Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Midweek notes: on death, language, and change
We were shocked to receive a phone call this morning at the end of prayer meeting that Edith Adyeiri, the wife of Bagonza Wilson Apuuli and sister of Isingoma Edward, died suddenly, of bleeding while being taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. She was a young woman, I’m guessing late 30’s. Way back when, she taught at CSB just after it started, and then at St. Mary’s Simbia, while her husband Apuuli worked as an eye assistant in the WHM Eye Clinic. They took the brave and unusual step for a couple unable to have children of adopting an abandoned baby: their daughter Sandra. Edith and Apuuli have remained friends of many missionaries even after moving to Kampala years ago. Edith was a gentle, courageous, servant-hearted woman. I also found out this evening that my 88 year old Uncle Edwin died in Clarksburg, WVA, one of my dad’s remaining brothers. His health had been failing and he indicated he was ready for Heaven, but it still leaves the family in grief, and for my mom and others was a reminder of my dad’s death as they sat in the hospital with him over the weekend. Yesterday morning a child I had not treated before was carried onto the ward as we began to see patients, but when the parents unwrapped the blanket his mother began to wail. I quickly came over and confirmed that he was indeed dead, probably died on the way as he was being carried to the hospital from far away, too late. Nothing to do but to wrap up his body and mumble some words of sorrow to the father. These deaths catch us in our tracks, a reminder that this world is not as it should be, and at age 1, 38, or 88 . . . The wrongness of death still stabs.
Languages can also die, as poor and marginalized groups of people are dominated and assimilated. SIL missionaries and national co-workers have labored with us for more than a decade to codify Lubwisi, previously unwritten. Yes, the idea is to translate the Bible. But there are other effects as well. Lubwisi primers have been written and printed, to encourage reading in Lubwisi in schools. This week SIL has sent two people who are making recordings of Lubwisi songs, indigenous music. So today they set up microphones and a computer by the translation office (yes Pierces, in your yard . . . Take a deep breath when you see the pictures) to record traditional songs and dances associated with circumcision and celebration, as well as hymns from church, and even public health message type songs. The crowd could not be kept at bay in spite of our efforts, so that the recordings will have an authentic background of crying babies and whispering children, blustering guards and holiday-making hawkers. We watched a couple of groups perform, thankful for the SIL effort. It is hard to explain how important language is to group identity, and the validating effect of foreigners with equipment coming to specifically hear YOUR people.
I also biked out to another smaller health unit again today with Stephanie. The topic of the day: behaviour change. How do we as health workers in the community promote behaviours that promote life? She got the group into good discussion of beliefs, and the way that our beliefs determine our actions. I think with much of public health, it is key to realize that we the doctors and public health “experts” and they the mothers and fathers all want the same thing, we have the same goal, a healthy thriving child. If we can emphasize that and become partners then we can help people realize that certain behaviours which are harmful (cutting out baby teeth, for instance) will not bring the benefits they desire. Community level changes in belief and behaviour are time consuming, slow processes. I’m glad Stephanie is out there in the trenches! She does a great job with giving practical homework assignments so her health workers put their new ideas into immediate action. Our alliterative theme for the day: believe the benefit, bash the barriers, and begin today.
Meanwhile Pamela was in Bundibugyo teaching a select group of HIV positive mothers to be educators and promoters in their villages. Many other team mates were in the HIV clinic with us this morning, including JD taking some weights and Scott Will seeing a slew of patients when the normally assigned clinical officer did not show up. Ashley came up for a slurpee to distract her from her strep throat after missing the day of school. At CSB the candidates were prayed for at chapel, and I had my five boys (Luke, Richard in S4 and Basiime Godfrey in S6 whom we sponsor, and Luke’s two S4 friends on orphan scholarships from Fort Portal Kataramu and Nuuru) over for a final pre-exam dinner tonight, followed by frenetic speed UNO and yet another prayer for their sanity and health through the long month ahead. So from early prayer to late visitors, it was a full day of grief, friendship, dance, struggle, pushing back against harm and celebrating what is good.