Monday, April 03, 2006

Sunday Night Screams

It was very helpful for us to have Deborah there to be our “cultural translator.” One of our first nights in Lui, she warned the group that we might hear screams at night. And she prefaced it by assuring us that – in either case – we would have nothing to fear, because our Lui hosts would be sleeping with “one eye open” to protect us. She assured us that it would probably not be a real sign of danger. She said if that happened, it would be from one of two sources.

First, there’s a “crazy woman” in Lui who sometimes goes on a screaming rampage around the village. The local folks say this is a woman who had some trauma a while back, and started drinking the local “moonshine” and has lost her mind. Sometimes she runs around the village screaming. But, Deborah assured us, she is not a threat.

Or we might hear screams if there was a death in the Samaritan’s Purse Hospital that’s adjacent to Lui village. She explained this is a custom of the Moru people. When someone is in the hospital, the family is there with the person. And if the person dies, the family does this primal scream at the moment of death. And they will continue to make that screaming sound as they carry the body home to wherever the family home is – even if it’s 30 or 40 miles away – as they carry the body home, on a bicycle (if they’re lucky) or on their shoulders (as it more common).

Well, that was interesting. But that was Deborah’s commentary on one of our first nights in Lui. I filed it away as interesting anthropological information.

You already see where I’m going, though, don’t you?

Yep! Sunday night, Sandy and I had just settled down to bed in our tukel and were half-asleep. All of a sudden, we heard the most unearthly howling sound. I don’t remember which of us rose up out of our beds first, but we both came awake and alert. We thought maybe it was a dog or a jackal. Certainly, it was a wild animal in immense pain – or maybe rabid. But all we really knew for sure was that it made our hairs stand on end, and we quickly checked the lock on our tukel door. It was just too scary! and went on way too long!

The next morning, once our folks in the compound were up and stirring around, we had a chance to ask Deborah about it. Yep! she confirmed, it was the sound of a family mourning someone who had died last night in the hospital. I was skeptical at first. I truly could not believe it had been a human sound. It was so primal! so unearthly!! But I came to believe she was correct.

And partly I came to believe she was correct because it happened again a couple of nights later, as our little band of missioners was visiting in the compound after dinner. We were visiting and laughing and – all of a sudden, there came that high-pitched keening. We fell silent.

As I told Sandy that night when were back in our tukel, I had never had that kind of experience – of realizing that this very moment someone had died. We sanitize death so much in our culture. But to have our laughter rent that night – in the realization that someone had just lost a person they loved – was a profoundly solemn moment. Probably you doctors, nurses, and priests reading this have had that experience. I had not. Most of us had not. And the pain was so raw.

I don’t have smart, analytical words to talk about it. It just hurt.

No comments: