Thursday, July 31, 2008

Salvation Comes to Those Who Pay

Sanoj Mesiog is one of our Form 3 students. She’s about to graduate from Kumakwane Junior Secondary School at the end of the year. She is in the Scripture Union Club and plays on the school soccer team. She also has a history of asthma and struggles with peaceful breathing on a daily basis.

Last Saturday night Sanoj couldn’t catch her breath. In Kumakwane the health post closes at 4:00 and afterhours emergencies are sent to Thamaga Hospital… 40 kilometers away.

Sanoj’s family is very poor. They do not have a car or a phone. Like most Batswana they refuse to leave their homes at night for fear of being robbed or assaulted.

Sanoj’s mother held her through the night but early Sunday morning the girl began coughing blood. She died before the sun rose.

It is coincidence that I have planned an interview with one of the police officers today but it is fortunate. I have questions. And I am angry.

The officer tells me that there is an ambulance available in Kumakwane but that it sometimes takes hours to find and wake a driver and get the patient to Thamaga. The officer tells me that this is a major concern for the village as many pregnant women go into labor in the evening and weekends. Many of these poorly timed pregnancies have dreadful outcomes.

Still, I know Sanoj’s parents did not call for an ambulance and this makes me furious. I cannot understand why they wouldn’t have tried to help her.

And then the officer says something that clarifies this seeming negligence:

It’s cheap, the ambulance. Less than 50 pula. Maybe even 20.

20 pula is 3 dollars and 30 cents. Sanoj’s family didn’t have it.

When I heard the news at 7:30 this morning I was enraged to think that a young girl could die from a preventable problem like asthma.

But it wasn’t asthma that killed Sanoj. It was poverty.

The sun is setting at the memorial service. The students have come in their uniforms and us women arrive in skirts and head coverings. We sing hymns and pray. I understand nothing of the service so pray silently to myself

I pray for her wrinkled, barefoot, weathered mother
I pray for her tiny cement house with no glass in the windows.
I pray for the one chicken.
I pray for the beer cans littering the yard.

Our chairs are perched beneath a thick tree and the branches hang down so low they are nearly touching our heads. These branches weep yellow leaves on us throughout the service.

No one cries. Life is cheap in Africa. And expensive.

I hold a leaf between my finger and thumb and bite down hard on my lip.

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