Ildikó Turóczi travelled to Cameroon to the Esu tribe in 2011 as a freelance doctor, where she volunteered for 2 months: working together with local collegues they set up a healthcare institute. In 2013 she travelled there again, her goal was to expand the “hospital”, and to continue her cultural research. She met Collins then, a 9 year old orphan boy with HIV, whose school she payed for and whose fate she tracked until his death a year later. They started the orphan-program for kids with similar fates as Collins, their aim is to integrate orphaned children into communities and ensuring their education’s cost. The compulsory tuition fee, the school uniform, shoes, schoolbag and their schoolbooks come up to 50 euros a year. They started the program in the beginning of December, 2014, and in 2 weeks 41 of the Esu-tribe’s orphans found sponsors, they are still searching for similar help for 19 more children.
– Why Cameroon? Did you become attached to this country and the people living there?
Ildikó Turóczi: – Cameroon was mostly coincidental, in 2011 I terminated my contract with an insurance company, and I looked for some volunteer work. After a short search on the internet I applied to a Nepalese and an American organization that worked in Cameroon. The latter replied instantly, so I started preparing, but I couldn’t finish on time so I was left out of the common project. They recommended that I should contact their Cameroonian partner organization directly, which I did. They sent me an invitation, and again I started preparing enthusiastically when I found out that for the Cameroonian visa I would have to travel to Moscow which seemed absurd enough to make me cancel the trip. The answer came from Cameroon: we will help you with the visa, go ahead and buy the ticket, and start my journey. I started and they really did help.
I planned my first trip to be 2 months, and indeed I didn’t stay longer, but we had started a joint effort that seemed challenging enough to get me to come back a year and a half later, this time for a longer period.
I didn’t get to know the country, because my work and the common project with the locals tied me to the tribal kingdom, where I ended up during my first trip. I lived in this community, I got to know the locals’ ways, I was initiated and I became their doctor. And yes, I became attached.
– In your family what examples, preludes, traditions were there for volunteering, helping selflessly?
IT: – I don’t know about volunteering but my father’s mother was a pious soul and my mother’s selflessness is also well-known.
– What difficulties did you have when battling superstitions?
IT: – If you are thinking of witchcraft, the existence of protective and harmful witches, the belief in the ancient spirits, then I did not view these as superstition. This is just as much a part of the locals’ way of thinking, their belief system as monotheism is for Christian people, so I was/am curious and interested rather than dismissive or preachy.If I denied witchcraft in a society where everyone “knows” about the existence of it, I could do it, but the result would be that they would be quiet about it, they would deny it from me, they would withhold their witchcraft practices. These have a cultural significance and they also make everyday occurences very exciting. On the other part, because of my work, it is important to know about them, because the herbs, potions used can change the symptoms or course of certain illnesses. It is a whole other story, what effect all the witch –stories have on a person’s imagination, how it can slowly build into your thoughts. This can be very frightening, I would like to quote David Signer: “I remembered, what an ethnologist collegue once told me: once you start finding everything normal, it’s time to pack up and go home.”. (African Withcraft, Hungarian Lettre Internationale, 38., 2000) He is right. After 6 months it was time to pack up and come home, not just because of this, of course.
– What does it mean “Freelance family doctor”?
IT: – To me it means that I have a freelance license endorsed by the doctors’ college, and this allows me to work as an employed doctor, a volunteer or at a private practice, but I can also make a contract with a medical insurance company too.
– From the ancient, natural medicinal practices, which would be useful in our “western” medicine?
IT: – This is a difficult question, and unfortunately I can’t give a straight answer. It is important to believe in the healer, the healing process and the healing. The immediate and the wider community’s ( friends, family) active, reassuring participation in the healing process is important, and that they don’t leave the patients alone but take care of them and share their trouble. Respecting the patient’s belief and sensibly incorporating this into the healing procedure is just as important as the patient’s active participation in the healing process.
It is also important to note that along “western” medicine there are more and more alternative treatments, and more and more choose these. This wouldn’t be a problem, if the alternative healers were appropriately prepared. I am afraid that just as the tribal-kingdom’s shaman descendants are mostly charlatans, so are the alternative healers. Their knowledge is often superficial. It is also true, that instrumental medicine cannot substitute the patient-centered healing, the regular treatments fraught with protocol are not always tailored to the patient’s needs, and the primary care has more administrative bureaucracy than actual time and attention spent on the patient.
– What are your plans for the near future?
Ildikó Turóczi: – The most important thing now is to keep the “orphan” program in motion. Then, our next plan is to build a children’s home for HIV infected children, this is a larger project which would provide a family-like background for the children and would take on the cost of education and health care for them. Meanwhile we would like to continuously develop our “hospital”. I plan my trip back there for next year, along with the previously mentioned I would like to continue my work in mapping the tribe’s traditions, habits, rituals and the changes as well.
(Translation: Zsuzsó Sárközy)