Yesterday our clinic hours were passing smoothly when someone ran up breathlessly with the message that an Ik man had been bitten by a snake in his garden. We told him to have the man carried up to us so we could assess his condition. When they arrived, we saw that the man looked ‘badly off’. He couldn’t walk and was confused. The Ik had already applied their traditional cures: plant fiber tourniquets and an herbal remedy on the bite itself. Not knowing what kind of snake it was, and not wanting to take any chances with this guy’s life, we decided that I would drive him to the hospital in Kaabong. On the way I tried a new road that has recently been made through the ‘bush’, thinking it was a shortcut. Big mistake. The road turned out to be terribly bumpy and rocky, sometimes little more than a cattle path. We finally got to the hospital where the nurse began treating the man. Later, a couple of doctors from Doctors Without Borders came by to check on him. Seeing that the man was stabilized, the rest of my crew and I grabbed ‘lunch’ and headed back to Timu.
The trip between Kaabong and Timu is usually tiring, but a roundtrip in under five hours is exhausting. I hadn’t exactly planned to spend my day that way. But what I had planned, or rather, hoped for was language and culture-learning opportunities. What I got was five hours with a group of happy Ik (happy to be going to Kaabong, and happy because of ‘lunch’) chattering in four languages: Ik, Karamojong, Swahili, and English. It was like a linguistic narcotic overdose. I heard so much language I can’t even remember any of it. As for cultural observations, here are a few I was able to make:
- The Ik know how to treat a poisonous snakebite. It’s no wonder too, given that for centuries traditional cures were all they had. There wasn’t a hospital or an ambulance.
- The Ik appear to dramatize or exaggerate their need for help in an urgent situation. I don’t blame them for that either, for the same reason that they are accustomed to being neglected by the ‘outside’ world.
- The Ik often prefer local beer (mes) to food, even for breakfast or lunch. I offered to buy lunch at a restaurant for all my passengers in Kaabong, but all of them turned down my offer in favor of procuring some mes. This thick beer fills them up more than food, they claim. Who can blame a chronically hungry people for wanting to feel full?
Finally, the snake bite episode provided me and Amber a chance to strengthen friendships. For a few fleeting moments, we felt part of this community we’re here to serve.