This morning we received some very sad news, that a friend of ours from Bundibugyo died during the night. Charles Mujungu was about 19 when we met 24 years ago this month. His father had died, his mother had returned with a fatal disease to live with her relatives, Charles had a wife and young daughter already and no way to support both his own family and the siblings his father had left behind. So a relative of his, who worked for Betty Herron, asked her to find him a job, and as the newbies in the district we were the natural choice.
24 years ago in Bundibugyo, there was no power and no running water and no indoor plumbing. We lived in a house made of mud bricks with a tin roof and cement floor, and our major luxury was that we collected rain water from our gutters for washing and bathing. Given the fact that we added three more kids in the first four years of living there, Charles was essential to our life. He washed clothes, swept floors, watched kids, taught us some Lubwisi, shopped in the market, and eventually managed our household, making delectable home-made tomato sauce, baking bread, pasteurizing milk. He held our kids' hands as they learned to walk. We walked with him through the death of one of his brothers, and his mother, both of whom we tried to treat and ended up mourning and burying. We went to traditional baby-naming ceremonies at his house, had his family over for many meals, and shared holiday traditions. His wife became a Christian in our house. We watched his kids grow, and one of his younger brothers became one of Luke's best friends.
After we left for Kenya, Charles developed an aggressive and difficult to manage form of diabetes. Though we visited over the last 7 years and tried to help him with medicines and encouragement, he wasted away. These photos are from a year ago when we last saw him, in his home with his wife Oliva. The baby Jack he once carried now dwarfed him in size. Though Charles was only in his early 40's he seemed frail. About five days ago we had news he had been hospitalized. We spoke on the phone with the doctor, another dear friend who has followed in Dr. Jonah's footsteps and is now the medical superintendent of Bundibugyo Hospital. He was personally attending to Charles, but from the photos he sent we realized that a diabetes-related infection had progressed beyond the point of healing. Charles was too weak for an amputation, so they tried wound care and antibiotics, but he died within a few days.
Our relationship with Charles was not always perfect. But we had a sense of true community and mutual interdependence that comes when one family (us) consists of bumbling strangers who need a lot of help and advice, and the other (Charles') consists of resilient insiders who were pummeled by poverty and disease. When we heard this morning that he had died, I wept. I wept to lose a person who intimately lived my children's childhood as much as any other human on earth. I wept to lose a person I had known for 24 years for better and for worse, when by worse we mean as hard as it gets. I wept because the world is so not fair, when a formerly vigorous man wastes away because of a disease that should be chronic not quickly fatal.
Pray for his wife and children, for the cousins and the church and our kids and the many people who are grieving tonight. I like the top photo, one I caught as we sat down in his home to greet him last year, with the light on his face through the open door. This life of clay and sorrow is not a closed box, there is a door that opens into something glorious whose radiance lights our way.