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An avocado broke my finger

| Friday, September 9, 2016

Last May, I embarked on an adventure that would ultimately change the direction of my life (and my left middle finger). I worked with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Gulu, Uganda. From these incredible women I learned so many things, like how to make industrial quality liquid soap, groundnut butter and mango marmalade. During this time, I learned to embrace a simpler life where I appreciated what I had and did not miss what I lacked.

Part of this new routine involved picking our own produce, like avocados. One sunny afternoon, I assisted one of the compound’s workers, Sunday, in his task of harvesting avocados. Never dreaming that, of all the things I had done during the summer, this could be a risky endeavor, I joyfully joined the escapade. I watched him throw down the massive fruits to my site partner. I did not think about how Ugandan avocados are the size of my head or that they are hard as rocks in that stage of growth. I did not think about how my site partner (who succeeded at cradling several of the flying bombs out of the air with the utmost finesse) is an accomplished softball player and therefore comfortable with that kind of catching action. All I thought was that I was in Uganda. I was having an adventure. And, gosh darn it, I was going to catch an avocado.

The first two attempts failed stupendously and the poor fruits slipped between my outstretched hands, slamming onto the ground. The third try proved to be the charm. I put on my game face and caught one of those suckers right out of the air. This, unfortunately, made me cocky, and when the fourth fruit flew my way, I used poor form and proceeded to slam my middle finger vertically into the avocado.

The injury itself didn’t particularly bother me; I took some Motrin and just tried to blow it off. I worked at the vocational school’s health center, where I saw brave people bearing the brunt of their afflictions when medical resources were lacking, and I was not going to stir up a fuss about some finger injury. It wasn’t until one of the sisters saw my purple, crooked finger a few days later that she instructed me to go to the clinic. Once there, I was told there wasn’t anything I should do, but I was given antibiotics and instructed to “put some aloe vera on it.” I didn’t want to question the wisdom of medically-trained professionals too much, so I followed their instructions and didn’t think about my finger for the rest of the summer. I was, after all, living with people who had lived through the horrors of Joseph Kony and come away with so much worse than injured fingers. Broken or not, I had no right to complain or ask for further medical attention for a finger when I was working with a young man who didn’t have arms.

It wasn’t until I came back to the States, had my finger X-rayed and was given a splint and some occupational therapy rehabilitation putty that the full impact of that experience hit me (pun intended). In a developed world, I was allowed to worry about my finger. I was allowed to think about the long-term effects of a non-fatal injury. I was allowed to worry about how such an injury might change my quality of life in a way my friends in Uganda were not. The differences in our health care systems that I had slowly absorbed during the summer came down to this: I expected my health care provider to offer me the tools to lead an uninhibited, quality life, whereas in Uganda they simply hope for life.

What becomes of the sense of self-worth when such messages are internalized? How can human dignity be universal when resources are distributed in such a way that some people can expect complete care while others are grateful for a heartbeat? Must we only care about the well being of the whole person, down to their fingers and toes, in places of affluence?

This summer, I learned that living without could give you so much more in life. When you don’t rely on physical amenities, you seek fulfillment in yourself and your surrounding communities. I learned that living simply does not mean you simply live. Even simple living, however, requires a few basic necessities that still grossly lack in many parts of the world, including adequate access to water, food, education and health care. These are the basic things that we, as a global community, hope to provide for all persons. Still, we need to ensure that we view this quest for betterment through the lens of universal human dignity. It shouldn’t be a luxury to care about the holistic care of a person. All people should value their quality of life. They should not feel shame for voicing needs or pains. Of course, big picture development goals are important, but so too are the little ones. Self-worth is a treasure. All people are important, even their fingers.

Rosemary Pfaff


Sept. 8

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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