When clean drinking water seems more of a privilege than a right (if you believe it’s a right, please dedicate your life to making sure that rural communities can access it), and the smallest insects can wreak havoc on your health (if you think our modern world seems like a laughable paradox when human beings can be killed by some of the most common and unassuming creatures around us, please dedicate your life to making sure that rural communities can afford to use mosquito nets for their intended purpose), and where a surgery that could take years for the poorest in America to pay off is something that the majority of local peoples in this context could never even dream of obtaining in the first place (if you think that health care is a human right, please see advice/plea outlined above), sickness and ill-health seem just as big of a part of life as health itself.
This is not to reinforce a stereotype of the “poor sick African child.” I never see those. Even if a kid is sick here, he or she will likely still be running around screaming. Just, you know, coughing on every other kid. Students will be sent home with sickness, but you would never know they were sick unless you asked, or heard through the grapevine (the grapevine tells all here – very little room for secrets when you don’t even have fences). No, people are sick just as often elsewhere. Sit on a New York subway in the coming weeks and you’ll be surrounded by more coughs, sniffles and sneezes than you will encounter here on the equator. The difference is simply that ill-health manifests itself differently, and of course, is treated differently depending on where you are, and, of course, who you are.
My Halloween was ended before it began, when a fever, chills, headache, nausea and a complete lack of physical energy overtook me on Friday evening. I secretly relished the excuse to just lay in bed – I had been trying to get Devin to rest in bed all week, but he didn’t listen, so I’m glad something put him in his place. A Saturday morning trip to the clinic brought a series of tests, followed by an injection to the hand and a prescription of antibiotics to cure some ambiguous bacterial infection. The process took less than an hour. I paid 15,000 Ugandan shillings. The equivalent of $6.00. This is a price charged to mzungu, nearly double what it would cost if you were Ugandan. And yet, Ugandans everywhere still cannot afford this. I walked away from the clinic, looking at the bandage on the back of my hand as a symbol of my incredible fortune – I am fortunate enough to afford this care. Were I in the States, without insurance as is often the case in my life, I would not be so lucky. Odd how that all works…
A very dear Maama to me continues to suffer from poor health. She struggles to eat. She is weak, and in and out of the hospital. And two of my closest brothers/sisters were sent home from school with a variety of illnesses. There have been two burials in the past week within a 2 minute walk of here. This is not all a sign of some systemic health epidemic in the region. ‘TIL’ – This Is Life. People are healthy. Then they aren’t. People are alive. Then they aren’t. If you have the power (read: knowledge) and the abilities to do anything to help, do it. Research will have to suffice for now.
When I am sick in the states, all I care to do is lock myself in my room and watch movies and rest. Here, if you are sick and try this approach, you will be visited by any number of well-wishers, and encouraged to 1) come outside, 2) eat, 3) take tea, and 4) eat some more. Food + Tea + Fresh Air = all the energy you need to recover. Once I took this advice, I actually did seem to feel better. A full afternoon of sitting with the aforementioned Maama and her brothers and sisters, her children, her nieces and nephews, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on. Talking, laughing, taking time-lapse videos of children and chickens, playing Frisbee in the yard, trying to learn how to juggle, and of course, praying.
I prayed with a group today for Maama. I led it this time. I pray when Viola and I sit to eat, but my lack of formal prayer techniques often stops me from volunteering the service elsewhere. But regardless of the ‘god’ you pray to, regardless of the spiritual path you follow, a prayer says the same thing in every faith, in every language, in every soul (so long as I am able to obviate any need for identifying paternalistic pronouns such as “he” and “his” and “father”). I pray to the network of loving energy connected in a universal lattice by the interplay of space and time acting out a fantastical comedy known as Life. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll stick with “Lord” or “God.” I find this common ground to be quite soothing. And I think illness tends to bring that common linkage out in all of us.
A new commitment to health moving forward. This year seems to be full of those. Different incarnations of health and healthy practices. I relish this opportunity to take full control of my body and of what it needs. Treat it as a temple, give it plenty of food and clean water and exercise and sunshine and stress-free living. Because I am fortunate enough, blessed enough, to provide myself with all of those things.
And it would be a very unhealthy decision to waste that.