I am, I guess, getting a bit lazy with the hot, muggy weather and the aging process. So what I am doing today, and may continue to do for a while, is posting a segment of Chapter 20 from my book ‘Have Scalpel Will Travel.
The chapter is entitled ‘A Different Culture’. I was working on a Mission Station as a Surgeon, which was a full time job. But soon I discovered that people had to be assessed and treated taking into account different things. One of these was their religion. For instance i) the dietary requirements can cause real problems treating a post operative case during Ramadan or ii) the strong religious commitment of some created unwillingness to be seen for examination particularly by a foreign infidel iii) There was a very high incidence of low large bowel obstruction due to volvulus and in treating this certain procedures, of necessity, needed the creation of a colostomy. This stopped them going into the mosque to pray. Sometimes they chose to die, although with experience we were able to reduce the incidence of needing a colostomy. This led to one of my areas of disagreement with the Surgical Department in Addis. I am delighted that my way has won the day all over Ethiopia by this time. As seen in the picture below patients, they often presented with infected burns on their abdomens – burnt to try and drive out the evil spirits causing the problem. Or often the patient had drunk the blood of an animal sacrificed to appease the spirits causing the problem. These last two situations were seen because of the animist background of the community.
My book is an ebook, presented through Smashwords. The author is Barry Hicks and you’ll have to decide if this article or the ebook is written under a pseudonym. It is easily found on internet by typing in Smashwords.com Have Scalpel Will Travel. Memoirs of an Older Surgeon. It’s cheap and I think an interesting read; you may or may not agree on that! There are no gruesome pictures, although I have many!
Different religions. In the area there were four main religions – Islam and Orthodox Christianity made up the majority and Animism and Protestant Christianity to a lesser degree. On the whole, in Ethiopia, Islam (which is of a synchronistic variety) and Orthodoxy accepted each other. Our protestant religion was not appreciated by either although our good works with medical, educational and public health made us bearable. Animism was on the wane and members of this group were the easiest group from which people were interest in listening to us.
That is not to say that there were not those who became believers from the other groups and, as mentioned earlier, our Administrator in the hospital was a converted Orthodox priest and our senior evangelist a converted Muslim. Seeing evil spirits under every rock and tree can be very frightening and monotheism is much more comfortable. I don’t doubt the reality of the conversion of many of our converts but it is certainly harder for people to convert from one form of monotheism to another. I am convinced, however, that as Jesus is God come down in human form that His way is the one true and only way to God.
The Islam-Orthodox interrelations did lead to a few funny situations (depending I guess on your definition of funny). They both have special and different ways of killing meat. They would vie at getting those of the opposite group to eat meat killed in their fashion – and if they succeeded claimed them as converts.
Muslims had the right to have four wives but some of them didn’t count very carefully. Joan Browne recounted the story of an old customer to our outpatient clinic coming in that morning with a new young bride. Joan asked him how many wives he had now; he replied ‘three or four.’ Behind his back the young lady held up her ten fingers, closed them and then held up another five.
Another day a very strong looking wealthy young man came to me, paying the fee to avoid seeing a dresser or the nurse. Sending all, except my interpreter, out of the room he asked if I treated impotence. I asked him to define impotence, and was told that he had four wives and couldn’t service each one every night. I replied that it didn’t meet my understanding of the word ‘impotence’ and advised him not to expect quite so much of himself.
On the other hand the Orthodox (like many in the West these days) had their multiple wives in series rather than in parallel.
There was occasionally real antipathy between some people for those of other religions. This sadly led to the young Australian doctor who followed me being murdered by an Islamic zealot while he was seeking to help in a Muslim area during a severe famine. I had my life threatened a few times but no actual damage was ever done. There were two churches on our mission compound – a church associated with the leprosarium and another for the general community.
Although the days of crying ‘unclean, unclean’ as lepers pass by are past there are still good reasons under certain circumstances for keeping some leprosy patients apart from the general community. Our inpatient leprosy sufferers were hospitalized for good reasons. They were either in a reactive state, highly infective or had severe ulceration. Leprosy is a continuum of a balance between bacterial infection (with the mycobacterium leprosae germ) and a hypersensitivity reaction to the germ. At the highly infective end the patient is overrun with millions of germs and is relatively highly infectious. At the other end of the spectrum the patient has few germs (in fact none may ever be found) and the disease is the body’s response to the few germs present. These people are not highly infectious and can usually live in the community.The people with ulcers needed careful management. Those in reaction (often precipitated by the treatment being given and a body reaction to the dying germs) were often very ill and needed intensive treatment and supervision. Some of the people who were largely cured of their infectivity nevertheless were careful about mixing in the general community because of their deformities and even though no longer hospitalized preferred to worship with others with the same disease. Hence there was the need of a separate ‘leprosy’ church. Our leprosy clientele were drawn from a wide area and a number of tribes and this church had a good attendance. Many had come to Christ, willing to listen to the gospel, at least in part because the missionaries cared about them and treated them not only as patients but as people. The general church was also moderately well attended (several hundred) but the area in which we were living was strongly Muslim and most of the attendees were people who had come from different tribal areas for one reason or another.The Muslim folk were on the whole not well versed in the tenets of their religion but had been taught that two things they should not forget were ‘Once a Muslim always a Muslim’ and ‘A Muslim never changes’. Often we heard it said that what we were teaching made sense but … then I would be quoted one of the above statements.