I come from Nyakach, somewhere at the foot of Nyabondo plateau. We sometimes refer to my village as Got Mesa, meaning table land. In my village, men are not supposed to cry. My father taught me this since I was young and it has become part and parcel of me. I have labored to follow this rule but sometimes i just cant. I remember crying when I could not bear the pain of my broken bones. Sometimes I cry when emotions overwhelm me in medicine, but this i do with tears flowing inwards, deep down into my soul. Sometimes my soul fills to the brim and a few tears drop from my eyes. At such times, I have to wipe the ones that come against my will, but sometimes in the confines of my room I let them flow.
When I was young about five years or so, i remember Otoyo Chiambe undergoing the wrath of a ritual process. He was a teenage boy then. He was tall, hairy and brave.I admired him and often went with him herding along the banks of River Sondu Miriu. One time he had saved a goat from the menacing jaws of a hungry crocodile. He escaped with a few injuries though but the goat ended up on the dinner table moments later, its injuries were not compatible with life.
On that day when he was being initiated into the ways of our land, his bravery was tested a great deal. the ceremony started at dawn when the first cock crew. Otoyo’s father had brought in the fattest bull from his herd.There was plenty of food because it was the harvest season. the women had started cooking and some were welcoming guest from other villages. the ritualist was somewhere with the boys teaching them the ways of our land. Oluoch son of Ndonga was nowhere to be found. He could not visualize himself losing his six lower teeth. Seeing him now in medical school, I wonder how he would have looked like had he lost his teeth because even with teeth, he looks like an incarnate of the devil.
The ritual took place at the crack of dawn the next day. The lower teeth were to be removed by tying them with a special string made from sisal and a heavy stone tied at the other end. At the count of three, the stone would be lifted slightly and jerked, coming down with the teeth and streams of blood. Some initiates shouted in great pain but Otoyo held his peace. I knew he felt pain. He kept calm as if nothing happened. No tears. This was bravery at its apogee. I admire him to date.
Almost twenty years have gone since that day. I am in medical school learning how to care for mankind. Whenever I see a man crying, I always know that it is surely something that he can not hold back. My whole purpose is to alleviate pain and suffering. That is exactly what am learning to do and sometimes I actually do it. I remember my professor telling me that “You can have your name in the lights with subordinates hanging around in your lightest world, but as long as you can not relieve pain and suffering, you are as good as nothing.”
The pain of cancer sometimes leave my patients chanting and howling in misery. whenever I think of Otoyo and see my patients especially men crying, things do not add up. Men can contain pain but when it gets to the point when they cant hold back their tears, then it must be real pain. If you haven’t known pain, it can be a simple statement but it isn’t I tell you.
The other day we received a patient who could not pass urine. This man came writhing and wriggling like a worm. He was crying and calling the name of his forefathers at the presence of his wife and children. This man cursed everything and everyone he thought was responsible for his calamity. He saw me and stopped crying. He said daktari several times and only his eyes invited me to his world, world of misery and suffering. I am happy I was there, to relieve him of this burden that came along in the journey of life. Together with Dr Odhiambo, we inserted a catheter and drained him of urine.in those moments of the convalescent, tears gave way to a smile and great relief. This guy promised me a goat. it was a momentary relief but it meant joy to me and to him.
Otoyo made me believe that when pain is pain, a man will usually cry. Whenever they cry, i am glad I am always there, to relieve the pain, even if for a moment.