A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013

Magic, Malaria and Death

Common themes...

sunny 30 °C

We have been very grateful to God that Amelie is better after 2 bouts of malaria in the last couple of months. One of my biggest fears of being out in the middle of Africa are the very real dangers of life. I was reading a statistic the other day which showed that death from traffic accidents are almost 10x more prevelant in Uganda than the UK. We heard that 2 American Peace Corps volunteers were killed when a truck ploughed into them in the high street recently! Malaria is another huge danger. Mosquitoes are so tiny but frighten me a lot. Their whiny noise is extremely annoying and despite all we do to keep the house free of them, they seem to find their way in. Amelie often has small red marks on her skin which she scratches avidly. Last week, one of our night guards – Rashid, was not around because he had to travel to the other side of the country because of the news his older brother (I think his name is Rabid...) was deathly ill. When he arrived, his brother was so ill with malaria, his eyes were vacant and he wasn’t moving. Doctors had run out of medicine for him and there was no money for medicine. Rashid organized selling of the family cow to pay for medicines and started him on the road to recovery. Rashid yesterday told us his brother is improving, thank God.
Amelie lion-hair teases the kitten. She has thankfully bounced back from malaria

Amelie lion-hair teases the kitten. She has thankfully bounced back from malaria


Because of the huge problem of malaria and its threat, I am very keen on promoting the use of the natural medicine Artemesia. It is a plant which is very powerful against malaria and is used for those with HIV/AIDS as well due to its immune boosting capabilities. Currently, I have 5 fragile plants growing in the coolest areas of my garden as they are very sensitive to dry spells and heat. It is one of the ideas that I have of combating some of the incredible problems of poverty we run into on regularly here.
Photo of Rosalia with bunches of Artemesia in Kenya with REAP 2010

Photo of Rosalia with bunches of Artemesia in Kenya with REAP 2010


The reality of death is an accepted and celebrated part of life here. A Peace Corps volunteer nurse working in the referral hospital in Arua says that in the West, we live with the expectation of life, whereas people in Africa live with the expectation of death. These two completely different perspectives explains a lot about the way that life is approached.

Eunice, our Lugbara language tells us that people don’t care so much for a person when they are very sick, but when someone dies, everyone gives a lot of money and makes a big song and dance. She gives us a vivid picture of funeral culture. It would be a fascinating cultural experience to see, but I think it may be overwhelming. On Wednesday, she had been to the funeral of a prominent lady in the community. She stayed with the body overnight as is the custom and was exhausted at school the next day. Eunice tells us that someone who dies needs to be smeared by volunteers, covering the body in shea butter and closing the eyes and mouth. Anyone attending the home of the dead person is expected to mourn very loudly. If they are too quiet, people may become suspicious and think that they are a wizard and killed the person. In fact, she tells us that people approaching the house where the body is laid may be beaten soundly over the head with a stick to induce loud cries and to share in the pain. Some people are seen to run backwards and forwards across the compound crying out how much they miss seeing the person walking from that direction or the other. It really sounds very different to a sedate Edinburgh funeral where very little noise is heard…

Another recent occurrence took place a few kilometers down a dirt track through a eucalyptus plantation (a place where you will be mugged at night) in a teacher training college. The road is one of my favourite running routes as it is quieter and so there are less people staring or shouting remarks, though still enough to make me upset. There are also one or two Ugandan runners using the track (seeing a runner is rare but encouraging). It is slightly unnerving, then, when we hear the news last week of 2 deaths and 2 serious injuries after an attempted robbery at the school. According to the reports, a group of men attempted to break into the school dormitory to steal a bike padlocked to the bed rail. The theft was bungled and the robber stabbed the bike’s owner (a math student). In the ensuing brawl, students performed mob justice on the thief, stamping on him, beating him using rocks and chairs. He was crushed to bits. It is always a wonder to me why anyone attempts to steal anything in Uganda when this is the common result of someone who is caught in the act…

Eunice, as a good teacher and even better story-teller, was telling us that she caught 3 boys doing magic at school. What? Maybe David Blaine had been on a school visit recently. It seems an unbelievable story, and something she has never come across before with kids. She tells us that a boy was causing a stir because by taking some of the children’s pocket money in his fist and flexing it, spitting on it and whirling his arm round several times, he was able to conjure up more money…! By doing so, the back of his hand would bleed, but quickly the bleeding would stop. He supposedly had learnt this trick from his father who sent them out to buy from the shops without money. He had taught more children to do the trick and they were also showing off their magic powers causing a real stir in the classroom. The boys were brought before Eunice who told them in her very African way that they were possessed by demons and she was going to take them to the church for praying and casting out of the demons. She was going to pray that fire would be sent from heaven on them if they didn’t stop their weird behaviour. The next day, Friday, the boys surprisingly didn’t turn up at school…
Advert for Traditional Healer... some magic potions brewed here

Advert for Traditional Healer... some magic potions brewed here


Yesterday, her story was about how people bring bodies out from the grave supernaturally, then walk them along the road to be eaten at home. She acted it out to dramatise the story, arms swinging listlessly, eyes vacant, head bobbing. Again, it’s a crazy story, but one we have heard of before. We were even told that dead people can be brought from the grave to work in the field at night. When the day breaks, the field has been ploughed and ready for planting! In the West, we think of zombies only in movies, here, they are not considered ficticious. It makes me wonder how people here view zombie films especially horror films about supernatural things.

These stories illustrate how much more the supernatural is so close to the surface and part of everyday life in the culture. It also reminds me that in Africa, there is never a day passes without at least learning something new and outrageous!

Here are some normal-life photos around and about our area with no death or magic in sight (well, that's from my naive western perspective...):
DSC_0163.jpgDSC_0157.jpgWomen are often the packhorses

Women are often the packhorses

Girl grumpily sells vegetables at roadside

Girl grumpily sells vegetables at roadside

Posted by africraigs 09:47 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

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