30.06.2014 30 °C
It has been a strange time in Arua these past couple of weeks. In fact, so many people are dying here that the local Anglican Diocese have been praying against the “Spirit of Death”, whatever that might mean… It seems pretty alarming and might make a good title for a thriller, but this is real life.
My manager at ORA, was telling me that last week, he attended 2 funerals, but if he'd had time, he could have been at 5. The third one he was going to was for a lady who had fallen from a mango tree while picking mangoes. An old teacher who helps at ORA was explaining that her death had been the work of demons that had attacked her and caused her to sustain multiple injuries all over her body.
Due to the many outward similarities we have with our African friends and colleagues, I often am surprised at how differently we see life, how different our 'worldview' is and how differently we look at a subject like 'death'. Often, death can be seen as having a spiritual explanation, unlike the scientific and rational explanation we always give for death in the West. Here, an unusual death will be looked at suspiciously and questions will be asked as to who might have held grudges and so who may have who cursed the person. This might even cause fights at funerals as people are suspected of causing a person's death. A recent suicide by a young man in his 20's last week, a cousin of another ORA colleague, was causing people to suspect as suicides are especially viewed as suspicious.
Another recent case for Agatha Christie to solve was of a successful manager of a prominent hotel who was only in his early 30’s and who died from a stomach pain quite suddenly. It was suspected that someone in his community had poisoned him out of jealousy. Poisoning others is understood to be a common reason for someone’s death. Envious neighbours can often be an explanation for the death of a wealthy person who believe the successful person is getting too far ahead of himself or is being too selfish with his wealth.
Due to such suspicion, it is crucial to show face at a funeral for your own reputation. By not turning up to a funeral, you may become a suspect for that person's death.
It can be intense living in a developing country where material poverty, death and suffering are much more prevalent than what we are used to in the West. The figures tell us that it 1 out of every 49 mothers will die giving birth at some point in their lives in Uganda, compared to one out of every 4600 in the UK. The under-5 mortality rate is 89.9 in Uganda compared to 5.1 in the UK (I worry about this a little bit when I think of our young 2 kids, though I know we are in a much more privileged position than families here).
How do you deal with hearing about friend's relatives dying every day? People turn up at the door or stop you in the road to ask for money for funerals they need to attend. Funerals are expensive here and it often means going into debt to pay for the costs. Once a funeral is out of the way, however, people here seem to get on with life and go back to normality very quickly. There is no depression and no counselling sessions to deal with what has happened, even when a child dies. This type of thing is hard for me to understand, especially since I come from a culture where someone can take a long time to get over a pet dying. In fact, it seems that death fits more naturally into the cultural worldview here than it does in the West, where it has become something to fear and pretend isn’t inevitable.
On the news yesterday, I heard that the USA provides more money to the Ugandan healthcare services than the Ugandan government does. This fact hits home to me when I consider how much sickness and suffering people cope with and there is very little support. This is the reality of life in a developing nation where the local hospitals often run out of medicine, doctors are not available and nursing staff seem not to care. For me, the situation spurs me on to think 'rationally' about what is causing death and carefully tend my Artemisia plants, an excellent cure for malaria and powerful in bringing back health to AIDS patients. It also drives me to consider income-generating projects so that people can afford medical care and medicines.
However, the issue is more than about money or techniques to stay healthy and keep well. A fatalistic cultural worldview hinders investigation into how to minimise future death occurring and is a disincentive to looking after a sick patient. But since we are called to love our neighbour and bring God’s hope to a suffering world, our role is to continue to work to bring change that may make a small difference.