Hangin' Out in Karongue

Hangin' Out in Karongue

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Hospital Visit

We step over a large pile of burnt trash and walk by some people sitting on pieces of concrete blocks under a mango tree as my friend and I enter the “hospital” to see his father. This building in the “hospital” compound has obviously been constructed with western money as its walls are painted and there is tile on the floor. As we enter the room where my friend’s father lays on a circa 1960 hospital bed I am surprised at how large, and how empty, the room is. There are a few other makeshift beds, a small table, two plastic chairs, two old stools, and my friend’s mother and another Diola woman. I glance at my friends watch and it says 3:45.

As I look at his father lying on the bed it seems obvious to me that his father is dying. 

His mother asks me about my family, our recent trip to Dakar, and what we think about the heat. She asks me how Maimouna (Hosanna’s Senegalese name) is and when she is coming to see her. We smile and exchange these pleasantries as if to ignore the fact that there is a dying man in our presence.

My friend pulls a bottle of water from his sack along with a bowl of food wrapped in a piece of cloth. They are for his father, but I struggle to imagine that his father is capable of eating. At the request of his mother we pull his father up into a somewhat sitting position and they begin trying the make him drink. The water enters his mouth and then quickly runs out onto his face, over his chest, then onto the bed. The other woman suggests that when they pour the water in his mouth that someone rubs his throat to make him swallow. This is done and it only causes him to gag and begin to choke. Silently, I begin to pray.

After several minutes and over a quart of spilled water, this insane endeavor is abandoned and we lay my friend’s father back onto the bed. His mother asks me if I will pray for him and I move my stool beside him as I lightly rest my hand on his shoulder. I pray for a miracle and ask God to give the family hope that can only come from Jesus. It is Good Friday and as I pray I am reminded of how God can bring amazing blessing out of great darkness and tragedy.

No “doctor” has seen my friend’s father though he has been at the “hospital” now for two days. I suddenly feel guilty that I have ever complained about medical care back home in the States. His mother seems very confused because, with the exception of an IV that is dripping, unregulated, into her husband's arm, the hospital experience is just an old bed in a large, hot room.

We sit silently staring at the sick and dying man for what must be an hour.

A woman wearing a surgical mask knocks and then pokes her head in the door and says something in Wolof. She enters and I realize that she is not a nurse but a janitor. She is wearing the surgical mask to protect her from the dust that she plans to make as she sweeps the dirty room with a straw broom. The dust is thick in the hot air and my friend motions for us to leave until she finishes.

We sit outside on a wooden bench under a mango tree for what must be another thirty minutes. I glance again at my friend’s watch; it still reads 3:45 and I realize that his watch does not work.

Sitting outside my friend sees someone that looks like a “doctor.” They too are wearing a surgical mask and I wonder to myself if it is for medical reasons or to avoid the dust as well. The man is maybe in his early thirties and is wearing “street clothes,” though they are fairly new and well kept. My friend speaks with him for several minutes before he rejoins me under the mango tree. He tells me that the man is a “nurse” and that he is going to go speak to the “doctor” and ask him to come see his father. We return to the room to wait.

Another at least forty-five minutes pass. I do not take the time to look at my friend’s watch. Every few minutes another guest comes in to see the sick man. They look at him, shake their head, and make a familiar “clucking” sound that is common here when something is disappointing. After some time, I count the people in the room and we are now over fifteen.

Finally the doctor enters the room. He is maybe thirty-five years old, but it is hard to tell. He is wearing medical scrubs and leather shoes. I am pretty sure that the scrubs have the name of a hospital written on them in German. He greets the family in Wolof and then in Diola and then stands beside my friend’s bedridden father. He feels his arms, his neck, and his abdomen, and then stares at the IV that is dripping into his arm. He takes his blood pressure twice and feels his neck again.

At this moment the doctor has the look of a junior high school student who has been dropped in the middle of a calculus class and suddenly called to the board to solve a problem. It is clear that he has no idea what is going on with my friend’s father. He nods at the family and then abruptly leaves the room.

