Odeta Jimu and Patient

A Case Study

 

MS. JIMU PICKS UP THE RAZOR blade that I purchased this morning and slices it into the end of a stick.  Her spare dark fingers hold it over embers of the dying fire, and slowly, the clean blade stains brown, then charcoal black.  A murmur of approval creeps round the crowd that has gathered at the outskirts of the yard, lumping under the shade of paw paw and mango trees.   She motions for Margaret to come nearer, and the stout young woman shifts slowly towards the healer in an awkward shuffle, levered between two arms and her dragging legs.  She swings her feet around until they touch those of Ms. Jimu, a trace of fear in her eyes.

The motions are quick and certain.  Picking up Margaret’s feet and placing them on her lap, Ms. Jimu pulls back the pink chitenge cloth serving as makeshift skirt, folds it down between Margaret’s legs, and slices three clean lines along the inside of her left knee.  Margaret bites the lips she has sucked between her teeth and turns to face the man at her side.  She knows this routine.  Mr. Namanja is ready, and proffers the red clay bowl to Ms. Jimu.  She dips in with a wooden knife, collecting a teaspoon of ashen paste on the end, and swiftly spreads this over the bloody inscriptions on Margaret’s knee, first in the direction of the cuts, then crosswise, calling forth more blood and dyeing the grey paste brown, until it nearly matches the young woman’s dark skin.  Margaret has closed her eyes, and sighs audibly as Ms. Jimu moves to the right leg.

An eastern breeze spills over the treetops of this small village, carrying whiffs of pine from the forested side of the mountain and giving us all a chance to breathe.  Then the ritual begins again for the feet, where the scars on the outer sockets of Margaret’s ankles are sliced open to receive the mankhwala.  As she finishes, the healer nods to Margaret, then turns to David and me, tells us that it has been a good treatment—the blood ran clean today, and more readily than last time.  These injections must be working.

She whispers to Mr. Namanja, who walks over to the hut and picks up two twisted branches from the shade of the thatched roof.  He offers the larger of the two to Margaret, who begins to pull herself up its bent length.  Ms. Jimu reaches down and helps her from the waist while Mr. Namanja wedges these rude crutches in the crooks of Margaret’s arms.  They cautiously back away.

Grimacing, Margaret clambers raggedly towards the hut.  I can’t help but think about the difference that a straight pair of padded crutches would make, but Margaret reaches the hut’s outer wall, braces herself, and returns the branches to their shade before lowering herself down next to them.  She is out of breath and sweating, but a large smile has replaced the bitten lips of moments ago.

As we drive down the hill that afternoon, making our way to another healer, David’s mind is focused on the work.  “Did you catch how she sat on the mtondo, Josh?  She turned it on its side, and that was important.”

Mtondo?  I have to think for a moment.  Mtondo is mortar; a round, foot-wide block of wood, hollowed out for pounding dried maize, usually two or three feet tall.  I hadn’t even noticed the mtondo; I had mistaken it for a log, and my mind is vibrating between the extremes of relief that I’ve got someone like David along to interpret, someone who can point these things out to me, and despair, wondering why the hell I’m here at all.  Someone who speaks Chichewa should really be doing this work.  These doubts will be made all the more clear when I lose the recorded explanations that David gave about just why Ms. Jimu needed to turn the mtondo on its side; just why it was that she collected the bark of the kachere tree first from the eastern side.  I recall something about the spirits, the sun, and the direction of the winds.

≈       ≈       ≈

This was Odeta Jimu and her patient Margaret on September 25th, 1998.  I am prompted to tell her story today, almost three years later, by a message that ran the labyrinthine circuit of translation, transcription, a corrupt Malawian postal system and five address forwards in the States, to arrive at my house last week.  A letter that cost, in the wake of three major devaluations, nearly as much to send as the collection fee I gave Ms. Jimu for the plants we gathered that day.  The letter does not mention Margaret, so I do not know if the young woman has regained her feet.  Ms. Jimu wrote to thank me for the photographs and the report that I sent to her last year, the summary of my project.  And though I have received many letters in response to the report, this is the first of thanks alone; the first without a request for money.  Its arrival last week wrung an image from my mind; twisted me back to the three bloody lines on Margaret’s trembling knee, her look of fear and trust and hope.  Perseverance and chance brought this letter and this memory.  Something like Margaret’s perseverance; something like the chance of meeting Ms. Jimu at all.

