I think we’ve all asked “What is a jigger?” At least 100 times, trying to wrap our heads around the idea of what exactly we were getting ourselves into on Thursday.
A jigger is a parasite. It starts out the size of a flea and after attaching to a host (typically a foot or hand) it burrows into the skin and then expands to the size of a pea over the course of 5-7 days. It also lays 600 eggs that are expelled and ready to infect another unsuspecting victim. This process makes walking painful and difficult. Often wounds become infected. The most vulnerable are the young and the elderly.
Jiggers live in dry climates and like dry and loose dirt so you can imagine that they are prevalent in the red dirt village roads and paths. Those without shoes find themselves easy targets for these little jerks. Typically one or two is not a big deal. Consistent washing takes care of the newly attached jiggers.
So why is it an issue?
In the early 1950’s the arrival of this parasite coincided with the murder of a missionary. Beleaguered and bereft missionaries reprimanded locals- saying that the jigger was punishment from God for their sins. And so the stigma was born. Jiggers are shameful. If you have them, you don’t want anyone to know.
SoleHope is a twofold effort to treat those with jiggers while educating and dissolving the stigma. They also provide shoes to prevent further jigger problems.
The removal process is…painful.
Because while the jigger starts out small- it grows and removing a pea-sized bug from a flea sized hole creates significant trauma and pain. It also leaves behind an open wound that looks like someone scooped out flesh with a mini melon baller.
So we joined the SoleHope team for the day and drove out to a remote village to set up shop. Within minutes, 60+ children showed up, eager to interact with the Mzungus and they had heard we had shoes for them. The SoleHope team operates with incredible efficiency, allowing us to build a rapport with the kids through singing and dancing while they set up the tents for washing, jigger removal and shoe fitting. The songs aren’t just fun- they help with the education process- complete with hand motions.
“I get the soap, I get the soap!” (Grabbing invisible soap)
“I get the brush, I get the brush!” (Now grabbing an invisible brush)
“I wash my feet, I wash my feet!” (Pretending to wash their feet)
“I brush my feet, I brush my feet!” (Pretending to brush their feet)
“And now I’m jigger free!”
Simple but effective at educating kids. And by the time we finished our crowd had almost double, including quite a few elderly men and women who had come to receive treatment and shoes.
After singing and playing for a few minutes we were assigned tasks: foot washers, jigger counters, lollipop passers, baby holders and shoe fitters. But this is where it became real. It was no longer a funny song, we were suddenly face to face, hand to foot, with kids who had dozens of jiggers, open wounds, no shoes, and terrified faces. They too were unprepared for the reality of the next few hours.
After the foot washing kids were ushered to a SoleHope trained employee and one of our team members. It was here where the real work began because now the bugs had to come out. Some kids were better off than others- having only 5 or 6. Others were not so lucky having upwards of 2 dozen. Each jigger requires the removal of the callous over the opening with a razor blade. Once the jigger is exposed, the SoleHope worker removes it with a sterilized safety pin.
Sounds simple enough. But it hurts. Like a gigantic splinter being removed times 10, 20, 30.
The older kids handled it better. They gritted their teeth and gratefully accepted the lollipops Fr Jonathan passed out. They would then skip over to the shoe fitting tent with their paper documenting just how many jiggers and where, and exchange it for some shoes.
But how do you explain the need for stillness and courage to a 3 year old with 36 jiggers dotting the soles of her feet, bulging from underneath her toenails and finger nails? Lollipops are no good at that point. So we held tight, repeating a steady cadence of “Its alright. You will be okay. It’s almost over.” As she sobbed and sobbed.
Each removal process took anywhere from 5-25 minutes depending on the severity of their condition. It was grueling work. Frankly, it was gross work. Dirty feet, bloody wounds, pus and all the things that make your stomach churn. But O the grace of God to endure it. It was present at each station. And how can you turn away from a child who needs a hand to hold while their feet are being worked on? So we stayed close, worked diligently, all with the knowledge that we were leaving this village just a little bit better.
And the final step of the process made it all worth it. Tears turned to wide grins as kids and adults alike were fitted with new shoes.
*Let me interject a note about SoleHope’s shoes: They are made of almost 100% recycled materials. The soles are made from recycled Bota (streetbike) wheels, and the tops are made from denim donated through jean cutting parties in the states! These make for durable shoes, able to withstand the walking, running and working the recipients typically do. To learn more about SoleHope and their mission go to http://solehope.org *
The shoe tent became a meeting place of kids and grown ups eager to be fitted. After each one received their shoes they would grab our hands with both of theirs and squeeze them tight. Gratefulness needs no words and requires no translation. It was two sided. We were grateful to give and they were grateful to receive.
This whole week we talked about open handedness. Open to give and open to receive. We were firsthand witnesses to this holy process in every place we went. With every measure we gave of our hearts, our time, and our attention, God multiplied it tenfold. We received hugs, kisses, playtime, conversations, friendships, rapt admiration, and unconditional love. How else can we explain this sacred bond other than by acknowledging the presence of the author of love and perfecter of grace? We were bonded by the Spirit of the Living God, calling afresh on the weary, giving life to a village of sore feet.
I think in the distractions of day-to-day life, we find ourselves looking for God to make a big splash to catch our attention. We want Him to compete with the loudness of the things we surround ourselves with. In the unfamiliar surroundings and the slower pace of the Uganda we rediscovered an old truth;
Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
1 Kings 19:11,12
God’s love manifested itself in all those little moments, reminding us that the bigness of God doesn’t require a bigness of revelation but can exist in the simple exchange of love.