To laugh or not to laugh, that is the question

One of the greatest things about working in Kamwenge at Maranatha Health is the amount of amusing/humorous things that happen on a daily basis.

And I mean laugh out loud kind of funny, not a half-baked smile and a quaint story to relay later.

Patients, in particularly, provide endless sources of entertainment.

The other day we had a slightly obese woman admitted onto the ward. Because the staff aren’t nearly as politically correct as me, she immediately adopted the charming title: ‘the fat one’.

Which was quickly adjusted to become ‘the fat lazy one’, mainly because she refused to get out of bed (despite the fact she wasn’t that unwell after a few days at MH). I shouldn’t judge. I’m sure she had a hard life, with lots of children to look after, and probably just needed a good rest in a comfy bed.

I walked through the ward one day, to see her stretched out lying on her bed, in what could only be described as a typical sun baking position, her top half completely naked. I wandered over to the nurses desk enquiring about the lack of clothes. The explanation was a shrug, then a giggle.

After 3 days like this, she requested to go home. Michael explained that before she could go home, she would need to show she could get out of bed. Freshen up. Have a bathe. He even suggested (sensitively) that perhaps she could put some clothes on?

After another day and much coercion, the nurses got her out of bed. Then, she kind of went missing. Nobody saw her for about an hour. Michael and I were doing some work in the office, heads down, when Merinah one of the clinical officers came in. She looked at the external glass door of our office with mild amusement and asked ‘who is that’? Outside, on the cement ridge that borders the clinic, just outside the office door, was a lady fast asleep. We all lost it. As we watched she woke lazily, wriggled around to get a comfier position on the cement (??), and stripped down to reveal her breasts once again, oblivious to our laughter.

We gave up, and sent her home that day.

***

Michael and Andrew our administrator (and me to a much smaller extent) have one thing in common – we’re not very good with birds. Especially birds inside. My personal opinion? Birds belong outside…

The other day the three of us were having a management meeting in the office when a bird flew in an open window. Immediately Michael and Andrew hit the floor, as the bird fluttered and flung itself around the room. At first I tried to guide it to the open window, but crazy with fear and desperate to escape, it just kept smashing into the glass. I gave up and tried to flee the room. Eventually, it knocked itself out, although we were all too scared to go near it to check if it was dead. Andrew ordered me to ‘find Ibrah’.

Just for some context, Ibrah is our ‘machine’ – he is probably the strongest, fittest guy I know. MH last year sold him an unneeded (extremely heavy) wooden bed for his place, and he happily carried it all the way to town (about 2 kms), over his head, without flinching. Needless to say, the iddy-biddy bird would be no match for Ibrah.

However, Ibrah was not close by. Instead I found Bosco (our CD worker) walking towards me in the corridor, who quickly saw my half amused/half concerned expression and asked me what’s wrong. I explained and he came to the office. After laughing at our pathetic display, he crept over to the bird.

The bird flinched.

Bosco flinched.

It was a tense moment. He picked it up from its feathery tail (still half unconscious) but it moved and he dropped it in fear. He tried again, this time throwing it towards the door, its limp body no longer moving. Andrew finished the job, by soccering it out the door. We cheered.

The semi-concious bird had almost defeated three grown men and myself (an extremely competent woman!).

Bosco was the reluctant hero.

Compared to the rest of us, he was a bird whisperer.

***

There are plenty of funny moments every day, and anyone who comes to Maranatha will quickly realise we have quite a boisterous, energetic work place and staff, which I love!

However, there are some things we laugh at because there is nothing left to do.

It’s a common Ugandan trait – one I am still getting used to but slowly adopting myself to my surprise – to shake your head and laugh when you see the suffering around you. Not because you don’t have compassion, or because you think it’s hilarious, or because you think poverty should be laughed at.

Not because you don’t care, but because you do. Because if you don’t shake your head and laugh, you cry. And that is not acceptable most of the time – Ugandan culture is a culture of glass-half-full people.

Did you ever remember a time when someone was breaking bad news to a room of people, or your class was getting reprimanded, and you got the giggles? The ridiculousness, the terribleness of the situation caused you to slip out a sound of amusement? It is kind of like that. So many situations here and the grinding poverty and ignorance that creates them, is beyond our immediate control. Constantly you watch the worse possible scenario that could happen, play out in front of you like a terribly painful slapstick comedy routine.

Like the other day, when a young boy admitted was left for a whole day at the ward without his family. When the family finally returned with his ‘food’, the staff described it to me as ‘pig scraps in an unwashed detergent container’.

Or the 10th small child presenting at the clinic with a life-threatening infection due to an archaic ‘surgical’ procedure practiced by traditional healers, because the child had a bit of diarrhoea.

Or the woman you test positive for HIV who refuses ARV treatment because her husband will beat her if he finds out she is getting access to treatment.

So our staff laugh. I used to be indignant.  I used to get defensive of those they were laughing at. Now, sometimes, I try to laugh with them. And pray that God will bring change to this place, when so often I feel utterly powerless to do so.

But sometimes, as a last resort, we cry. The other day, the first child died at the Maranatha Health clinic. A little girl with cerebral malaria. Our staff did everything possible, but she did not make it. It was a very sad day. I wasn’t there when the mother took the body. But Michael was; he told me later that the memory of it will be etched in his mind forever. After preparing the body, the baby was wrapped in some material the mother had. She had no transport and no way of carrying the body – all we could find was a box. So as Michael looked towards the gate, he saw the tired woman slowly make her way down the hill and back towards her village on foot, a cardboard box perched above her head; inside her young daughter ready for burial.

7 responses to “To laugh or not to laugh, that is the question

  1. Ezekiel Zweck

    Not much else to say other than – God bless you all as you serve selflessly, and I wish I was there too.

  2. Oh Kim. I’m sitting here and have gone from tears of laughter to just tears. So much love to you! Xoxo

  3. You are all so absolutely amazing. I admire you dearly.

  4. Thanks for sharing. So sorry the little girl died. Your shared emotional experiences, laughter, and times of grief and tears will knit you closer to the community. Hope there will continue to be lots more laughter 🙂

    • Thanks Karen – I agree, it has certainly bought our staff closer together and made us more determined to bring about long term change in the community! And there is always a hilarious thing that happens to cheers us up 🙂

  5. Yeh, life sucks at times. We are so blessed to take all of this to the Lord for comfort and strength in tears and with the circumstances, fits of rauchous laughter. What amazes me is the attitude of those folk in Kamwenge. Western society would be looking for someone to blame and then sue!

  6. Barry – thanks for all your comments, encouragement and for keeping up with all things Maranatha! We really appreciate your support! Yep – there is no blame game here, quite the opposite. I think a happy medium between the two societies would be nice: solid accountability for health workers without the over-the-top blame of medical-legal stuff in Oz. 🙂

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