≈       ≈       ≈

23 September 1998.  I am taking my friend Asad to Kadewere village in the Fort Lister Gap.  He is looking for a remote site to set up a study of traditional law.  Asad Faroq: PhD candidate in law, Warrick University; humanitarian aid worker in Kosovo, shot at while driving relief trucks; part-time lecturer at Chancellor College, Zomba; Muslim raised in London but claiming Pakistani heritage and appearance; repeat victor against American researcher in “name that capital,” rabid cricket fan, initiate to ultimate Frisbee, and one of the few people I’ve met in Malawi who might just get something done.  Asad is 6’2,” like me.  We both use the English standard measuring system in this metric country and we’ve both had a “modern” “western” education.  I tend to think we’re similar, then, against the backdrop of Malawi despite our religious differences—I have no professed faith—and our appearances—Asad has the brown hue of the Indian subcontinent; I am, after eleven months in the sun, still only a mildly tan white.  Asad lives, breathes and even believes postmodern postcolonial theory.  Neo-colonialism is one of his favorite epithets, and we have a friendship borne of desperate cynicism.  Having concluded beyond any doubt that nearly all intrusions of western research, aid, and political intervention have been harmful to the African continent, we’re trying to cope with the reality that we’re still here.  And, though we agree on many political matters, I believe there is one key difference in our approaches to research: Asad came to Malawi knowing what to expect, five years of university theory and disillusion at his back; I came with a degree in biology.  One of us has been mired in the shock of what he’s found, taking months to set up clearances, obtain permissions, and navigate all the bureaucratic channels deemed necessary for an official study; the other has put his trust in people and started to work.

My project has been stalled for some time due, most recently, to problems with my car.  But finally, after three months, three mechanics, and nearly three thousand dollars, the Land Rover is moving again and, taking a day off my studies, I have promised Asad a perfect site for his research.  He’s looking for someplace remote, and Kadewere is about as remote as one can get in the highly populated southern region of Malawi.  It lies in a gap between Mulanje and Michesi, Malawi’s two highest mountains, surrounded by forest reserves on either side and accessible by a single road that can only be passed, assuming no bridges are out, with a strong four wheel drive, on a good day, in the dry season.  Today is such a day, and we are driving here because I passed through Kadewere five months ago, looking for a shortcut to the other side of the mountains and finding, instead, a flood-washed bridge and a healer: Bwanali Kaujole.  I will try to introduce Asad to Kaujole, who is also Muslim and doubles as the village headman.  If an agreement can be reached, Asad will stay here for five or six weeks.

Along with us are David, the new interpreter and research assistant I’ve hired while John is busy with other work, and Martin, the brother of one of Asad’s friends in the Law Department at the university, who has agreed to act as Asad’s interpreter for the next few weeks.  David is a dark and trim young man of 24.  He carries a comb in his back pocket for his half-inch-long hair, and has the ability to make a white t-shirt look dressy, as he’s done today, tucking its carefully ironed creases into the waist of his pleated jeans.  Educated through high school, like John, David was denied a chance to continue his formal education because he narrowly missed qualifying for one of the three hundred spots in Malawi’s lone university.  He has since worked as interpreter for numerous American researchers, and hopes to attend a U.S. university.  In his spare time he writes poems and stories and has already secured my promise that the copy of Shakespeare’s complete works that I brought to Malawi will stay with him.

Martin is tall and thin and quiet.  He doesn’t talk much to any of us, responding to questions with the briefest possible answers and staring out the window of the car as we drive.  He has been haughty to David since this trip began three days ago, presumably because his position as a university student elevates him socially.  And because Asad and I talk and joke with David freely, this condescension has since spread to us.  Among the topics of discussion this morning is how safe it is to pick up hitchhikers.  The former owners of this Land Rover were shot and killed in Mozambique when they stopped for some people along the side of the road, and poverty has only increased the danger of such crimes in the four intervening years.  But we are out in daylight, and we have four healthy men in the car.  When I see an elderly couple hauling a large bag between them, I decide to save them the six-mile, 1500-foot climb.

Asad leaves the front seat to make room for the large woman and her bulging burlap bag.  She wears a tattered brown blouse, a scarf wrapped around her head, and a faded blue chitenge decorated with purple praying hands as a skirt.  Sweat pours down her round face and she flashes a big smile at me as she heaves herself into the car.  “Zikomo kwambiri” she says in a high-pitched voice, thanking us.  The old man, dressed in dingy kakis and a blue shirt, is much thinner than his companion, and ambles nimbly into the back to join the others as we start up the road again.  David translates our greetings, and they tell us that they are headed to Khamula, which is on the way to Kadewere.  They are going to see their daughter, who has been staying with a healer for two weeks now.

