Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Agent of Change

Quem é ela?

“Quem é ela?” is simply asking “Who is she.” It seems like an innocent question, but it’s not a question it’s a threat. This threat is posed when someone becomes the object of another’s jealousy. Here is a recent example, a lady bought a car so she comes to Nampula to visit some family, the family receives her fine enough and when she is done visiting she returns home.

Unfortunately though on the ride home she had a car accident and she lost her life. This is deemed as an abnormal death. Yes, the friends have it all figured out. What happened is that the family saw the car and got enraged with jealousy so they caused the car crash through black magic. You see, Jealousy is so strong because this society, like many egalitarian societies, considers resources to be very limited and in need of being divided equally among all. Moreover, resources are just one of the many things which can be taken from others through black magic. Thus when one is seen to be doing far better then the others this person is known to have accessed black magic taking resources from others to gain this privileged position. Upon this recognition they ask, Quem é ela? It isn’t really asking who she is; it is rather saying, “We will see how strong her magic really is.” It’s a threat to use black magic against said person to even things out.

Where else to turn?
My last post ended on a sad note, and I am afraid the news only gets worse concerning Estevãos cousin. I wrote last time that I went way back in the village to visit Estevãos family when we encountered some bad news about his cousin. I didn’t give details then but maybe you will feel the same injustice I do if I tell you a bit more. She was in the hospital because she was pregnant and there was a complication so they had to do a “C section”. We had heard it went really badly, but that didn’t prepare me for what I witnessed in that hospital room.

Generally only family is allowed in the post-operation section, but the family said we should go in; so in we went. There she lay, unconscious, stretched out on her bed with both her hands and feet tied down to the bed. Her breathing was very laboured and the incision was swollen and infected. It appalled me to see this poor young lady receiving literally NO care! Instead of treating the problem, which I imagine was internal bleeding and an infection they said that she had gone crazy. So they just ripped green rags tying the pieces together, to tie her hands and feet to the medal frame of her bed. I couldn’t bare it as I watched her husband trying to comfort her as she thrashed back and forth. I had to leave the room. At that moment I wished so much that I was a doctor or a nurse or that I could do something at least!

The only thing we could do though was talk to the staff present trying to pressure them to give her better care, but to no avail. They all just waved us off as if there wasn’t anymore they could do or it wasn’t their responsibility. After a couple of hours of this we left and I knew she was going to die. I knew it, but we could do little else but keep wondering how we could help more. They had nowhere else to turn so they turned to the hospital where they did next to nothing. A few days later we got the news that she had passed away.

The Fear of a Woman
Living in a place where life expectancy is about 48 years I have witnessed more loss then we generally do back home. It is more then just sobering; it’s shocking and achy for me. I am personally cushioned though, for instance, I am just getting over my 2nd case of malaria but I got the treatment and medicine early so it just came down to two or three days of fever and headache and then back to work. Sure, I didn’t feel great, but I knew I would get the treatment I needed and I’d be back on my feet soon enough. Many have it much harder. They are always sick and never have the treatment they need and always have to work not resting when they need to. In short, life expectancy is pretty darn low and everyone is very aware of that.

I don’t know the extent to which this truth shapes people’s daily lives and thinking patterns. However, I have been able to understand one major related fear and I will share this here. As you know, I am working with a women’s credit cooperative and after a year or so people trust you and start sharing their stories. I have heard so many stories from widowed women and they experience a loss that one can only imagine. Beyond losing their spouse, women in the Nampula lose EVERYTHING at his death.

As I mentioned before every event is seen to have a supernatural cause and it’s always other people that influenced the supernatural force to cause the event. In this case, the event is the husband’s death. Upon his death the wife is ALWAYS to blame, she is considered to have done black magic causing his death so she would have the house and be with the kids alone. As a result, then the family of the deceased man will eject the women from the house putting someone else from the family as the owner. This happens even if the couple had bought the house together or built it together. The widowed lady is thrown out, and all of the assets and goods in the house are confiscated from her and divided up. She is literally left to the streets with all the kids and nothing to her name. This is the reality and it’s as ugly as many realities in our own culture so let’s not think judgmental thoughts. Nevertheless it is an awfully wretched thing for a woman to go through and understandingly it is a VERY prevalent fear among the vast majority in Nampula. In other words, a married women is living her life always wondering if she is going to not only lose her husband but be disgraced as the cause of his death and ruthlessly punished for it. This is the fear of a woman.

Our Hearts and Minds
A few concluding observations to end on. Firstly, what society believes about the increase in access to resources influences how society members understand “development”. In the case of Nampula, even if its just rumours or hushed conversations I imagine the desire to innovate and get ahead is greatly limited from the fear of hearing “Quem é você”? (Who are you?-threat) Secondly, a calloused heart among those giving public services, namely, health care and education can leave a people with no hope. No hope to gain a good education and no hope to get proper health care leaves us with a shackled people and nation. Thirdly, a society of a high mortality that demands every death to be pinned to an individual as the cause leads to inexplicable fear and distrust within that society.

This is one of the reasons I didn’t ever and never will believe that development is the solution to our issues in the world. You see, I don’t believe that development projects have the power to transform our distorted ideas about the world and our hearts. They can be helpful but the issues are much deeper, we must consider two things: 1) What we believe is true about the world is vital to how we behave 2) Our hearts are calloused and we need someone to change it.

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