Warriors and Infants Alike
He sat perched on the half wall that surrounded the clinic’s waiting area. He leaned back against a pole, lightly balancing a green plastic pitcher on the tip of his relaxed fingers. His cheetah print hat sported a long fluffy ostrich feather. His wrists were hidden behind black rubber bangles, beaded bands and a gaudy gold bracelet with the head of a leopard encrusted with colorful fake stones. He wore knee-high yellow and white socks that peeked above his black rubber boots. His green camouflage shorts were half hidden under the neon pink warrior’s blanket slung loosely over his shoulder and around his hips. From his ears hung yellow dime-sized beads weighed with silver chain tassels that shook and swung when he turned his head to watch passersby. He was the quintessential Karimojong warrior, yet we were here together. Sickness has no prejudice. The strong and weak, the young and old, the rich and poor and everyone in between know her poisonous kiss, her strangle hold. I hugged my two-year old closer. Her voice was hoarse from crying. Only her second case of malaria, yet it hit hard. She received three injections, one in the car while traveling to Mbale, and another three days of pills, lacing each dose with something to control her raging fever. There were nights when she woke fitfully every half hour, screaming fantastical horrors from her nightmares. Theft ran rampant in her dreams, whether it was crocodiles stealing her special blanket or an unknown taking her shoes. Mostly she simply said, “Mommy!”. I would respond with, “I’m here” and that would settle her for a time. Every mother knows that the word “Mommy” uttered by a child can range from a plea to affection to expletive to demand to anger. Here it was a yearning for home, a longing for a place of safety, a return to refuge, a guarantee that everything would be ok.
I looked around the waiting area, the glaring sun outside making any shadow seem dark, any figure a silhouette. The mother with a four month old baby from a village a forty-five minute drive away. The toddler who was afraid of my white face. The line waiting for their injections for malaria or brucellosis. The well-do-to Ugandan from a different tribe, transplanted here most likely as a teacher or trader. Most arrive on foot carrying their stools, blankets and pitchers of water with them. Some arrive on motorcycles that can reach even the farthest village down narrow paths through the bush. This is where our paths crossed, waiting for hours to see the doctor, get tests and results, then medicine for those receiving a diagnosis.
I have almost felt guilty that my children are so healthy. Our friends and neighbors are so often struck by sickness, it is a daily battle. A dear friend recently came to me practically incoherent in his grief. His father was ill, his son suffers from epilepsy, his wife is pregnant and diagnosed with malaria and he himself was still recovering from a case of what appeared to be cerebral malaria. He had wandered from home unaware of his surroundings and name. He asked me to come see his wife and son. As we watched his four-year old who’s face was swollen from throwing himself down, he told me that even though his neighbors had encouraged him to sacrifice a goat, he told them that he trusted in the Lord, he had put those things behind him and refused. Then he stopped and looked at me pleadingly, beginning to ask why. I felt myself in the shoes of Job’s friends, and I was silent. I gave them some money for food, a green lemon off our tree, a black plastic bag to carry their medical books and medicine home in. Before I could summon the strength to answer, their son, the unpredictable child who they constantly watch for fear of injury to himself told us to pray. So his father did. And he told us again. So I prayed. My thoughts were drawn to my recent preparations for a Bible study on an introduction to the book of James. Its themes of the inseparability of faith and works, humility and equality in the church body, and of course the path of Christian maturity being laid amidst hardships. Trials make us complete in Christ. This is my prayer for my friend. This was my prayer as I watched the dozens of faces cycling through the clinic. This is my prayer for my child and myself. May this trial, this illness, bring forth steadfastness, a faith that cannot be shaken, a unity with Christ and ultimately a seemingly diametrically opposed joy.