However, if you think about it, numbering implies value. Here were former slaves, so expendable that all male babies could be thrown into the Nile river. Suddenly they are free. There are rules. Organization must be put in place to rally a mob that had been oppressed and bullied for generations into a people movement capable of withstanding the desert and conquering territory. By numbering, Moses was assigning place and importance to every individual.
This is an issue of justice and public health that remains today. The children of Bundibugyo are not numbered. We do not know how many are born, and how many die, and where, and why. When we ask a mother on the ward about her other children and find out she's buried 10 of 13 now, that is staggering news. Or it should be. Instead it is hidden suffering. In the last week five children have died on our ward, in our care. Baluku Thomas, the child with ants crawling on him day before yesterday, I found this morning as a body wrapped in a kitengi cloth, having breathed his last at 3 am, his grandmother waiting for help to transport him back home for burial. He and another child I never even saw both died of hunger, severe kwashiorkor, languishing in another hospital for a week then being transferred here to die. Ahebwa and Kisembo Nassan both died of fear and ignorance, having their gums sliced for supposed false teeth. Katusiime Annet was the one month old infant of the Barts' former house worker and our neighbor, who received everything we could give for a three day battle with severe pneumonia, and lost.
The movie The Interpreter ends with the main character reading aloud lists of the names of people who had died. Africans, whose deaths are more easily hidden than those of many continents. (It's fiction, but truth, and a fantastic movie by the way). So today I name our losses of the week.
And look towards the day when the Babwisi and Bakonjo are numbered, when a birth is registered, and a death certified, when the abundance and loss impact policy and catch attention.