A Boy’s Grave…Now Far Away

Facts are stubborn things”  John Adams

It has been a month since I returned from South Sudan. I have adapted, once again, to the rhythms and routines of life in the First World – morning coffee, emails, appointments and fund raising activities – becoming reimmersed in family and church life, and struggling with relationship concerns and getting financially re-established…the stuff of life here.

The other day, as I was waiting at a red light – late for an appointment and worried about whether the gas gauge was accurate…I saw Wani Michael’s face.

Wani was 9 or 10 years old. He was an energetic little boy with a impish smile. He was good natured, sang too loudly in the church choir, and had a penchant for mischief. He was an excellent soccer player. Every day after school he would wander through the compound with a tightly bound knot of rags that served as his soccer ball. He constantly challenged my young co-worker, Jonathan, to a one on one match. Jonathan, who also loves soccer, would always oblige. Wani would dribble circles around him – taking great delight in watching him twist and trip on his own feet as he ran past him to score. I once had to sternly reprimand him as he was entertaining the younger children in the compound by trying to knock a birds’ nest out of a tree with his handmade slingshot. He was all boy.

The fact is that Wani Michael is dead. A week before Christmas he came home from school complaining of a headache and diarrhea. He felt better the next day, and went back to school. He left school early again with a headache, and by evening he was comatose. An IV was started and he was taken to the regional hospital 50 miles away. He was gone the next morning. He died of Yellow Fever. Yellow Fever kills about 50% of the children who contract it. Early diagnosis can improve the chance for survival, but Yellow Fever is pernicious. It’s symptoms tend to masquerade as other, less fatal, ailments. We didn’t diagnose it soon enough for Michael Wani. The fact is, that we had run out of Rapid Diagnostic Test kits.

Wani’s grave is set in front of the door to his parents’ hut. It has a simple cross on it. In South Sudan graves are placed just outside the entrance to family homes. This is so that “their hearts will not wander away from those that they care about.

The fact is that it is easy to become emotionally detached in the busyness and stress of the activities of daily life here, on top of trying to raise support for medical supplies and equipment – including Rapid Diagnostic Kits. But then there is an occasional red light that might serve to bring Michael Wani’s smiling face to mind, and his grave in front of his parents’ door.

I am glad that some facts, and red lights, are stubborn things.

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10:14

Bob Kirkman

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