The woman tells us that her daughter Margaret is twenty-one years old, and has been paralyzed from the waist down since giving birth in 1994.  She shakes her head in sadness and looks out the front window of the car as she talks about Margaret’s visits to two asing’anga after the birth.  Neither of these healers was able to help, though they did try many cures, she says, turning round to face David, who is translating in a low voice behind my head.  The next year Margaret moved to Zomba General Hospital and this too, was a failure.  The doctors sent her away after two months, the old woman says angrily, and casts a furtive glance in my direction, perhaps equating white skin with the power of hospital administration.  After this, Margaret returned home to a village not far from Phalombe.

Her story sounds like the archetype for patient wandering in Malawi.  The sick here shuffle continually between traditional and western medicine, pulled diversely by hopes of miracles housed in syringes on the one hand and faith in the tested power of their ancestors on the other.  That these systems can be at odds and are often exclusive of each other isn’t well acknowledged among the suffering.  So it is that patients at the hospital next door to my house promise the doctors they will not use any mankhwala azitsamba (plant medicine) while in hospital, but many of them confess to doing so when talking in confidence to David.  Some healers make similar demands of exclusivity while treating patients, though most that we’ve talked to actually recommend the hospital if they aren’t able to help with an illness.  Critics of the government, which by necessity endorses the practice of traditional healing in a country where it is the primary method of treatment for 85% of the population, say that the system leads to too much confusion and tends to decrease the effectiveness of any treatment received.  The opposite argument can also be made—that people are more likely to find treatment with the variety of options available—and when matters of accessibility, cost, and the power of belief are thrown in the situation becomes extremely confusing.  One thing, however, is clear: patients in Malawi tend to wander between and mix the various healing traditions that they find.

Margaret had been no exception, and she had all but given up hope for her cause until three weeks ago, the old woman tells us, as she continues her story.  The woman had been shopping in the market when she met Ms. Jimu at a medicine stall.  Margaret’s paralysis came up in the discussion, and the healer said she had cured the ailment before.  Margaret was carried up on the next available truck, and today is the first time since then that her parents have managed to visit.  The bag is full of food, a gift to Ms. Jimu and something to feed Margaret for the next two weeks.

As the woman tells this story, I’m watching Asad’s eyes in the rear view mirror, looking to see if he’s caught my change of plans.  He has been haranguing me about my research methods lately and today is no exception.  This morning he was telling me that a set questionnaire elicits nothing but predetermined responses and falsely objective numbers.  I should throw out my database, he said, work with case studies; let the research take me where it will; go for the story rather than statistics.  I tend to see his point, as my claims to objectivity have all but disappeared by this eleventh month of my project, but I hinge on taking action knowing that Asad has not yet started his fieldwork, that he may not know the difficulty of filtering stories through interpretation.  He’s also here to study law, a discipline of cases; I came to do science.  Regardless, it sounds like following the research might just lead me somewhere today.  I ask David to ask the parents if we might come along to meet Margaret and Ms. Jimu.  Obviously, given his advice of this morning, Asad’s research can wait for another day.

The trees begin to thin out to our left, as we leave behind a particularly rocky half-mile stretch of road that appears to be the dry bed of a river.  On our right, the forest reserves loom with Mexican Pine, the occasional palm tree, and various tall Brachystegia species, with wispy branches that look like the fronds of ferns, though the trees actually belong to the pea family.  To our left, over the dried fields the sharp face of Michesi peak is visible and, as we continue on a road that is now mostly dirt riddled with small runoff canyons, the first huts begin to emerge on the horizon.  Minutes later we pass a school building and the woman at my side beckons for us to pull in under a large mango tree.

We are quickly surrounded by a crowd.  Cars and trucks are a rarity up here and, as we unload her bag, Margaret’s mother begins to explain the situation to anyone who will listen.  Her gait and voice appear bolstered by pride, perhaps at having emerged from the front seat of the vehicle, perhaps at being the escort to this unusual group.  When the car is unloaded, Asad and Martin ask around for the headman, wondering if they might work in Khamula rather than Kadewere.  While they begin their search, David and I take off behind Margaret’s parents, tracing a footpath through skeletal fields of sorghum and maize.

