Friday, June 18, 2010

The Witch Hunt

Last Friday, I walked out of the library at about 9 in the morning to go teach class and I could hear screaming. i went to the main courtyard and was surprised to see kids crying, screaming, writhing on the ground, and behaving erratically. There were also about 200 adults from town assisting the kids and herding most of them away from the courtyard over towards the soccer field. My first thought was that this was some sort of play, since everything was so dramatic. But i asked around and was told that demons had been in one of the classrooms and had attacked/infected several of the learners. The town had come out to pray over them, including 5 or so pastors who were performing exorcisms. I got to watch and take pictures for FOUR HOURs as the possessions and exorcisms continued, with one learner ending up being tied hand to feet because she was attacking a pastor. another learner clung desperately to my leg and clawed at my pants while mothers yelling "out! Out in the name of Jesus!" dragged her from the staffroom. needless to say, it was a very bizarre day.
The problems continued however, because my colleague (Jane Doe) was accused of being responsible for the whole thing. She had stayed home friday to get some paperwork done, and while she was absent some "possessed" learners (and, i think, some parents too) completely destroyed her classroom while looking for snakes.
This whole week, no learners have come to school. They say they are afraid, but mostly it is the parents protesting, saying the kids will not come back until the teacher is sent away from the school. There have been constant meetings of the school board, visits from the ministry inspector, parents meetings, a trial by the traditional leaders (led by the chief, who i have a newfound respect for since he has been so level-headed in the midst of hysteria). Yesterday the national news came to film a protest staged by the parents around the school.
The whole thing has been very interesting and frustrating. I'm trying not to get too involved, because this is something I don't feel i can address with the required cultural sensitivity. I will let you know what happens as further developments arise!

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