As I climb out of bed in the morning something pops and a sharp pain sprouts up in the lower middle of my back. As a result, everything takes me three times longer than normal, so I don't make it to L'Hopital Katanda until 10:30 a.m. Urbain, Kasuera and Kahambu have all been there since 9 o'clock. The first person I see as I wander around looking for my little group is Kasuera. Today is the fourth day she and Kahambu have been making their way through the various lines at the hospital; the first day Kasuera looked so unhappy and terrified I felt guilty for trying to help her mend her broken arm. Today she is simply glowing. She greets me warmly when I arrive and scoots over on the thin wooden bench so there's enough room for me to squeeze in next to her. She starts speaking rapid fire Kinande to me. I look helplessly up at Fisto, the driver who is standing next to me; he jumps right in.
-She got her x-ray done and they're going to be putting her arm in a cast today.
Kasuera unrolls a piece of brown paper with an x-ray of her arm inside. I'm not experienced at looking at these things. Her arm is definitely broken but doesn't look as bad inside her arm as it does outside.
-That's wonderful, I say, rolling it up and handing the tube back to her. Urbain eko wapi? Where is Urbain?
Kasuera points towards the other end of the dirt courtyard and then immediately begins speaking with the woman on her right as if I interrupted their conversation. I'm glad to see she's making friends; we'll make a city girl out of her in no time.
It takes only a few minutes to find Urbain; the hospital compound is not big, although it is filled with people, mostly women. Yesterday, when I was here, I sat and read my book, keeping a place in line for Kasuera and Kahambu while they went to the car to eat lunch. After a few moments I heard women begin to howl just across the way. I heard that type of jarring sound at Pere Erasme's funeral. I know immediately that it means someone has died. Two women are carried on other people's shoulders as their bodies sag towards the ground with grief. They are helped into a red truck and shortly after several men emerge carrying a cot with a body covered in an old blanket. I wonder who it is, old, young, male, female. Whoever they are, their feet are covered in a flowered sheet, but poke out from underneath the blanket. People crowd around. It's the third person I personally know of who has died in only the last two weeks. I think of the little girl in Isale and hope she is doing okay. Today there is no such sadness, only the bustle of women chatting and moving around.
Urbain and I talk money. He says the women are happy at the hotel they're staying in and they feel safe. The hotel is $6.00 a night for a room. I explain that I'm having a meeting with Maman Marie and Jean-Paul, the COPERMA psychologist, at the office. He says there's nothing for me to do at the hospital anyway, so it's okay with him if I leave. He'll wait with the women. Kahambu, the other woman at Katanda, is a woman from Isale who has the same infection that Kasuera had when they cut off her thumb. Kahambu's middle finger is swollen like a little balloon, but the Doctors say she only needs a simple incision since she didn't wait until the digit was dead. That makes me happy.
Back at the office Maman Marie explains that Jean-Paul can't make it to the office today, so we have to push the meeting back until tomorrow morning. We're meeting to discuss the finnalities of the psychosocial assistance program we're setting up at each of the centers. The plan is to have the village mothers elect one mother who will act as an active and objective listener for anyone in need of emotional support, specifically the young rape victims. Priests are a conflict of interest because of their views on Plan B/The Morning After Pill, but we will still be doing "sensitization" with them to make sure they don't unintentionally make a survivor feel worse.
-Alright, well I guess my day is done here, I say. I'll go back out to Musienene and start typing up the general outline to send to Finn Church Aid.
Finn Church Aid is the one humanitarian organization that has been trying to help COPERMA, through training and small amounts of funding. I lean over to tie my boots and when I try to get back up something sticks; I don't completely make it. There is a sharp shooting pain in my back and it takes my breath away. I haven't been doing any physical labor and I look worse than the 82-year-old priest I live with.
-Amy, you have to get that fixed, says Maman Marie getting up and looking at me with a worried expression.
-No, don't worry, it will pass. It's just a muscle strain or something.
-Urbain had that before, exactly the same. He bent over and then it hurt hard and he couldn't get up. He went to handicap and got a pomade and a massage and he was all better.
I start to protest and then stop. A massage sounds kind of nice.
-Do you mean Handicap International? I ask.
I know for sure the French humanitarian organization doesn't give out massages.
-No, it's a local place for handicaps. They'll massage you and you'll feel better.
It has taken me a solid minute to fully straighten so I reluctantly agree.
-It's not going to hurt is it? I ask.
I have no idea what a Congolese massage entails.
-No, it will feel very good. You should go.
Maman Marie and I climb into the car. I didn't know you could get a massage in Congo. It sounds fantastic right about now, maybe I should have given more credit to the idea of a massage from an elder when Kasuera mentioned it. Granted, my back isn't broken.
After about ten minutes of painful bouncing we pull up to a courtyard and I recognize the set-up immediately.
-Maman Marie this is a hospital!
-Yes, of course.
-I don't need to go to the hospital, I thought we were just going to take me to get a massage of some sort.
-We are. We'll talk to our friend who will give you a massage and pomade and make it feel much better.
This is starting to make me nervous.
-If you don't get treatment, you will eventually look like that man.
She points out the window to a very old man hunched over at a 90 degree angle. There's no arguing with her so I simply sigh and follow her out of the car. After speaking briefly with the intake person a male nurse ushers me into a dark little room with two wooden chairs, a wooden desk and a bench that's slightly higher than the rest of the furniture.
-When did it start?
The nurse gets started right away.
-This morning; I just want some pomade to help the muscles relax, that will be plenty.
-What were you doing when it started? Were you doing hard labor?
I hate admitting this because it adds to the fragile-muzungu image, but there's no way around it.
-No, I mutter. I just got out of bed and it started hurting.
Maman Marie is standing in the room and she cuts in.
-Give her a massage, that helped our other co-worker before.
The guy looks at her skeptically, I can tell he's not used to giving people muscle massages.
-It's okay, just the pomade and I'm happy, I say.
He stands up and reaches out for Maman Marie's shawl. She hands it to him and he lays it across the high bench. I nervously climb onto the bench and lay down on my stomach. The nurse pulls my shirt up halfway and my pants down enough to make me feel slightly uncomfortable. I'm not exactly a modest person, but I've also never shown Maman Marie my butt-crack before. The nurse rubs something on his hands and starts pressing into the muscles that I indicated were hurting. It feels nice. Suddenly, he starts digging his thumbs into my spine as hard as he can. It feels like someone is grinding the handles of two screwdrivers up and down my back.
-Aaagggghhhhh. Oh. Jeez. Strong. Thumbs.
I'm normally quite good at keeping a poker face when something hurts. I was an avid athlete growing up and I have three older brothers, so I'm used to being knocked around a bit. I can't even begin to control it this time. He lets up a little and I can breath again.
-Oof, that was highly unpleasaaaaaaaaccckkk.
He grinds his screwdriver thumbs into the most painful spots for about two minutes while I flail around on the table. Finally, he stops. I flop my head around to look at Maman Marie; she is smiling at me as if she just watched a great new film. I'm breathing heavily and can't even speak.
-You can get up, the nurse says briskly. I'm going to give you some anti-inflammatory medication and the pomade, it will cost $5.00.
I work on climbing off of the table and getting my muscles to listen again. We walk into the next room where a short little woman in another white coat is fiddling with various pill bottles. I do not need medication; I've had muscle strains before and I know it will pass in a few days if I stretch and don't do anything too strenuous.
-Don't worry about giving me the pills, I say to the squat little woman who looks like a plump apple.
-Take the medication, Maman Marie says. It's not really pills anyway, it's suppository.
I'm sure I've misheard or the word means something different in French. Before I can ask further, Maman Marie sticks one finger in the air and then makes the motion of bringing it behind her back; the message is quite clear. She's still smiling at me.
-What?! I am not taking anal suppositories for lower back-pain!
I get out of my chair as quickly as my back will allow and get ready for a fast exit.
-Don't worry, the little apple woman adds. Nobody else is going to do it for you, you can put them in yourself.
She pulls out a package of what look like bullets wrapped in plastic.
-You stick this part into your anus first. It makes it so there is friction in the body when your rub the pomade on you back.
-Friction? What are you talking about? I am sorry, but there is no way I am using suppositories for mild muscle pain. Keep them, it will be a waste if you give them to me.
-You will take them, the little apple says sternly. Take one every day for seven days.
I look back at Maman Marie, half worried the two women are going to wrestle me to the floor and make me take the medication; they're both looking at me like an angry mob that's just located a traitor in the ranks.
-Here are some other medications too, she says.
Little Apple hands me plastic bags with various white pills in them.
-What are they?
She rolls her eyes and laughs as if my question is a preposterous suggestion that I might actually know what the medical words mean, but I can also tell she doesn't know the names right off the bat.
-These ones are anti-inflammatory and these are antibiotics.
Antibiotics and anal suppositories for back pain? No wonder people prefer traditional healing.
-Okay. Give me the medication.
I throw the $5.00 on the table and stuff the various things into my bag. I leave the room immediately and walk quickly back to the car. After a moment Maman Marie climbs into the front seat.
-Maman Marie, I'll use the pomade but I am not taking the rest of that medication.
-Then give it to me! I have lots of sick people I can give it to.
-But you're not a Doctor. You should not be handing out antibiotics in unknown doses, or anything at all when you have no medical training.
-But they're sick people. They need medicine.
I am baffled by this entire conversation and experience.
-No. I'm not giving you the medication.
-Fine. Well, you should take all of it anyway.
I don't argue anymore. I let Fisto drive me home in the car, per Maman Marie's insistence that the motorcycle will be too painful. On the ride home I contemplate how one gets rid of anal suppositories in Congo.