Twitter and email info

Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Excerpt #3 - "Mukhabarat, Baby!" by Eric Burkhart

(This third excerpt was pulled randomly and touches on a religious moment I experienced as a young man in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.  As I've previously noted, until the Agency has approved the manuscript for publication, I can't share any excerpts dealing with my Agency career.)

I was raised Roman Catholic and I made my Holy Communion with my brother and sister in Bad Hersfeld, Germany.  I made my Confirmation separately.  My mother and stepfather are very involved with their church.  My stepfather Chuck teaches a weekly class and dedicates much of his time to educating himself on Christianity, the Bible, and religion in general.  Chuck is a fascinating man.  He is the most intelligent person I have ever known, and as a member of the Peace Corps, lived and worked in rural India in the 1970s.  Because he is so intelligent and has unique life experiences, I find his perspective on all things to be invaluable.
Like many young people my age, I rebelled a bit against traditional religion after graduating from high school.  I was overwhelmed with the same questions most people deal with at one time or another in their lives.  I had difficulty understanding why all people did not subscribe to the same faith.  I recognized early on that some religions told a very similar story and I came to a decision that at one time all people did share the shame belief.  But as the various tribes spread throughout the world and time passed, the story changed a bit.  We humans, if we are anything, are imperfect, and the story was bound to take on separate characteristics and conform to different customs. 
I have suffered through two crises of faith in my life.  As a young man I witnessed firsthand tremendous suffering by children.  I could not understand why God would create life to be born, only to suffer and in many instances, die.  Why did God create the spark of life in the womb of a woman who was determined to have an abortion?  I remember having a conversation with myself when I was twenty-four and trying to make sense of life.  I remember deciding that I no longer believed in God.  I'm not the first person to struggle with the question of why terrible things like the Jewish  Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda are allowed to occur.  I made the decision that I wanted to live a simple life, and a complicated Father in Heaven caused me more anguish than joy.  My flirtation with atheism lasted roughly two weeks.  Again, children were the catalyst for the rediscovery of my faith.
I was working as a volunteer in Edendale Hospital just outside of Pietermaritzburg.  My running group volunteered once a month to help with cleaning, storage, and similar manual labors at Edendale, which was the "black" hospital in the community.  You can imagine how overloaded this place was.  Most of the physicians were foreign and most of the nurses were black South Africans.  The place was a fascinating, never-ending transfer of knowledge.  I used to drive by the Hospital everyday to work and it was always busy.  One of the gross disparities of apartheid- the Indian community had their own hospital, and the white community, which was smallest, was served by two hospitals and a handful of dispensaries/clinics.  I enjoyed my Sundays in Edendale.  I would drive down right after Mass (until I was no longer attending), and knew right where to go.  Fortunately the hospital was located just on the outskirts of Edendale township.  Otherwise I think the Polish, Italian and American physicians would have had an eventual nasty confrontation with life as it was for the vast majority of South Africans: going to sleep, not knowing if you will wake up.  I remember one particular Sunday afternoon at the Edendale hospital crystal clearly.  I just happened to be in the right place and and the right time, to see a baby born.  My sincerest apologies to the unforgivable invasion of privacy, but I did not expect to enter the wrong room and see a woman in labor.  You see, this was at a time when childbirth was a bit down on the list of medical priorities.  Most rural black South Africans did not go to hospital to give birth, as they do now.  Labor was assisted by a midwife and family relations.  The physicians themselves would tell me that they could not do as good a job as these midwives, who have the luxury of treating the patient in her own home, surrounded by the family that loves her.
I was in the room maybe 45 seconds at most.  I learned later that this baby was born in hospital because the mother was over 50 yrs old, so there were concerns for the health of both.  Well, there shouldn't have been, at least not for the baby.  The cord was cut and tied, the boy swatted on the butt, and as planned, he cried.....or rather he screamed.  He actually sounded angry.  This baby wasn't upset over the ouch to his backside, he was pissed that some asshole had the nerve to hit him.

No comments:

Post a Comment