Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Its getting real now. 

as if it wasn't real before. 

it is impossible to remain even for a short time in Tchad without being touched by human suffering and pain. 

it is imperative to remain connected to it - to cry and laugh and sink with those we love into the emotion of the moment.

my grandmere died.  Teskerio's mother.  Sarah. 

her face was an ocean of deep set lines and wrinkles, carved by a life in the wind and the sun, carved by a life of living close to the earth - close to the source - too close sometimes.

and in her picture, her eyes - they are filled with incredible knowing - and sometimes a slight nod of the head, chin tilting upward with the mysterious half smile of one who is the quiet possessor of some deep secret - one she would share - but not with words. 

and when they grieve here - they grieve for a year. 

I have been fostering an intense dislike of the funeral process here - one I can now see as biased and  uninformed - yet another example of me flying in and passing judgement on a culture whose surface I am only beginning to permeate. 

when someone is sick - the friends the family - they come to the compound - they sit on the mat, next to the ill - they spend time. 

they also use resources.  when someone comes - they are guests.  they are served tea.  They are served boule.  they are served the best of what we have.

and then the funeral - my family went to Fianga - a Keira speaking village a 100 kilometers away - back to the village where she spent her life - I couldn't go - I was at that moment in intense pain and not moving due to my sacral fracture - but all the friends, the relatives, everyone came.  from as far away as N'Djamena. 

Bikaou lost her voice from wailing. 

They used 1 1/2 sacks of millet feeding everyone - enough to feed this family for several months

the family of the deceased provides food for everyone that comes to the funeral

and then came back

Teskerio is sadder, quieter, loses his temper more often

life proceeds the same as before

sifting the rice

walking into the brush to gather firewood

drawing water from the well

pounding millet

making food

children screaming



but for the next year - they tell me - they can expect visitors almost every day - and they will make tea - and they will feed them

a funeral here is not just a funeral

it can throw a family into a financial tailspin

it can incur debt

it can deplete savings

when you are living hand-to-mouth - a funeral here can devastate a family

and so i said - why do they come?  why do you have to provide the food? why? why?

and they said


it is the tchadian way

and is it good??

it is good

and so the men come in the afternoon

and sit with Teskrio

I don't know what they talk about

Bikaou serves them tea.

then they leave

but who am I to judge this ritual - this process of grieving

this solidarity for those that are suffering

who am I to judge

that they all come together

sit together

eat together

their presence more support than a thousand words

and Bikaou said,

if they do not come -

that is not good. 


its getting real here

its April - months before the rains

people are getting hungry

the temperature is climbing

115 degrees

pouring sweat in the shade

pouring sweat in the night

the stars are the only things that haven't changed

and I am still on crutches

laying under the Neem tree

trying to study french,

trying to learn economics,

trying to understand.


its getting real here

Liz, my best friend among the volunteers,

is here from Mondou

she has malaria

spending the day nauseated

dry heaving


can't eat

can't throw up

and then today


she learned

that her little sister died

the baby in the family she lives with in Mondou

and she wasn't there

and she didn't know


they tried a blood transfusion

but it was too late


its getting real here

baby Zane,  olen's son

a fever for 5 weeks straight

they took him to the US -

he is getting poked in the ER

testing his blood

testing their courage

their strength

to be here in this country

this country

where sorrow

touches anyone who rests here more than a moment


Its getting real here

Matt, another volunteer

lost his little tchadian sister

to malaria, malnutrition,

other underlying more chronic factors

he paid for her hospital bills

he stayed with her every day

finally, we let them leave

they wanted to take her home to die

she died 10 minutes after they got home.


its getting real here

Joanne with her foot

confirmed by xray

broken in 2 places

wrapping herself in wet sheets

trying to stay cool

taking the only thing available here


trying to fight the pain


we come to places like tchad

places renowned

for their suffering

for their high infant mortality rates

and we think we want to help

but sometimes

the only way to help

to to open our hearts

to all the things

we don't understand

to all the things

that make us cry

to all the things

that strip away all we thought we believed

to all the things

at the heart

of existence

at the core

of what it means

to be human

to reach out to another human

to let them reach out to you

to see the tears


from their eyes

and when you


that you are crying too

you realize




1 comment:

  1. I think that these kinds of realizations, born of difficult circumstances, will actually make you far more useful and helpful to the people you are trying to be useful and helpful to. greater understanding of the reasons that guide and determine behavior will, if you let it, make you a better health care provider and a better public health nurse. also, remember that understanding does not have to equal acceptance.