We gather a retinue of about fifteen boys as we make our way over the dusty soil and across a creak bed where trash is being burned.  I do not stop to wonder where the girls are; it is only months later, when I get the photos back from a drug store in Seattle, that I will think to question this strange ratio: fifteen to none.  Perhaps they are in school.  We are walking directly towards the sheer cliffs of Michesi Mountain, one of the most hallowed and haunted places in Malawi.  The spirits there are said to drive people crazy, so the villagers rarely walk the heights, and never do so without first making an offering.  Occasionally, azungu will go—white foreigners are prone to dismiss local warnings.  Some don’t return, and it may be for this reason that people call Michesi the realm of white spirits.  I hear these stories because I’ve asked David to ask about routes to the top; it looks like a magnificent climb.

The midday sun is well above the cliffs, but after walking for half a mile we move into their cool shadow, arriving at a compound of trees and huts.  Our approach has been called out and a tall, thin man is waiting for us by a tree.  Margaret’s mother makes introductions, and I can tell by her tone and gestures that our conduct on the road has made a good impression.  The man ducks inside one of the huts to find Ms. Jimu, who emerges five minutes later to greet us, shining in a purple blouse and a brilliant green chitenge that she must have just put on to receive company.

She is a spare and serious woman of sixty-one, though she looks younger than her balding apprentice, Jalini Namanja.  He is the man who greeted us, and is also her son-in-law.  Ms. Jimu agrees to an interview in two days time and, what’s more, agrees to let us witness an mphini treatment that she will be performing on Margaret.  The administration of mphini tattoos is something I’ve read about numerous times, and I’ve seen the parallel lines or concentric arches on the foreheads, cheeks, arms and legs of numerous Malawians.  African injections, they are called, and the faith accorded this direct transmission through blood is much higher than that granted oral or topical treatments.  Ms. Jimu asks that we bring fresh razor blades and honey when we return; she too cautions against climbing Michesi.

The boys accompany David and me back to the car, where we introduce them to frisbee while waiting for Martin and Asad.  No one including David seems to believe my suggestion that a game like soccer can be played with the plastic disk but they appear to enjoy throwing it nonetheless.  Asad returns about half an hour later with a dumbfounded look on his face.  At first I think he’s going to give me more trouble about the superiority of soccer and cricket to my silly American game, but he’s got something more serious on his mind.

“The headman called me an mzungu,” he tells me, as he loads his backpack into the car.  “I ain’t never been called an mzungu.  I don’t know whether to feel mildly insulted or really insulted.”

I can’t help laughing at him and have to ask what he thinks he should be called here.  Mzungu is often translated as “white person,” but it is also the general term for foreigner in Chichewa and many other Bantu languages as well.

“I don’t know,” he says, “but look at me,” he waves his right hand across his chest, “I ain’t no mzungu.  Don’t they have a word for Indian?” he asks David.

“Mzungu works for that, especially up here,” David replies and laughs.

Asad shakes his head in disbelief, “he said he didn’t know about having an mzungu stay here in the village.  He thinks it might upset people.”  Asad had hoped to spend his time talking to people and watching how disputes were settled in traditional courts.  He thought staying there would make the process more natural—allow him to see things he wouldn’t otherwise see.  I suspect that he’s right about this but assume it’s now out of the question—at least for this village.  “I’m not going to upset people,” he says.  “Fine, I might be different, and fine if the guy doesn’t want me here.  But that’s no reason to call me mzungu.  There’s no way I’m an mzungu.”

We load into the car and begin the trip back down the road.  Only weeks later will Asad realize that the trouble with the headman, Mr. Bwanaisa, may have had less to do with his mzungu status than his interpreter.  The revelation will come after Asad learns from other research assistants that Martin proselytized his particular bent on Christianity wherever he went, that he looked down on those he was collecting information from, and that he had little interest in performing research among people he considered uncouth.  It’s only after hearing these reports that Asad will look back on the trip to the village and recall Martin’s coolness to the headman; his reluctance to translate much of what both parties said, and his obvious disdain for the village.

≈       ≈       ≈

Two days later, David and I are up early, stopping at the new PTC for razor blades and honey.  The store has the rate combination of lights, refrigerators, aisles and a cash register—is something like a convenience store in the States.  It is the latest installment in Malawi’s biggest grocery chain, the People’s Trading Center.  It has been built since I moved to Phalombe and, if the vanishing forests aren’t enough, gives hard evidence of the burgeoning population.  Perhaps within a decade there will be a paved road as well.  As we begin our ascent up the track that is more obviously composed of potholes than anything else, I stop again to offer rides, this time nudged by karmic superstition.  An old man climbs into the back while a group of kids scamper up the luggage wrack and begin beating a rhythm on the roof.  David asks them to be quiet, and we make our way more or less peacefully up the hill.

