Monday, February 04, 2008
The World Goes Not Well
I’m reading Tales of the Kingdom aloud at night, and in it the Rangers call out a watchman-like greeting: “How goes the world?” And the answer is “The world goes not well. But the Kingdom comes.” Tonight is one of those nights where the NOT WELL aspect of this world weighs heavily. I was sitting outside a government office today when one of the officials came to greet me, and commented “You really love Bundibugyo, don’t you?” And I said “Yes, but sometimes it is not easy to love.” How many trite and cliché verses are written about the danger of loving something weak and fragile, the way love opens us to disappointment and suffering. That is how I feel today.
For starters, as I was trying to zip through patient rounds in order to get on with the other pressing concerns of the day (see below) a nurse brought me a patient who had not yet been evaluated but was “bad off.” I was tempted to find some reason someone else should see this kid when I looked up and realized it was Mumbere, the little boy with AIDS who has been revived in the care of his frail little grandmother. Now he’s a chunky 11 kg (probably quadruple his weight when he was dwindling with AIDS) and thriving on ARV’s, until today, when he arrived anemic and gasping and unconscious. Probably just malaria, but in a kid with marginal immunity and in a family without the resources to get him care until the situation became desperate. Our nurses and lab staff rallied to resuscitate him and he’s still alive tonight, but I fear for him. He’s the one with the grandmother who said “Of course I want to take care of him, he’s the only picture I have of my daughter.”
Then on the way home I got a call with Luke’s O Level results. He and five of his classmates received Division 1 scores, which is good news, and means CSB earned 6 of the district’s 9 Division 1 passes even though they had only 10% of the district’s students. And NO FAILURES, even though 11% of students in Bundibugyo failed. Reasonably good news for CSB. Since Luke is a few years younger than the average student and did not take all the classes others did, we should be very proud that he scored in the top 2% . . . But the good news was marginal when he heard his actual grades. Most were significantly worse than he had scored on practice tests, and certainly much worse than he expected. In one class he was particularly committed to and confident of (he had never made less than a 1 in that subject) he earned a 5, even though post-exam he had gone over all his answers with others and was quite sure of his performance. So it was another example of frustration, of his perception of disconnect between work and outcome, of the inscrutability of the system. Another experience of being told “you’re not nearly as good at this as you could be”. Another reason to question the value of his education.
From that emotional low I headed up to Bundibugyo town with Ivan, a 13 year old boy who is one of our family’s best friends here (especially Jack). He was hoping to get into CSB but his PLE exam score was inadequate, and I was told today that though he’s on the waiting list he’s unlikely to be offered a spot. Hard, because he really wants to be with Jack and Julia, and they with him, and I suspect he’s at least as bright as most of the kids I sponsor, but has had a rough life and poor education. So our plan was to put him in P7 (final year of primary) in the “best” primary school in the District, located within Bundibugyo township 12 kilometers from our home. They had 10 PLE Division 1’s last year. Not exactly like a Kampala school, but OK. He had to take a surprise entrance exam in the headmaster’s office which he at least passed. While he was struggling with that another student helped me rummage around town for the requirements, including a mattress, basin, cup and plate, red socks, books and pens, a small metal trunk to lock things in. A few hours later we were escorted for a tour, and I just wanted to cry. This is Bundibugyo’s best primary school, but the conditions were no better than anything I saw in Sudan, in fact I wondered how different they were from a concentration camp. Small space, open unfinished mud-brick buildings with dirt floors, no grass, a room about 15 by 15 feet square to house over 30 boys in stacked bunks, kids standing along the reed fence with nothing to do after class, no running water, no electricity, no library, no books, a shack of a kitchen, and I even spotted a teacher “caning” a line of students (smacking them one by one on the bottom with a stick as they knelt). “Isn’t that illegal?” I asked. I held back tears as I left Ivan there. He wanted to stay, he’ll grasp at this hope for education, this possible ticket into CSB next year. But I wonder if it is worth it.
And if that was not enough in the realm of pounding on my heart, in facing the vulnerabilty of kids I love . . . My third task of the day was to take scathing letters to the headmaster of our local primary school, the District Education Officer (DEO), and the Chairman LC5, about the teacher who sexually abused my young neighbor N. She is improving, but a shell of herself.. And I heard today that as schools started the man was not in jail but instead reporting back to teach!! I rarely am able to push this kind of advocacy this far, and even today I faltered, as convinced as I am that this situation is evil and must be fought. If I was intimidated, then I can see more clearly why so few of these cases get reported. The local school seemed to be in favor of “look the other way” and “what can we do.” The District Education Officer was absent. But the Chairman LC5 at least said the right things, called it unacceptable, asked others in his office “what if it was your daughter”, agreed that the man should lose his job at the very least, and called in an assistant DEO to affirm that. Then he sent me with this assistant DEO to the police station, where we moved from office to office trying to locate the proper file and number and person in charge. In the process we learned that another teacher, who is also a neighbor and friend, was briefly incarcerated in conjunction with aiding and abetting the abuser in the case, but had been released on bond that morning. At the end of the day I went to report all I’d done to the family, including her bed-ridden father and his elderly brother, and to make sure that her younger sister switches to a hopefully safer school.
So a day of disappointment, of sitting in offices and pleading, of lamenting drunk police and shabby surroundings, of the stench of corruption just below the surface. Not to mention that I have a nasty cold, and that it is now 10 pm and Scott is at the hospital where he took a friend’s wife who was in respiratory distress. The world goes not well, for Luke (somewhat, though relative to all the other problems his sadness is not so bad), for Ivan, for N, for Mumbere and his grandmother, for Oliva. For me.. It is a badly broken place. But the Kingdom comes.