Saturday, August 14, 2010


For the last few weeks I've been seeing a lot more girls from the villages around Tonj. Sometimes they walk 5 hours to see me. These girls can't read and don't know how to count very well... either that or they don't know the months of the year.

Often I'll ask them when their last period was, and they'll say two months ago. Then I'll ask them what month they got pregnant and they'll say December of last year. Huh? But two months ago was June.

I just laugh and shake my head. Then I ask them how many months pregnant they are and they'll tell me they are 7 months pregnant. What? You had your period two months ago but you're 7 months pregnant? I'm often VERY confused.

Then I remember, they cannot read or write. They've never had any formal education. They do things differently here. So I do what I can and guess by fundal heights and such.

But... here's the thing. Each time I ask them how many months pregnant they are, they are able to tell me with accuracy. They have no calenders but they know very well when they are due. How? 

I finally asked one girl how she knew she was 7 months along. She smiled and explained she just counts the phases of the moon. She knows she got pregnant during a certain phase. When she sees that phase again, a month has passed. And it's been 7 moons since she got pregnant. I love it.

So this week after writing in a woman's book when I wanted her to come back for her next visit, she looked sheepishly confused. But how will she know when it's September 10? She asked me.

It made me pause. What do you mean? I asked. Doesn't anyone in your town know how to read? Is there a calender in town?, I asked. She said there were some children who went to school. She could ask them to read it for her.

It occurred to me then, that what I write in their medical books must look as foreign to them as Arabic looks to me right now... absolutely indecipherable.

So I remembered this moon thing. I told her to look at the moon tonight and come back when it is like that next time. Then it will most likely be a month. She smiled really big. Because, one, she could do that. And two... because a Kowaja knew about the moon-alenders of the village.

I smiled too. It made me pause because I keep telling these women to come back on such and such a day and am confused when they come two months later or sometimes the following week. Now I know why. They don't know how to read. They don't have shoes, why would they have a calender? 

Lord please change me and the way I look at the world. Teach me to be more culturally sensitive. Amen.