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Love in a time of Ebola


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I heard your wail ricochet across the land

the day they told you that your child was gone.

For days you had wiped his sweat-drenched brow

cleaned his vomit

until at last you wrapped him on your back

walked to the hospital

hot sun testing your strength.

Your rhythmic movement

comforting his ravaged body,

Your voice soothing

reminding him of his name, of who he is

Wrapping him in mother-love.

At the hospital you found

alien-clad in mask, overalls, gloves and glasses

Healers in a time of Ebola.

They wrenched him from your arms

‘Patient no 1029’.

Stripping him of his name.

“Isolate.”

The cold metal trolley rolled him

squeaking into a

bleach-cleaned room that only they could enter.

Then they

sprayed you clean with bleached water

and locked you up

for 21 days.

With only the clothes on your back

You sat.

One question forming and unforming:

“How will he heal without a mother’s touch?”

You wanted to speak

But the words stuck to your throat, tears carving a valley inside

creating a pool so deep you were starting to drown within.

Your hands burned with healing love that even the tears could not drench.

Then one day they let you out.

“Go home in peace.”

You asked to see your child.

“He is gone.”

You stood very still for an eternity.

Then you asked

if you could wash and dress him one last time.

If you could take him home to spend his last night

In his father’s house.

You wanted to send a message home so that they could prepare his resting place.

Alien-clad they opened the book and said,

“He was buried last week in a special bag, with the others.”

They walked you to a field not so near,

Pointed to a mound of soil, marked by a small cross with 1029.

The wire around the field held you out.

That is when I heard your wail

entreating us

To hold you lest you drowned in your own heart.

As each one heard we sang out

a song of mourning

while our tears beat out a dirge on the dusty ground below

and our feet danced the earth soft.

And our sister-circle grew.

The song travelled slow and strong through the earth

And just as you fell to the ground

It rested beneath you, holding you, softening the ground

On which you lay beaten and lost.

We sang and Mother Africa held you to her bosom

Until the pool of tears welling up within burst open pouring

Into the earth, and slowly you stopped drowning

You stood up,

Called his name, danced his farewell then

Walked back home

Back empty

Carrying the heaviness of this emptiness

In your heart.

About Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa

I am a facilitator, coach and storyteller/storyfacilitator, and use story, song, art and dialogue to facilitate change and development in individuals and organisations. Over the years I have become aware of how I have used stories to make sense of my life - and of the ways in which we all use story, consciously and unconsciously. Stories - myths, folktales and personal stories - are used to teach, to bind, to questions, to hold ambiguities, to explore, to hold up a different picture, to bring together and also to hold back, to suppress, divide and destroy. With this understanding I have built story into my work. I use it to make conscious the stories people and organisations tell themselves that either support or hinder their growth. I use them as an opening, an invitation to begin to speak about the difficult things - to name 'the elephant' in the room. I use them as an invitation to people to dream of possibilities - and I also teach people to tell and to listen to stories because without a listener there is no story. I was born in Uganda and lived there until I was in my early teens. Since then have lived in various parts of East and Southern Africa - and have been involved in development work in Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and the UK. I have also coached clients in South Africa, Namibia, the UK, Belgium, Israel and USA.

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