostracism (a clinician: “These are the modern-day lepers”). The women, five among tens of thousands suffering the same, offer a terrible privilege in opening up their private abjection—
a more complete shame would be difficult to imagine. That confidence isn’t betrayed. Aside from a few casual digs at the loutishness of the rural Ethiopian male, documentarians Mary Olive Smith and Amy Bucher feel no need to overlay this health-care calamity with pious outrage; any editorial is implied in the immutable facts from overworked gynecologists and the camera’s testament. (What would be more eloquent than a pan across one room to reveal four reparative operations underway simultaneously? It’s like battlefield surgery.) This is emotionally arduous stuff, which doesn’t mean anything by itself; the world lacks for neither pain nor camera crews. But there’s something quite rarefied here, in the experience of commiseration these refugees find with their fellow patients: “Everyone here is sick. I thought it was only me.”

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