Tuesday, June 17, 2008

All Eyes on Blind Town

There is an enormous rock in the heart of the city where the blind and the lepers have been sequestered. Although their location is central to the main mosque, and teaming with thousands of people, the location of this colony is a mystery to many native Jos-dwellers. In the winding city streets, I could not find BlindTown on my own, and am not positive that I would want to. The colony itself is an enigma to me, both repelling and enticing, very much like a weight room but without all of the shiny Nautilus machines. The effect is the same. The self-sacrificing half of my nature is forced to drag the self-indulgent half onto the bus with a wary anticipation of what I might step in as I am treating patients and being climbed on by dozens of excited children. But as with a physical work-out, I am usually left with the exhaustedly contented glow of self-denial as I climb back onto the bus, retreating back into the sanctuary of my plastered home with two flush-toilets.

I have always heard that to be deficient in one of the five senses causes the other four to stand at attention. Surely this is true. For the inhabitants of BlindTown, I can only hope that the olfactory sense has not been kicked into overdrive, compensating for the lack of visual acuity. That would be a double whammy. Being that the community is built on rock, there is no pit latrine, no outbound plumbing system, no pipes to carry away the stuff that should be evacuated. There is, however, a sewage-pool accumulated in the center of the colony, flowing freely down the corridors as the ground slants downward to the base of the rocky hill on which the place is constructed. One must watch carefully where one steps, but for here, “watching” is a luxury that few possess.

For many years, the National community healthcare providers from City Ministries have trekked into the bowels of Blindtown, befriending and treating the thousands of people who live there. Usually in groups of four, they pack their medical supplies in a large duffel and traverse the narrow pathways between the mazes of homes. First to the chief, whose compound is inhabited by his three wives and many children. All of the adults are blind, while all of the children are sighted. He is gracious, inviting us into his small bedroom to check his blood pressure and inquire of our work and our families. He thanks us for coming and re-issues an invitation for next week’s outreach. One of his sons has stepped on a rusty nail that went clear through the foot. Another of the girls has a high fever. Almost all of the children’s heads are caked with the familiar white crust of fungus. But each is enthusiastic about our visit, bouncing around the newcomer like so many rubber balls. She has a camera, and they eagerly pose “for a snap.” Not a shy one in the bunch, they grab our hands, pull at our extremities, and demand our attention, smiling from ear to ear as they babble on in Hausa. I respond in English to tease them, and they snicker and repeat with a nasal whine, the tell-tale noise of the Bature (white). After treating each of the ailing in the compound, we move to the next block of homes, weaving a trail through the complicated lanes. The children follow, yanking our arms and pulling at my watch. We sing songs in Hausa, careful not to be too overtly churchy in the strictly Muslim district. My head is covered with a scarf, but as I squat to assess blood pressures, the children reach beneath my “head-tie” and pluck a bottle-blonde hair. A souvenir. I prefer the hair pulling than the arm-rubbing. Sometimes they will lick their fingers or spit on my arm, then try to rub the white off of my skin. Why is it so stuck? The people are gracious and appreciative of the house calls. There is one old woman who is confined to her room. Although there is a small window, it opens to a covered walkway, and no sunlight comes in. The only entrance is a 3-foot door, and as I stooped to enter, I wondered if she missed the sunlight. Then I remembered that she was blind from birth and had always missed the sunlight. She never leaves her little rabbit hole, and was grateful that we came to visit, to medicate her soaring blood pressure, and to break up the monotony of her day. The next compound was home to the Secretary, who is a charismatic sixty-something. He was quick to greet us, to acknowledge that it is God who gives us the grace to love his people, and to introduce us to his newest wife – a 12 year old visually impaired child who was busily grinding tomatoes with mortar and pestle. They both appeared happy, but my eyes have been known to deceive me.

As we were leaving the colony, I noticed something uncommon in this corner of the world. Commenting to our “pharmacist” that I had seen many working light bulbs over the doorways, he assured me, “Here in BlindTown, there is light all the time.” How peculiar that those who are incredibly needy have an abundance of something they cannot use, while we who are accustomed to abundance do not appreciate that which we feel entitled to have.

Monday, June 2, 2008


A few summers ago my Aunt Barbara introduced my family to a reality show filmed a la PBS (I.O.W. - CLEAN) about 5 families sent from the real world to 1860's Montana. My Mom, born in the wrong era, salivated over the idea of having to rough it through the hard winter, armed with a few sticks and shovel, or some ridiculous scenario like that. But as I watched the show, I thanked the Lord for light bulbs and microwaves. Now my Mom is living in the land of perfect power and I am rubbing sticks together, trying to remember all of the tricks I learned in Brownies. (I only went for the cute brown outfit and can't actually recall any tricks.)
I abhor complaining: #1 - it is boring to complain. #2 - it is illegal as far as God is concerned, and #3 - I really do have an awesome life. BUT, we need a little re-wiring done in our lives, and writing is a good way for me to process, so here goes. (If you can't tolerate a little venting, stop reading now and I promise that I will be more upbeat on my next entry.)
Our power company is called NEPA, which the locals have affectionately dubbed "Never Expect Power Again." They give us an unending supply of prayer material, as we enjoy their services less than 2 hours per day. Having light here requires a gamut of electronics that I had never heard of prior to our leap over the ocean 4 years ago, things like - step down transformers and 5,000 watt stabilizers and change over boxes and inverters. I still don't know what any of those things are, but I am beginning to learn that they are a necessary part of having light in my home. So each week, one of these crucial things catches fire or we hear a large boom coming from the office where they are kept, smoke following the sound as thunder follows lightening. There has never ever ever been a time when all of our appliances were running, the lights were all on, and the hum of electronic tranquility filled our happy home. But we have learned to live with the bumps in the world governed by NEPA.
However, this weekend, we lost our seventh stabilizer, our 110 transformer (which powers all of our American electronics), and our change over box was popping and hissing as if to blow. Nothing worked. So we emptied the fridge and threw food to the dogs again, and took the portable DVD player to the neighbors to charge for an evening respite of Andy Griffith. (All of our neighbor's electricity worked beautifully.) But just as we settled into our dark room to enjoy a little humor, I flipped the switch to turn on the DVD player and guess what happened? In Hausa we say, "Ba aike." No work.
So the electrician who has become my closest friend, has assured us that with only $2000 we can have our house re-wired with Nigeria's best cable, and hope for the best. But as I feel my blood boiling, knowing that the re-wiring may or may not be a successful solution, I know in my heart that it is ME that requires an overhaul. "My grace is sufficient for you, for My POWER is made perfect in your weakness." I know that these LIGHT and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all, but it is the pits right now. I feel like I am the one in need of re-wiring, a boost of grace to get me through the warm fridge and dark nights. So we pray for grace, and light, and good wiring within and without.