Ghost Stories

December 23, 2014

In spite of all the differences between nursing in the U.S. there are some similarities to how our hospital runs. The ward nurses work rotating shifts so I could be working either days, evenings or nights. We get one chunk of nights (usually 3 or 4) per month. Since Christmas break is next week, there will be no surgeries performed. All the current patients are just recovering and then going home.

That left me with a very empty ward last night. Four patients and four “hotel” patients, who have been officially discharged but live too far. Since they have follow-up appointments soon, and the hospital has room, they just sleep here.

I was the only nurse working on B Ward with 3 day crew. These guys are local Malagasy people who have been employed by Mercy Ships to help us translate and care for the patients. They could be compared to a patient technician or a nurse’s aid back home, but they do so much more than that! Our work would be virtually impossible without them.

With very little patient care to do during the long, quiet night, it quickly turned to stories and questions about Madagascar. We’ve been building relationships with this group since we arrived. The conversation turned from marriage in the states to history and culture.

Madagascar has a long history of being taken advantage of by other countries. One of our guys also works as a tour guide on a nearby tourist island. He told stories of pirates and cemeteries, underground passageways for the ancient natives to escape the English and the French who had a convenient habit of dropping by only when they needed something.

We talked about the heavy superstitions and traditions that are held in high regard by so many Malagasy people. Many still practice famadihana, which is the removal of years’ old corpses to redress and rebury them. It is an important way to honor the ancestors.

The ship does a great job of teaching us as much as they can about the culture and the traditions and history of the country before we arrive; we had 3-5 cultural briefings within the first month. Even still, some stories we heard seemed so hard to believe.

“Fady” is, most simply, a taboo. Something you don’t do, but not necessarily because of societal norms although that plays a part, but because it would upset your ancestors. It could be fady to eat certain foods. For one of my day crew, he described clams as being extremely fady. He told me about the only time he ever tried to eat clams, his throat swelled up with a large disfiguration visible externally. I would just assume he was allergic, but he insisted that he knew it was just fady.

A fady ignored could lead to deformity or disease. I asked if some of the children in our ward might be thought of in the community as having done something to deserve their different bodies. They referenced one little boy who had white blotches of skin on his back as being thought as a result of a fady.

They described people being taken over by spirits who know things that only the dead would know. They had a name for this kind of spirit, which could be either malevolent or beneficent. They described evil spirits and good spirits and it all seemed crazy to me, but so accepted to them.

I didn’t know what to think. At the very least, these were imagined superstitions. At most, something to fear that dictates your whole life and the consequences to go with it. I tried to explain that most people in the U.S. would never take these stories seriously. People would think you are crazy!

A different day crew explained that not everyone believes all of the tradition. It depends what your parents teach you. If you have Christian parents who teach you otherwise, that breaks the power of fady over your life.

It’s such a different world. It was fascinating to listen to their side of the story and how different it is from mine.

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