“That’s the spleen that ate Manhattan!”
A pediatric radiologist I rotated with as a student would exclaim this when we reviewed particularly impressive abdominal scans, and (clearly) the phrase has stuck with me.
Last month at our outpatient clinic at Tenwek a thin, tall Maasai man entered the exam room with his grandson. He enthusiastically greeted us. As his grandson translated his Kimaasai to Kiswahili, intern Mike and I heard about this gentleman’s thriving family and herds, his wonderful journey here from several hours away, and how, despite his old age, his health had never been better.
Hearing the hum of patients yet to be seen and noting the young girl we’d seen thirty minutes earlier lingering outside our door awaiting her lab results, I quickly returned our patient’s greeting, assured him we’d get his usual meds refilled, and began to open the door to usher them out.
Then Mike said one word, “Lakini…”
“Lakini” is Swahili for “but.”
In Kenya, when you exchange greetings you are asked about yourself, your children, your family, your goats, your home, your farm, and whatever other personal facts with which the greeter is acquainted. The appropriate response is “Nzuri!” (“good!”) or “Salama!” (“peaceful!”).
Times when the responses “Nzuri”…
…and “Salama” are appropriate!
However, I have met friends on the path who I know have experienced recent, deep tragedy. When I ask them how they’re doing, these are still the answers I receive.
So, how do you let a friend know you’re struggling?
Your response to a salutation will always be the same, but if you’re truly not “good” or “peaceful” you end your response with one word: “Lakini…”
Mike’s one word follow up to our patient was all the invitation he needed.
His face became serious as he told us about his ongoing stomach pains, loss of appetite, fatigue, and a general sense that something was “not right.” His grandson anxiously related that his once hale grandfather could no longer walk even half way to their watering hole, much less carry the kibuyu full of water he used to haul back and forth each day.
It took 5 seconds and one touch to realize that this gentleman had a massive spleen worthy of my radiologist friend’s trademark exclamation.
A large spleen can be caused by many things, from genetic conditions to infection to cancer. This man would need further workup and we would not pinpoint a definitive diagnosis that day. But he taught me something:
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” James 1:19
I have read and meditated on this scripture. But it turns out the most effective way for me to learn to keep my mouth shut, my ears open, and my temper cool is by snapping at Clark for interrupting, only to discover he just wanted to thank me for dinner, by cleaning up an explosion of dried beans after ignoring Hannah’s polite requests for help getting them down, and by almost sending a man with a serious illness on his way without further investigation.
Humiliation is not my favorite teacher, it drives home lessons deep and fast. But God “gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). And if falling hard means I avoid that same mistake in the future, I count it a blessing!
So, whether you learn the hard way like me, let me encourage you this week to listen, to consider your words, and to be slow to anger.
We were grateful to for an opportunity to visit Mt. Kenya and spend some time with my younger sister April last month
And we were grateful for time with Emma, Zach, and all the Kenya World Gospel Mission missionaries at the coast for retreat last week
[*written by Val Sleeth]