Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gospel, God and Going crazy

I’ve done some pretty crazy things since arriving in Swaziland, but deciding to go into town, in the pouring rain, was perhaps the craziest of them all.
I needed to buy some water and all morning I waited and waited for the rain to stop. By afternoon, I realised that the rain and the blistering cold had set in. I decided to catch a combi into town. You have to feel particularly brave to catch a combi- they are little dilapidated mini vans which the locals use. They are always over packed- for example, if the seat is supposed to seat two, then four sit on the seat. I’m really surprised I haven’t caught TB yet because you are literally sitting on people who are hacking up sputum and spluttering saliva. However, it was my only option for getting water, so I waited outside the hospital for one to arrive.
There were a group of young people also waiting and they kindly offered me to wait under their umbrella. I estimate that the group was in their late adolescence, maybe early 20s. The combi took a long time to arrive. It was so bitterly cold- the wind was cutting through me like a knife and I was getting wet despite the umbrella. However, despite the difficult circumstances, the group started to sing. This leads me to a topic that I have not yet discussed previously in the blog.
SWAZIS SING ALL THE TIME. It does not matter what time it is or what is happening- they sing. Some of them are particularly good and this group at the bus stop harmonised in a way that was truly mesmerising. They tend to also stomp their feet to set the rhythm for everyone else to follow. This particular group was singing gospel and despite the fact that it was in SiSwati, I think they were singing about Jonah.
Christianity is truly alive and well in Swaziland. There are churches of every Christian denomination here and the people are devoutly religious. The only songs I hear are gospel. I wake up every morning to gospel songs. At lunchtime, when I return to my flat to eat, I hear the other staff members in the chapel singing gospel. On the weekends, gospel songs are heard over loud speakers for the patients to enjoy. The nurses often sing gospel songs to themselves as they are working (much the same way in which I would hum a song from Delta Goodrem or Kylie). I often see groups of girls and boys walking into town, singing gospel as they travel along the dusty roads.
A few times a week, a group of women from a nearby church come to sing gospel to my patients on the ward. I have to exert a certain tolerance of this because I am usually still doing my wards rounds and it is hard to concentrate when a group of passionate singers are singing the virtues of God.
Preachers tend to have free reign on the wards. They do not preach quietly. They remind me of American evangelists- they are loud, they are flamboyant and they speak with fervour and passion. I don’t understand what they are saying, but one day I asked the nurses and they told me that the preacher was telling the patients that God would cure them of their illness.
Doctors here often pray before they start operating or seeing patients. One of the surgeons here wears a baseball cap that reads “I love Jesus”. A few weeks ago, one of the nurses was lamenting that she had lost her “prayer partner”- another nurse suggested that she ask Dr Melanie to step into this position, but I wryly replied “I would not make a good prayer partner”. Maybe it was the way I said it, but they erupted in a fit of giggles. So many people have embraced me and asked God to bless me that I sometimes wonder if I am now able to walk on water.
I guess this is what I struggle with most. I was baptised in the Anglican church but I have to admit that I cannot remember the last time I attended church. Mum sent us to Sunday school as children and she then spent thousands of dollars educating my sister and I in Catholic secondary schools. A lot of people presume that I am religious given the way I have chosen to live my life, but I have to admit, I struggle with the concept of God. I don’t know if there is a God and certainly, since arriving in Swaziland and paying witness to the devastation here, I have a hard time believing that God exists or truly cares about people. I know this may offend some of you who are reading this, but I always promised myself that I would be nothing but honest with what I wrote on these pages.
Despite my uncertainty surrounding “God”, I do believe I am a spiritual person. I have a belief in humanity and rather than praying to God, I actually spend a bit of time praying for humanity. It’s not something I do as a ritual or before I go to bed at night, I just spend time in silence, meditating and reflecting on my hopes for the world and its people. I try to live a good, compassionate life that is honest and committed to the good of others. I’m not sure this has much to do with whether or not I believe in God.
When I first arrived here, I could not understand the unwavering faith of these people. These people often don’t have enough money to eat or drink and they are struck down with one of the most devastating epidemics to afflict mankind. I found it difficult to comprehend that they would think that God loves them. Now, after a few weeks of silent observation, I realise that God is all they have. If they find comfort and peace in His existence then I should do everything I can to support this. I wish I could find that inner peace and devotion to help me get through this experience here. I wish Gospel songs didn’t give me a headache.


graemew said...

Peace be with you my little Child.