Ms. Jimu, dressed today in a dingy blue shirt and faded yellow chitenge skirt for our trip to the field, has set reed mats and her one wooden chair out for the interview.  Smiling but firm, she insists that I sit in the latter, while she and David occupy the mats on either side.  I’m uncomfortably aware that this arrangement confirms my position as both spectator and spectacle—the white man on high.  David starts working through the questionnaire, which I haven’t abandoned despite Asad’s advice, translating pieces of Ms. Jimu’s life up to me, where they are distilled to brief notes on a page.

She came to Khamula in 1968, but had already been healing for ten years at that point.  In retrospect, I would like to be able to add that she moved here for her practice, because the forest reserves near Khamula allowed her to find plants that could never be found in Mulanje, the densely crowded town where she was born.  Such a story would validate my research about deforestation; there’s even a question about this on the list of questions that David is reading.  But Ms. Jimu moved to Khamula because her mother moved there, and the crowding in 1968, just five years after the British had ceded power, was probably not a problem.

She learned healing from her mother, who had learned, in turn, from her own mother.  The knowledge passed through this chain is rather specific: they all healed ailments of women, children, and childbirth.  This division of labor among healers—women healers working primarily with women’s concerns—has root in both the matriarchal culture of the Chewa, and Ms. Jimu’s own Lomwe heritage, and has recently been recognized by the Malawian government, which now endorses and registers numerous female traditional birth attendants (TBAs) to work throughout the country.  This is the only group of traditional healers to receive such recognition, a situation that has caused some jealousy among the country’s male healers.  Ms. Jimu, however, is not an official TBA.  In order to become one, she would have to attend a workshop and pay a licensing fee, neither of which she can afford.  She would like to do it, because the organization has a set pricing scheme that would justify her charging more for her remedies.  As it is, she charges what she thinks people should pay, and they often talk her prices down.

That she still treats these patients may be a sign of kindness; it might also be related to spiritual obligation.  In some cultures, healers are required by their spirits to heal anyone who asks for help—which is why some of them are so hard to find.  Though Ms. Jimu is aided by spirits, which come to her in dreams and guide her in her choice of plants, I do not know if they forge for her a Hippocratic oath.  She is also a Catholic, and may find in the charity of this religion the inspiration to heal those who cannot pay.

Having finished with David’s questions, Ms. Jimu prepares to gather the plants for this afternoon’s treatment.  She ducks into her hut, and emerges a few minutes later with a hoe, panga (machete), and a large canvas bag.  We form a single-file line as we walk west from her compound through sun-bleached chest-high grass, the cliffs of Michesi looming to our right: Ms. Jimu, David, me, and Mr. Namanja.  The dry fields are punctuated by the occasional shrub or tree, obstacles which need not be cleared in land that is plowed and harvested by hand.  Ms. Jimu has pointed out a bent tree perhaps half a mile off, which I assume is our destination.  But before we cover half that distance, she stops and walks a few feet off the trail.  She bends down to show us a small shrub with brown bark.  Chiswankhwangwa, she calls it, and tells us that it is used for curing zirengo—madness incurred by the curse of a witch.  I have taken Asad’s advice to heart for this portion of the interview and abandoned my questionnaire, letting Ms. Jimu tell us what she feels is important about the plants we gather, rather than getting bogged in the mire of an hour’s intensive questioning about each plant.  She digs a sample of the root for her own collection, and I gather a piece that has both roots and leaves for mine.  Then we continue on towards the tree.

As we come nearer, I notice that the tree sticks out of the ground at an angle, and has a strange zig-zag near its base, as if bending at its knees and leaning forward.  It looks somewhat like a wire brush, with wispy branches sprouting along its upper half, but the main trunk, about a foot across at the base, splits only once.  It is immediately obvious what portion of the tree is used.  The bark from a section between two and six feet off the ground has been hacked away by panga knives.  “Kachere,” Ms. Jimu tells us, and goes on to say that the bark will be used in a wash to bathe Margaret’s legs before the mphini are cut.  She takes out her panga and hacks a six-inch segment of brown bark away from the tree, leaving a scalloped orange scar in the midst of other gashes, faded grey with healing.  She poses by the tree with Mr. Namaja for a photo, her hand caressing its cicatrized patchwork side.  While I take close-ups of the tree, Ms. Jimu tells David that she harvests from the eastern side first, then the north, then south.  The western quarter is left untouched.

