Jean Creasey: The Kellermann Foundation’s Batwa Challenge returns to Nevada City
Summer is winding down and many of us are left asking, “Where did the time go?” Time always seems to pass too quickly and we constantly wish for more; just a few additional hours to accomplish yet another task.
I have learned from working through the Kellermann Foundation, at the Bwindi in Southwestern Uganda, that attitudes of time and purposefulness appear differently to Africans than folks here in America. Ugandan culture tends to be less task-oriented and more relationship-driven. It has been a challenge for me to adapt, but always worth the effort.
Last February I had returned to the Bwindi to learn more about the practice of Ebino, otherwise known as “infant oral mutilation.” Ebino is a rural African practice in which Abafumu or “traditional healers” remove primary, lower canine tooth buds as a treatment of fever in infants. The results of this practice are usually limited to loss of primary canines and collateral damage to permanent teeth; however, occasionally there are consequences far more serious; including sepsis, tetanus, HIV transmission or death. As a dentist, I was curious and hoped to study ways of raising the oral health literacy of the Abafumu and the patients they minister to.
One evening, I had the opportunity to interview an Abafumu of great renown named Warren. Warren also doubles as a traditional musician at one of the nearby upscale lodges. Warren sat in front of a fire, flame and spark dancing in the soft light of early evening. He was dressed in a simple loose-fitting tunic, a broad smile emanated from under a large brimmed straw hat. He welcomed me with a haunting, melodic African tune while strumming a traditional lyre. He recognized my translator and friend, Dr. Scott Kellermann, and greeted him warmly. His eyes crinkled and sparkled in a lovely way that revealed age, kindheartedness and wisdom, all at the same time.
Abafumu are reluctant to talk with outsiders as their practices are considered illegal under Ugandan law. My opportunity to meet him was unusual, and while I was anxious to get my questions answered and back to the Kellermann guesthouse for dinner, the interview needed to be handled with care. Scott reminded me of the Ugandan phrase, Kumara Obwiire, which translates “making time,” taking the time to connect, relate and communicate. Relationships are indeed paramount in African culture.
Scott and Warren did spend time catching up as I stood by trying not to fidget. Warren recounted how Scott, who prior to founding the Bwindi Hospital, saved his wife from bleeding to death following a difficult home birth of a stillborn child. Scott, in turn recalled how Warren’s mother-in-law, a powerful Abafumu elder named Batusa, had come to Scott’s aid when he sought to collaborate with the Abafumu for preventive and outreach programs.
Indeed, the time to develop mutual trust and friendship was important to both men and had proven indispensable to the success of the Bwindi Hospital. I waited patiently until Scott eventually got around to the topic of ebino. The wait was worth it, as we were able to talk frankly, discussing the practice of ebino and laying the foundation for his involvement with my upcoming research project. Without taking the time to gain Warren’s confidence and engagement, the project would surely not succeed.
This September, two young women from Nevada County, Lauren Chang and Sadie Valentine, both pre-dental students, will travel to the Bwindi and for six months will collaborate with the Abafumu and learn more about ebino. Dr. Kellermann, who will be returning as a Fulbright Scholar, will assist them with this worthy project. Sadie and Lauren will continue the legacy of a long list of volunteers from our area who have given considerable time and resources towards improving health and education at the Bwindi. During their stay in Bwindi, they will be hosted by Nevada County missionaries, Daniel Jamison, who manages the Kellermann Guesthouse, and his wife Rachel Hodges Jamison, who works as a midwife in the hospital.
I celebrate my opportunities over the years to have worked with the Batwa pygmy community and their Bakiga neighbors. I also value what I have learned from them regarding the inestimable value of time spent building relationships. It is my small way of promoting a more peaceful world. Recently, over a cup of coffee with the former U.S. ambassador to Uganda and Nevada County resident, Mr. Steve Browning, Steve reminded me of the old East African expression: “Americans wear watches but Africans have the time.”
If you are looking for your own opportunities of time well spent, please consider learning more about the work of the Kellermann Foundation. The annual Kellermann’s Batwa Challenge, 5K run-and-walk and 10K run takes place at 8 a.m. Aug. 26 at Pioneer Park in Nevada City. Please register online at http://www.batwachallenge.com. All registration fees go directly to help the work of the Kellermann Foundation. To volunteer, please contact me, Jean Creasey, at 530-798-8858.
Jean Creasey, DDS, lives in Nevada City.
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