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Thursday, September 27, 2007

As the World Turns . . .

The soap opera I was vaguely aware of from childhood had a name like that, and sometimes it seems like we’re living in a local African version.  This is our first time through the courtship process as parents . . . And we can laugh at ourselves some days and feel put upon and frustrated other days. Who would have thought that our first sponsored student, who has been such a part of our lives over the years, would fall in love with someone rather out of his league?  An orphan who barely graduated from high school courting one of the few Babwisi women to graduate from university?  As some staff discussing the matter put it, you have to have a “strong family” to “buy a graduate”. . . That is literally how people think of the process of acquiring a wife.  And who would have predicted that the “blood brother” her absent father (who is a high ranking police officer posted in Arua) would appoint to handle the matter would be the Director of District Health services, the very man whose authority we are obligated to professionally respect, yet whose obscure management so often leaves us despairing?  The initial letter of introduction was carried by the prospective fiancee’s aunt to Dr. S. yesterday.  Rumor has it that her reception was positive.  Everything is very indirect, mediated through underlings . . . Stay tuned for the next episode.  

The darker side of the drama exists here too.  We found out yesterday that one of the health center staff, an older lady “H”, was arrested.  She is a wily character who was transferred here some years ago from Bundibugyo hospital, to work as a theatre assistant, dressing wounds and cleaning the operating rooms.  This is the kind of “on the job training” position that is being phased out as real training programs become available, but we still had the old school version.  It seems that she was sometimes using the equipment and theatre after hours to perform illegal abortions, and the whole thing blew up a few days ago when she botched the procedure on a 15 year old girl.  The baby was developed enough to tell the sex (he was a boy) so probably 20 weeks or more, possibly viable.  When the girl developed bleeding complications and had to be admitted later to the hospital the story came out.  We, and Jonah, are incensed.  Dangerous, immoral, and illegal in this country, not to mention a waste of operating theatre scarce resources like gloves and guaze.  AND to make it even worse, corrupt:  H was CHARGING money under the table to do it.  All around a bad scene.  Sadly probably only the tip of the iceberg.  I knew that illegal abortions occurred “in the bush” but hoped they were rare, then to find out it has been happening right under our noses is frightening.

I suppose the two dramas are connected:  without proper family support a girl does not feel valued enough to wait for marriage, a boy does not feel responsible for the consequences of his passions.  And the final outcome is usually not abortion but a neglected and pitiful child, an abusive “marriage”, a string of broken relationships.  Those abound.  But to end on a happier note, Makuni, whose two years have been a hungry misery of just such a situation, is waking up.  The little person that he truly is is finally emerging from the nearly corpse-like shell of his body.  His swelling is gone, his eyes are open, his skin is nearly whole except for the still serious burn-like wound on his foot.  I find him most mornings actually playing with two blocks, or holding his own cup to drink.  But the big news is that today, I saw him smile.  Pamela brought him a little green ball which he loves.  On rounds one of the nurses reached down to play a game with him and the ball and I witnessed the corners of his little mouth spontaneously drawing back and up, a real smile.  I’m hoping his episode will have a happy ending.

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