The explanation here is spiritual, but its story exists somewhere in a micro cassette tape that probably made its way to a market in Mozambique after disappearing, with my backpack, sleeping bag, and tent, from a campsite on Mulanje Mountain, three weeks after this interview and two days hike from the nearest road.  I recall David telling me that the choice to harvest in this order had something to do with honoring the spirits and the winds, and I recall wondering if this sacred explanation might mimic a biological one.  Since the eastern aspect receives different light, warmth and exposure from the western, it is likely that the chemical properties of the bark differ between sides.

Ms. Jimu collects two other plants on the way back to her compound: a woody shrub called nthula, which she uses to stabilize the skulls of newborn children, and a creeping vine that she slices at the root with her hoe and hands to me.  It has a sweet odor, something like charred anise and cinnamon and, as I say the name, gondolosi, before she begins to explain, I catch a brief look of surprise, then a laugh, from Ms. Jimu.  I know the plant because I was given a sample of the powdered root by an incredulous physician at the British High Commission in August.  I went to get vaccination boosters and, when she heard about my work, she brought out a box of medicines that healers had given to her.  They wanted her to verify or disprove the powers of their remedies, but she had neither the facilities nor the authorization to do so.  She thought I would be the perfect person to unload them on.  I took the powders home and, when I pulled out the gondolosi, my friend Samson started laughing.  Though it can be used, as Ms. Jimu tells us today, for curing chindoko (gonorrhea), its more common, and extremely popular, use is to increase male potency.  Samson would quip for weeks later that the woman doctor was trying to tell me something, though he didn’t let me get away that night before giving him a sample of the medicine.  Legislators in Malawi have since sought to license and export the plant, which they’ve begun to call Malawi’s “herbal Viagra.”

We return to the compound and Ms. Jimu begins preparations for the mphini.  Mr. Namanja stokes the fire in front of the hut and Margaret crawls towards it with the help of some friends.  Ms. Jimu cuts bark from the kachere tree into pieces and boils it to make a wash for Margaret’s legs while Namanja heats a paste that the healer prepared the day before.  The plants in the paste are secret, Ms. Jimu tells David, and rightly so, for her story will soon be made available to any curious enough to look for it.  Not all healers are anxious to have their methods tested and verified by western medicine.

To administer the mphini, Ms. Jimu brings the mtondo—the large maize mortar—over to the fire and turns it on its side as a seat.  The symbolism behind this deliberate action, like that behind the harvesting of kachere, has been lost to me.  Perhaps, having found its way to a market with the small tape recorder and numerous rolls of film that shared a pouch in my backpack, it now lies in the hands of a local merchant, being back translated from English to the creole of Chichewa and Chilomwe from which it was derived.  I comfort myself with the image of this merchant.  He has chosen to develop the rolls of film on a whim.  When he gets them back, he sees healers in full regalia at their work, and begins to suspect matsenga, sorcery, with his purchases, for little else can come from thwarting the designs of those who traffic with spirits.  He begins to keep an eye open for bad luck and it finds him at every corner—in the loss of a calf, the sickness of a child, bad business for three weeks in a row.  He realizes that he must search for the healers whose pictures he has obtained, to have his curse removed.  And in this way they eventually obtain the photos I promised three years ago.

Thankfully, the pictures of today’s interview were not among those possessions stolen on the mountain.  I am able to paste this recollection from their frozen moments, a filled questionnaire, and a set of scattered notes.  The final picture in this roll is of Margaret, taken just before we said goodbye.  She is seated in the yard, her weak legs bent under her and off to one side.  On her lap sits a young boy, and I assume it was his delivery that paralyzed her.  This was some time after the demonstration of her crutch walk, and the flush of recent victory is gone from Margaret’s face.  I would like to end on the image of a mother, finally walking with the help of a twisted wooden crutch.  But I have read Ms. Jimu’s kind letter seven times today—one for each year since the birth of that boy in the picture—and still there is nothing about the patient.  Though Margaret had the faith to walk on that day—the perseverance—her faith is not enough for me.  The unhealed cynic calls her courage sentimental—not in the moment, but in the telling.  What can we know about the mettle of this woman, dusted through a system for four years, maybe seven by now?  What can I show but the faltering walk on a crutch, the free blood dripping from her ankles?  And what can I know but what Ms. Jimu has told me:

It was like a simple thing where you came to our village interviewing us and taking photographs of us, but seeing the outcome of that exercise I see that you really did not just take us for a ride.  I did not even think or dream that my simple healing works could have an impact . . .

In this case, I truly hope they have.


Offering to Mpoza

 

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