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What is more dangerous: an owl or a scorpion?

A man cries out because of the pain, pulling his swollen leg as he enters the clinic. “What can you do against those nasty scorpions?” My colleague Patricia desperately asks me. She is a young doctor from Dakar who takes some vacation time to work in this mission clinic in the southern forest area of ​​Senegal. Everything is green in this beautiful region, all the more now in the rainy season. A paradise for snakes and scorpions. Fortunately, a scorpion sting is not deadly here and treatment of pain and wound will do.

“The people here are afraid but not for scorpions though, they’re afraid of owls,” explains Sambou the clinic ‘s headnurse and director as we reflect on the day in a small light in the dark of night. “Owls are the symbol of witchcraft … An owl on your roof means that someone has pronounced a curse against you. Witches can take the form of an animal and will attack their enemies at night.” The fear for the powers of darkness covers the area like a blanket. By using amulets and spells people try to protect them from this danger. Sambou has often had an owl on his roof since he is following Jesus, but he is not afraid. He has more than once experienced that the living God is stronger and has protected his family.

Patients come to Sambou for advice and treatment. Patients often ask him if he can lay hands on them and pray. They have witnessed healings occur on earlier occasions as he has done so. Sambou talks openly with patients about their family’s problems and fears. I realize again that illness can also have a social or spiritual cause. For medical staff, that requires insight and discernment. We are talking about the future of the clinic and how new staff can be trained. A training in Western medicine provides a good basis, but probably no solution for the owls that make people sick in this region. Patricia and I have understood this very well by now.


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