Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Baptism and a Feast
“You have been baptized!” said the grinning Congolese man as he entered my room. “Now that you have Malaria you are Congolese!” As he said this I wished I could share the same enthusiasm regarding my illness, but there was no denying it, I had been baptized in the waters of African disease, and I could now relate to the plight of the Congolese in a new way. I was tested a few days ago for Malaria and came up positive for not only Malaria, but also Salmonella poisoning, which explained why my insides were burning. I walked out of Maba-Conga Clinic with three new prescriptions and a promise from the friendly doctor that I would be feeling better soon. “Asante-Sana” (thank you in Swahili) was about all I could eek back. Thankfully, this disease has not debilitated me to the point of not being able to teach or do other important things like eat. To be honest the Salmonella has been far worse than Malaria, although one might guess the opposite to be true. Anyway, I should be cured within the week, and even now I have almost no lingering side effects from the sickness. In related news, Emily and I seem to be in a contest to see who can be sicker, and just after I one-upped her Malaria with my Salmonella/Malaria combo, she came down with Typhoid fever. It turns out she still has Malaria but has picked up a bit of a bonus with the Typhoid. Nice job. Hopefully my body won’t feel the need to one-up that.
Many other exciting things have been happening. I will try to do justice to a few of these events quickly:
The Superbowl was a few nights ago and, since the Cardinals were playing, we weren’t about to let a few thousand miles and a huge time difference keep us from watching it. To begin the celebration we decided to try to make tortilla chips and guacamole and subsequently spend the majority of the afternoon operating a kind of chip-making assembly line. Bethany, Luke, and Justin, the other three Americans here, all helped. Bethany made the dough and rolled it, I cut the dough into chip-looking pieces and handed them to Justin and Luke who fried them in a skillet. Emily threw on a bit of salt and before we knew it we had a few hundred chips ready to be enjoyed. The game didn’t begin until 1:30am our time, so we all went to bed at our usual time of 10pm, and woke up at 1am to begin the festivities. We had soda (actually cold from the fridge!) chips and guacamole, and a whole lot of team spirit. Unfortunately, most of you know the outcome of the Cardinals ill-fated quest for the Superbowl title, but what a game! Our little battery operated television actually lasted all four hours, and we went to bed at about 5am, only to wake up at 7 for English classes the next day. It was probably the best Superbowl party I have ever been to.
One of my favorite students, Amani, was involved in an accident on his way to a town called Butembo, a few miles south of here. He was in the back of a truck carrying close to 70 people that, while trying to make a sharp turn, drove off of a cliff and rolled several times. 38 people died. 38. And Amani was one of the few who survived with only minor injuries, he was back in class a few days ago and is a living-breathing miracle. Just watching him walk around and talk and smile and speak of God’s goodness is deeply moving. I learn so much from my students; I have learned the most from him.
A thunderstorm hit Beni yesterday that was the biggest I had ever seen. Dr. Kasali (whose home we are staying in) said, with a dire look on his face, “tropical rains, not a good thing.” He was right, the gates to our little compound flew open, the chickens and various animals living inside all screamed and squawked and ran in terror, the rain poured, the wind blew, and within 15 minutes our house was flooded with an inch of water. We spent the next few hours trying to soak up what we could and salvage those things that had been on the floor. It was wild; living in Arizona has not provided me with any experiences close to that.
Two days ago Emily and I took a trip to a Leprosy Camp in the nearby town of Oicha, we spent all day there and to say that it was a moving experience wouldn’t come close. First of all, let me say that until recently I was under the impression that Leprosy was a disease from Biblical times; an interesting sounding debilitation used conveniently for conveying poignant moral lessons. I had no idea that it was, in truth, a brutal disease that ravages people’s bodies and leaves them debilitated, helpless, and often deserted by their families and remains alive and well in most poor countries. The director greeted us and took us on a tour of the Camp, allowing us a chance to visit with and get to know some of the lepers living there. Seeing firsthand the effects of an illness that so altered the appearance of its victims was remarkable and profound, and to see the indomitable spirit of most of the residents was encouraging to say the least. The smiles I received from those with missing arms, legs, eyes, fingers, toes and teeth were enough to give me hope that life might be much simpler than I had imagined. After spending some time with the patients, we were told that the camp only had enough food to supply the patients with one meal daily, some beans and bananas, and that due to these realities most are often hungry. After hearing this we had an idea and asked the director if we might be able to buy the camp a meal, something nice, (by third-world standards.) The director was overjoyed at the prospect and hurriedly assigned two of his helpers to accompany us to the local market to buy the necessary ingredients. An hour later we returned carrying several pounds of meat, a huge bag of rice and ten head of cabbage. Emily and I tried to help with the preparation by cutting the cabbage, (a skill at which I am terrible,) and had our inefficiency consistently laughed at by the women who usually take on the cabbage cutting responsibility. Finally, after two hours of preparation we were able to serve the patients a meal, and it was incredibly rewarding. Each one cried out “Asante-Sana! Asante!” and shook our hands with whatever fingers still remained on their hands. To them this simple meal of cabbage, meat and rice was a feast, and I have to admit, as we sat down with the director of the Camp and his helpers for our meal, eating with our hands because of the lack of silverware, it did feel an awful lot like a feast.