After a few moments the “nurse” with the nicer-than-normal street clothes enters and says that the doctor has ordered everyone to leave except the man’s wife and my friend. I tell my friend’s mother that we will continue to pray for her husband and for her family and then I leave the room along with the others. My friend, as is the custom here, walks me out to the road as a sign of saying that he was pleased with my visit and thankful that I came. I again promise our prayers, shake his hand, and walk away.

I walk the mile-and-a-half home thinking about my friend, his father, and the struggles of living in an ambiguous land such as this where you never really know what is going on. I wonder what is really happening with my friend’s father, if it is something simple that, were we in our culture, could be easily treated, and if he will ever get better. And I pray. I pray feeling totally inadequate to help, but trusting in the God of all grace to intervene. And I think about how most days the only thing that you can do is pray.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I Can't Just Go On Eating Dinner

Twenty years ago the country of Rwanda experienced horrors the likes of which we have no capacity to understand. Throughout the course of 100 days from April 6 to July 16, 1994, over 800,000 Tutsis and some moderate Hutus were massacred in the Rwandan genocide. During this period, more than 6 men, women, and children were murdered every minute of every hour of every day for more than three months. We cannot comprehend such suffering and loss.

The movie “Hotel Rwanda” tells a little of the story of the genocide of those days through the eyes of a hotel owner who successfully saved the lives of over 1,000 Rwandans. But there is a scene in the movie where two characters, Paul the hotel owner and a Western photographer named Jack, discuss the fact that finally footage of the atrocities and genocide and ethnic cleansing of Rwanda has made its way to the media. While Paul believes that this media attention will awaken others to come to their aide, Jack is much more pessimistic, and unfortunately, prophetic. Here is their dialogue:

Paul: “I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.”

Jack: “Yeah and if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?”

Paul: “How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?”

Jack: “I think if people see this footage they’ll say, ‘Oh my God that’s horrible,’ and then go on eating their dinners.”

And indeed, in the case of Rwanda twenty years ago, the world saw what was happening and then most simply finished their meal.

Sadly, much the same reaction is being seen today with the events in the Central African Republic. The current violence seen in CAR, however, does not come from ethnic tensions, as was the case in Rwanda, but rather from religious tensions between the Muslim and Christian populations.

I recently attended the CRAF Conference in Dakar where Christian leaders from French speaking Africa came together to exchange ideas and report on the status of missions in their respective countries. The morning that I attended we heard a report on the status of the church in the Central African Republic.

As our brother from the CAR stepped up to the podium to give his report, he said that he wanted to show a short five-minute video to begin his presentation. He then added that if anyone had a heart problem that they may want to excuse themselves during the video. This disclaimer was met with a few chuckles from the audience as some wondered aloud what could possibly be so disturbing as to affect those with a weak heart.

And then he started the video and we immediately understood his warning.

The video was taken by a Muslim man with his cell phone and it showed he and several others massacring about a half-dozen Christians in broad daylight in the market. And they did so with machetes. In an orgy of hatred and violence, this man had captured these brutal acts of murder as these Christians were literally beaten and hacked to their public deaths.

And this happened because they were known to be followers of Jesus.

The video was so raw and so incredibly graphic that I felt sick to my stomach. I, along with many others, could not watch it all and I had to sit with my head buried between my knees until it was over. Another man in the room passed out and had to receive medical attention after viewing the five minute video. It was that shocking.

As the speaker recounted other atrocities that have been committed against the Christian community in the CAR he said that now his work consists of encouraging the Christians to love, forgive, and not retaliate. But he has not always been successful in his efforts as many Christians have “fought back” and only escalated the violence.

But as I listened to this man, with the images of the video still fresh in my mind’s eye, I thought, “What on earth can I do?” Though I am in Africa, the Central African Republic is far, far away and the problems there seem even farther away and more distant. So what can I do?

I can pray. I can plead with the Lord for the violence to stop. I can ask the God of all peace to reign in the hearts and lives of the people of CAR and in the hearts and the lives of the Christians who want so badly to repay evil with further evil. I can pray that the God of all comfort would comfort those that are suffering such unimaginable loss. I can, and I must, pray.

But I can’t just go on eating dinner as if I have seen nothing.