The health center has the 18 bed IPD (inpatients department), OPD (outpatient department) and a three bed emergency room where the sickest are kept. Our expat nurse, a Kiwi named Kirsten, and Austrian doc Suzanna manage the local staff working and caring for the patients. Tasks are only undertaken either by direct supervision and instruction, or by protocol. It can be hard for them, especially with so many kids dyeing of dehydration.
These poor little chickens weighing four to five kilos at one year old, seem to be the most prevalent. Their sunken eyes peer from hollowed faces, dry mouths and frail bodies covered in black flies, gasp for every breath, while the mother stares blankly, only ever asking “can I go now”.
In the belief of the Nuer people a child is not a person and if he dies will not be mourned. A small child will be buried by old women without sacrifice. They are not considered a person until they tether the cattle and herd the goats. When a boy cleans the byres (tukuls), spreads the dung out to dry, collects it and carries it to the fire, then he is a person. A man will not say he has a son until he is around six years of age.
Before I knew that I couldn’t get my head around such indifference to their own flesh and blood. After I began encouraging the mums to feed, nurse and hold their child, to give it a little love, I usually found myself avoiding them, angry at their indifference. I even wondered if these mothers were clinically depressed.