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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Back to the Land of Paradox

Today we mourned a death and celebrated a survival.

Our neighbor John Mukidde died last Monday while we were still in Zanzibar. He had suffered terribly over the last year and we can hardly believe he made it to May, but we had still hoped to be there for his burial. He was a loyal and gracious fatherly presence for us over the last 14 years, someone who took the risk and effort to befriend many of us missionaries, and particularly our family. As soon as we pulled into our driveway I went over to see his family, and both wives broke down sobbing when they saw me, so we all sat and cried together, a few hugs and murmured greetings but mostly tears and silence. This morning we paid a more official visit with the whole family, praying again by the fresh grave. His mostly-absent, former-rebel-turned-politically-savvy-entrepreneur son was granted ownership of the home and responsibility for the family, which includes his two wives and three minor children. We already help with school fees for two of the kids, and I’m sure will continue to be in their lives, but we will miss Mukidde very very much.

In the afternoon, in contrast, we were invited to a party. The Bataama clan had decided to throw a major event in celebration of the survival of one of their own, a nurse named Peluci Tabita, who contracted Ebola last December but lived to recover. It was an unprecedented category of event, but we were later told it was modeled on a post-circumcision clan gathering, with the same music and dances and honoring of the survivors and presentation of gifts, and with the intent of preserving by adapting some “Kibwisi” culture. Easily 400 people attended, maybe more, seated under three tented canopies in the compound of neighbors a short distance up the road in Bundikakemba. The party began with a procession as Peluci and one other survivor were led by dancing women waving coffee branches and men beating drums. Then a group of about a dozen very energetic male dancers stomped their belled feet and blew their flutes (each with a tuft of colobus monkey fur on the end), and shook their hips accentuated by waving grass skirts, sang and danced until the dust rose in clouds, all while three men beat on a half-dozen drums with syncopation and wild power. Of course there were speeches, too. Scott was on the program, and used his opportunity to preach to the huge crowd. He acted out the story of the one thankful leper (Luke 17), relating it to this celebration, giving thanks to God which we so often fail to do once the danger has passed. But he also talked about joy and sorrow being the two sides of the same coin. He challenged people to think about God, and did not give simplistic answers to the question of why some health workers died and others like this nurse survived. And he shared again the passage from John 12 that he read at Jonah’s burial, and talked about the seed dying to produce fruit. His care for people during Ebola has really opened doors in their hearts, how often do any of us as missionaries get to preach to hundreds of people? We are not pastors but doctors; yet the very doctoring means that this clan listened to Scott. When it came time for the reception, where people congratulated the two survivors by bringing gifts, they asked Scott to sit beside them, as the circumciser (a traditional doctor) would have done in the ceremony. He was a bit reluctant, but went along with it . . .and then really surprised when after the two survivors were given goats, he was also given one! Peluci and the other man received many other gifts as well, and waves of people came forward to shake hands with all three. At the very end the deputy RDC stood up and thanked Scott for standing by the district in the time of need, saying that it was God’s heart they saw in him. We thought we were dropping by to be polite, but we ended up spending the afternoon embraced by a culture very different from ours but which claims us more and more, and walking home with our own little goat tugging at her twine rope and bleating “maaaa”. We felt rather conspicuous, but here dragging a goat down the road is very normal, and as people greeted on the street they barely gave the animal a second look. DMC and SirLoin, our two cows, were not too friendly to this addition to their pasture, but we hope they will all get along.

So we have not unpacked really, except food for survival, our house is stacked with trunks and books and dirty clothes. But we know we are back to our Bundibugyo home where extreme paradox is part of the daily reality, where we can cry with one neighbor and dance with another a few hours and a few hundred meters apart.

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