Comparing life in the bush with life back in one’s home country is generally an unwise and unhelpful thing to do. The comparison will always be biased towards the culture and living situation of your home, and it can sometimes cause one to feel a slight amount of resentment towards one’s current situation. Mature cross-cultural missionaries do not dwell on these differences.
That being said, this Easter weekend was very different from what I grew up with in the States…
Firstly, I completely forgot that it was Easter weekend until we were well into Sunday morning. This never happened back in the States. Growing up, I always had several weeks of garish supermarket displays to remind me that I really, really, REALLY needed to buy pastel-colored candies and molded chocolate statues. Those displays would usually also mention something about Easter being close at hand.
Also, as another way of reminding me that Easter was coming, my little country church would always have a special service on Good Friday evening to celebrate/remember Christ’s selfless sacrifice on behalf of humanity. I didn’t do that this year. Instead, I spent a significant portion of my Friday evening trying to convince an old witch doctor from a neighboring people group that I couldn’t print up a passport for him, so he could “go to where the white people live.”
If that sounds like kind of weird conversation to be having with an old guy on Good Friday then…well…it was. It wasn’t totally his fault though. He had been misled by some other “white guy” who told him that missionaries can do that sort of thing. The fact that this other white guy told him this while the old fellow was in a fever-induced dream didn’t really seem to matter. If you are white, then you can print up passports. And if you say that you can’t, then, apparently, you are either a very incompetent white person, or you are a liar.
I don’t know which one of those characterizations of me and my co-worker he ended up leaving with, but I kind of got the feeling that it was a little bit of both.
Our Saturday was spent anticipating a community meeting, in which 4 other neighboring language groups would be represented. The meeting was to illicit the identity of the person who had killed a young man in our village a few months ago. Though cerebral malaria has been 100% accepted as the actual cause of death, the people are also 100% convinced that the cause of his death was black magic. I don’t know quite how this math works, but in their minds it makes perfect sense. I think maybe it’s kind of like the “double-think” in George Orwell’s “1984.” Whatever. It is what it is. Anyway, one of the groups didn’t show up, so they eventually cancelled the meeting and marked another day to figure it out. This is the second time this has happened.
When Sunday rolled around, I was pulled away from my coffee cup by my co-worker’s knock on my door. I could tell right away that I was in for an interesting morning, because Andre (my co-worker) was out of breath. In my 5 months living in the tribe with him, I have never once seen Andre run, so I was fairly confident that having a panting Frenchman on my doorstep was not a good omen.
Back home, I would have been sitting down to a French toast breakfast in our church’s basement about this time, having just finished up our “Sunrise Service.” There would have been bacon. And possibly even real maple syrup. But here, I was wandering among thatched huts with my shirtless partner, about to take part in a medical emergency. When we got there, we found a small boy, a medium-sized crowd, and a rather large bloody gash. It turned out that an 8 year-old boy had gotten hacked in the thigh with a machete in an argument with his 4 year-old little sister. You know, sibling rivalry, and all that.
Before joining NTM, Andre was a software designer in Paris, and I was a life-guard at a YMCA, so between the two of us, we have, roughly, the combined medical know-how of an over-ripe kumquat. With that in mind, neither of us was super thrilled at the prospect of “cleaning out” the wound that we were looking at. Luck of the draw had me be the one to actually probe around and clean things up. I’ll try to keep the gory details to a minimum, but suffice it to say that if someone ever asks you if you would like to have your thigh hacked by a machete, then you should answer confidently, and without hesitation, “No thank you.”
The local aide station is a 1 ½-hour hike on muddy trails, followed by a 3-hour canoe ride away, so the big question of the villagers huddled around us was “Is this something that you guys can fix here?” After my initial survey of the 3 inch long gash, and considering the likelihood of infection developing, I was leaning strongly towards pushing for a trip to the aide station. However, after I flushed out the wound, witnessed the shocking depth of the cut, saw the gush of blood, heard the kid scream, and noted what appeared to be a severed tendon, any little nagging doubts about the necessity of such a trip were thoroughly eradicated.
We bandaged and splinted the leg, since the cut was so close to the knee, and then we informed the group that the job was way too big for us to handle. The people weren’t thrilled with the diagnosis (after all, it’s just a knife cut), but they agreed to send him out. The village sent him to the clinic on his mom’s back, in a woven bag strapped around her forehead. As far as I know, only one young girl went with her to help out on the trip. Her husband probably would have gone too, but he was the one that died a few months ago of cerebral malaria. Nobody else in the village felt like going.
Again, in the States this would all be thought of as kind of a big deal, but here, it’s hardly considered an incident. One lady told as, as we were discussing it afterwards, “Yeah, my kids are always trying to hit each other with machetes, but when they act like that I beat them, so they stop.”
After the drama of the morning, we had a good time getting together with our partners, reading the Resurrection story, singing a few songs, and having the kids hunt for various gummies throughout the house, which was nice, because it would have kind of stunk if we’d had totally forgotten to celebrate such an important holiday.
So, as you munch on your jelly beans and chocolate bunnies, maybe you could take a few minutes and pray for our little team, who have had an entirely different sort of Easter than we are used to. And maybe too, you could pray for the Iski people, who have yet to hear why this day is special and worth celebrating.