A neighbour of ours has a new dog. He went out to town to sell some vanilla and came back with a dog he bought for K20 (£5). The dog hiked back in with him and he’s been here for a month or so now, taking the name Mumai. The nice thing about Mumai is that he’s so friendly, very unlike most bush dogs and Oscar enjoys having his fingers licked whenever he sees Mumai. I grew up with dogs and love them, and Oscar is picking it up too 🙂 I’ve also noticed Mumai is getting pretty skinny. Unlike pigs (who eat everything) the dogs here really only like to eat meat (of course) and sweet potato. If there’s no sweet potato on hand, the dog goes hungry; if there is, the dog will get a scrap of sweet potato.

A few days ago we made chicken soup using a frozen chicken. All the bones and such give a nice flavour, but obviously aren’t edible. After letting the chicken carcass cook in the soup for an hour I strip off the meat and throw the bones, skin and cartilage to the side. Thinking of Mumai we take the scraps out on our evening walk and call for him. He comes running, and so do a huddle of kids. The first thing I notice is how hungry he is! He’s not in the mood for learning to sit or anything: he snatches it right out of my hand. The second thing I notice after tossing him his third bit of vertebrae is how intently all the kids are watching. They’re practically salivating over the chicken bones. I offer the bones to them and instantly hands snatch everything out the bowl and it’s gone.

More exotic pets are around too

A few days later two kids are at our door asking for a ball (Oscar’s football isn’t going to last long.. It’s pretty much community property right now). Mumai has followed them. I was cooking dinner and had just dumped out a tin of tuna so without thinking I throw the empty tin on the floor for the dog to lick. Mumai gets to work with his tongue. One of the kids asks “What is it?” and I tell them it was tinned fish. Well they push the dog off and get in there with their fingers trying to scrape up any tiny flakes the dog missed.

A few days later again, Gerdine forgets about some rice in the pot and burns the bottom of it. We scrape off what we can and leave the blackened crust of ruined rice to the side. This time I think I have it figured out. I’ll just leave a bowl out and no one will see me giving garbage to the dog. Unfortunately, Mumai doesn’t come till the next day and in the meantime, a good few people have had a good look at the leftover rice.
There’s talk going around among the children of how jealous they are of Mumai’s provisions. Sigh! Looks like we’re going to have to stop feeding the dog scraps.

It just makes me feel so sad and impotent. I don’t feel like I can do any of the nice things I want to do. In this case, it’s not a big deal. It’s just a dog – but it’s a wider problem.

A while ago a lady came to us complaining of intestinal worms. We’re not giving out worm medicine and so we wrote down the medicine she needed to get in town. Today she came back clutching a little bag from the pharmacy. She’d hiked the few days it took to get to town, bought the medicine and come back. She wanted us to check she’d bought the right thing (she’s illiterate). It was, but it was only the dose for a single day. It’ll do her some good, but she probably needs a longer course. As we’re having this discussion on our doorstep I’m completely aware that we have a stash of this medicine in our pantry, 1m away from me… and we can’t give it.

She’s not the first person to have been short on medicine. We need to be consistent and respond the same to everyone and so we’ve decided that we’re not going to become the village pharmacy. We only give medicine for serious cases and this isn’t a serious case (Worms aren’t going to kill her). But I WANT TO! She listened to us, hiked for days to get to town especially for this medicine and I feel like she’s done enough. Surely we can help her out because she’s already gone to such lengths, but no. We’d just have jealousy, feelings of entitlement and anger when we don’t do the same for 999 other Kovol people.

I just started taking medicine for this. If a Kovol person came to us with this we’d not give any medicine

A friend of ours is building a house and asks us if we have a few spare nails. I want to give him some, as we have about 15kg of leftover nails from our house build, more than we will ever need. We can’t simply give it though. I asked a community leader previously about 45L or so of palm oil we have in our house. It was flown in by mistake to be used as chainsaw bar oil during milling. It was too thin and it was wrecking our equipment, so that now it’s just sitting here. It’s nasty, cheap oil we don’t want to use for cooking but the Kovol people would love it. I asked a leader how we could give it out.

“Well you can’t just give it out to us here; people in other villages would be cross. You need to do a big event where you invite all 7 Kovol villages and they each get the same amount of oil. ” So now we’re saving up empty containers so that one day we’ll have enough to give out the oil.

Unfortunately the same is going to be true of the nails. I can’t just give some to my friend who’s building a house. I have to split them into piles and do a big public event where I give each village their nails, and then everyone gets one or two nails each or something. Well thought through, public, consistent and fair.

I’m so tired of being firm, controlled and ruled by my head. I just want to give! But so often if I give in to my desire to do something nice, there are negative consequences. I hate it that our default response to the needs around us is to do as little as possible. It feels so wrong; but riding into every situation as the rich, foreign saviour is probably even more damaging than doing nothing. Stepping in with our resources whenever we feel like it will just make people dependent on us. Why would they diligently wash and care for their sores when they can just get free medicine from the white man? Tough love will help more in the long run, but I’m a softy.

I keep reminding myself that we’ve promised four things:

  1. We will learn your language
  2. We will teach you to read and write in Kovol
  3. We will translate the New Testament into Kovol
  4. We’ll teach you through the Bible in Kovol
Ilal showing off his fancy clothes

We didn’t promise to become the village’s health centre. My heart yearns to do more as we live here and see needs daily, but we’ve already bitten off more than we can chew with just those 4 things.

1 Comment

Colette Harding · 26/09/2020 at 7:02 am

An excellent article. It’s applicable to a number of scenarios in the west too. For example, so many times parents or people trying to disciple others, don’t let their charges suffer any consequences for foolish choices, but instead try to bail them out of every difficulty. Instead of enabling them to stand and learn wisdom, we teach them that someone else will always pick up the pieces for them, they don’t need to take responsibility for their actions and we teach them to become dependent on us. In the end it’s bad for them and those trying to help them, as it’s one continual drain on their resources, both material and in terms of time and stamina.

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