I admit that this verse didn’t come to mind in the midst of this drama as we stood in front of the crowd in the shade of the cashew tree at the immunization clinic that hot afternoon. But perhaps it came to heart instead. Though Mariama is physically able to speak, she doesn’t speak Portuguese (the official language and the language of the educated), and her Creole isn’t that great either, so in the midst of all this emotion she’s stuttering and not able to get many comprehensible sentences out. Even if her linguistics were perfect, a young Fula woman isn’t exactly a voice of authority in a rural Guinensee village. I, however, am a white medical professional who, in their culture, automatically has some status and authority, and therefore my voice is sometimes able be heard for those “unable” to speak for themselves, such a Mariama in this given situation.
I took a deep breath and began to explain that this is a woman who has a name. She has a personal identity outside of “Fula woman” and continued to insist that I happen to know them quite well, that I see her feed him every two hours or so, get her fortified formula and baby food to supplement his diet which she buys for him … and that’s where he cuts me off and begins verbally attacking her again. He rants that she’s lying to me, that if she cared about him she would have taken him to the nearest hospital for weights and nutritional information, and he’s going take her baby away. Here’s where I’d like to say that I was angel missionary and stayed very calm and collected, however, that would be lies.
By now she’s trembling and crying. I am frankly shocked at this blatant racism and completely unprepared for the situation which is now taking place in front of a growing crowd. I then became extremely upset, having seen her suffer all these months watching her son be so sick and now for someone to try and heap blame on to her was unbearable. Seeing all of the hurt and humiliation that this poor suffering mother, my friend, was enduring I less than calmly explained to him that I AM the nearest hospital, and she does bring him to the clinic for weekly weights, and he IS on a nutritional plan. Seeing my growing discontent, this medical professional assures me that he doesn’t have a problem with me, but her, and continues to personally attack her parenting skills and deems her unfit based on her being Fulani. Seeing that this isn’t going to get anywhere, we excuse ourselves and practically run across the street, where our friend Fatimata is waiting to greet us in front of her husband’s small store. Though she’d been watching, she asks what happened and I immediately burst into tears and am unable to produce any comprehensive speech. I think she understood the “doctor’s” name, Mariama, and Mamanjan, and that was about it. Fatimata explains this man is well known for his poor bedside manner, his frequent habit of not using anesthetics for painful procedures, and hate for the Fulani. I am irate at this injustice and embarrassed at my inability to hide these emotions, and perhaps for fear of not controlling my response to them, head back to the mission house. On top of everything that just happened I feel like a massive failure. I, the missionary, just “freaked out” on a local “doctor” in front of the chief and the rest of the village. “Certainly not winning any missionary of the year awards!” I thought to myself.
After a discussion with another missionary, I recognized that I was not attacking this other healthcare provider, but was in fact was trying to give an audible voice to my friend, who was being ruthlessly attacked by people who truly knew nothing about her, purely based on the fact that she’s Fulani. As I attempted to process what had just happened, my good friend and co-missionary suggested that there is a righteous anger that that is healthy in unjust situations. That perhaps my anger for this injustice was rooted in love for these people.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak
for themselves, ensure justice for
those being crushed.” -Prov 31:8