Location: Mbale, Uganda
Monday, May 22, 2017
Dodged a Mountain Climbing Bullet
The team went hiking up the mountain today. It’s the 17th largest mountain range in Africa, the 2nd largest in Uganda. One of our local friends swore it would be a “leisurely stroll,” but he’s British so I was skeptical. In any event, we’ve been going like crazy and I wanted a little bit of a break, so I chose not to go on the hike. That means that I missed out on a) beautiful mountain vistas, b) walking among the villages and villagers, and c) a history lesson from the guides. But in exchange, I purchased a) the most luxurious hot shower so far in Uganda, b) a trip to the local pharmacy to buy cold meds for me and two other team members, and c) a very significant block of time to journal, pray, read, listen to my novel, etc. It has been glorious!
When the team got back in the early afternoon, they were sore and bruised and covered in dirt … and I learned that my local British friend had failed to complete his sentence when describing the walk. It was a leisurely stroll … for a mountain goat. There was evidently rock climbing and mud path sliding and jungle traversing … and all manner of other things that OTHER people do in the bush in the mountains of Uganda (there was evidently no trail; a guide just took them on climb-about up the mountain). So, totally dodged the bullet on that one. So glad I stayed home!
Visited CURE Hospital
After everyone had showered, we ate lunch at the guest house and then headed into town to tour the local CURE hospital, which has pioneered a life-saving pediatric brain surgery to treat hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is far more common here than in the west, because it is common that infection can go untreated and result in cerebral meningitis, which can then damage the parts of the brain which produce and regulate CSF (cerebrospinal fluid), which can then result in hydrocephalus. 1 out of every ~1,000 children suffers from this condition here at birth, and another 3-4 are diagnosed later in childhood, brought on by untreated infection. All toll, the hospital we visited conducts 100 surgeries a month to treat hydrocephalus, and trains physicians from all over the world (from 25 countries so far, including in Western Europe and AsiaPac) in new procedures to address it. They specialize in a procedure which doesn’t require a shunt, and therefore has a far greater success rate — because the shunts need to be replaced often, especially under conditions here, where it’s very difficult to properly maintain them.
Here are a few pictures of the hospital. It is interesting to see such a fusion of modern equipment in a space that feels very different from a US hospital. And I love that they are pioneering new techniques. The more Uganda can establish knowledge and goods that the world needs them to export, the better off their people’s economic condition will be. And when it’s the health and welfare of children — more than 50% of Uganda is under the age of 18 — it’s exceptionally beneficial to the society as a whole.
One of the most heartbreaking things about the medical conditions people face here is that they carry stigmas with them, resulting in the local people being discouraged to seek treatment. For example, if a child has hydrocephalus, he really needs to receive treatment within a matter of days. However, because parents are afraid of the claim that their sin (among Christian or Muslim neighbors) or the curse of witchcraft (among pagan neighbors) is responsible for their child’s condition. Therefore, they have a tendency to hide the fact that the child is sick and pray that God heals them behind closed doors. And then, if the child dies, the stigma grows even worse, because this tends to confirm that either God or demonic forces are punishing the family.
So, much education is required, in addition to the increasing ability of medical treatments.
That night we rallied up as a team to talk about our experiences that day. Our team leader Amanda asked me to do a devotional. I felt let to Matthew 25:31ff:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31ff)
Here Jesus is commanding a lifestyle, not a particular experience. In other words, we do not obey Jesus’ command here by attending a hospital in Mbale. We obey it by a lifestyle of caring about those who are sick and weak and struggling, especially in ways that we are not. As a team, we talked about a lot of things, and ended up focusing on a topic that I know from experience Amanda feels very strongly about: that we really see people as people, not as projects or missions. Good discussion. Toward the end, Ubontu (one of our friends from UCU) commented at length about how people in Uganda are satisfied with their lives, and how we shouldn’t see them as people who are poor and need help. I sortof agree, but I also think the point also needs to be made that just because a person is satisfied doesn’t mean that they should be. Some satisfaction is quite godly, and the affluent-and-often-self-absorbed West could learn a lot about being satisfied. We’re terrible at it. But on the other hand, some satisfaction is a euphemism for complacency.
For example, it’s a great thing that Ugandan doctors were not satisfied with the higher-than-average rate of hydrocephalus among their children. That led them to do something about it, and now they’re making a difference not just in the lives of Ugandan children, but those all over the world. And when children in the slums of Uganda are malnourished or drinking from rivers (in which garbage has been dumped and cows have done their business), leading to all manner of sickness, because they don’t know any better or have nothing else to drink … They may be satisfied with that, but our role in fulfilling Jesus’ command to love those who are sick or naked or poor or weak means that we should not be. And if we can develop relationships with those people and walk with them and empower them, then I believe they’ll grow dissatisfied with those conditions as well, and together we can do something about it.
I understand what my friend Ubontu is saying — the white man can’t swoop in with all the answers and rescue the poor African. I totally agree. First, they’re people, not projects. Second, we white guys don’t have all the answers. Third, there’s no dignity in that kind of help. Forth, if the Ugandan (he has a heritage he values just like I do) doesn’t lead the charge to get himself out of the slums, then “doing it for him” is NOT really helping him in the long run … any more than the kind of social welfare in the US which allows someone to just sit around and collect a check helps that person.
But all that said, we also can’t confuse “being satisfied” with “being complacent,” on either side of the ocean.
Thank you again for keeping up with me on this journey, and for all your prayers and support. Keep it coming!
Pingback: Uganda Theological Reflection #2: Love, Sheep, and Uganda | Breaking Away: Jeff Block's Blog