Being overweight is good. It is a sign of prosperity and is considered beautiful. One of the nurses at the hospital had not seen Dr. Kubacki for a few weeks and told him that he is looking thinner. Dr. Kubacki took this as a compliment (“Oh thanks!”) whereas she was actually worried that he was ill. Dr. Kubacki has had young girls come in to the clinic asking him how to gain weight. This is the equivalent of our self-conscious concern with being “skinny” in the US.
A one food diet. The main meal is pirao: which is ground corn with water. They eat this 2 times a day as a meal. Very rarely do they eat meat; it is considered extra special to include it in the meal. When we stayed overnight when our plane was stuck in Mukwando, the village fed us chicken, along with pirao, which was a testament to how appreciative they are of the work being done.
Not much hygiene. At most, people will wash their faces. To clean up, some people will rub dirt on themselves. Very rarely, they will travel to a spring or river to completely wash up. I was taken aback to see them doing this by roads and bridges that we passed by in our car. They do not care who sees them scrubbing away! There is even one tribe that does not put water on themselves at all. Also, babies do not wear diapers. Often times, we see babies in the clinic who have urinated, and it just runs down mom’s leg. She wipes up the puddle with her skirt. Same idea for feces too.
There are different languages among people who live only 1 hour away from each other. North of Cavango, Umbundo is spoken. South of Cavango, Nganguela is spoken. The national language of Angola is Portuguese, and sometimes the children get to learn this in school. Few adults know Portuguese; the more prestigious of the community tend to know it.
School is only about 3 hours a day. The kids carry their chair to school, and it is quite the site to see a pack of them walking to class with their chairs overhead. One group goes earlier in the day, and the next group goes after them. They sit in a group outside and have class!
Those different or handicapped are embraced. There is a prevalent Albinism gene in the population, and these people are treated just like everyone else. When a baby is born with Albinism, they actually look at it as a special blessing. We also saw a toddler with Downs Syndrome in the clinic. Mom treated him just as she treated her other children, he was clean and well fed. Despite the extra resources and attention this little one needs, she met his needs, even taking him to the doctor when sick. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to raise a child with special needs in this setting.
Alcoholism is a problem. Alcohol is very easy to make. They ferment the corn, their main source of food. It is a problem mainly among men. Dr. Kubacki mentioned that a government official offers him a glass of whiskey each time Dr. Kubacki requests a meeting with him!