The Buddha Was Wearing a Rolex


The Buddha was wearing a Rolex. He was filling my room. Expanding slowly but steadily. I could not get my breath, and I felt as if he were suffocating me.

I was in a hotel room in Cambodia shortly after the Pol Pot regime had fallen and Vietnam had invaded. I had read a story in National Geographic prior to travel in which a Buddha in the ancient city of  Angkor Wat had been defaced by someone who scratched a crude image of a Rolex watch on his wrist. I’ve never actually seen this Buddha, but the image stuck in my subconscious.

A couple of days earlier, our film crew had stood at the edge of a killing field, the mass graves of victims of Pol Pot’s murderous reign, as a worker unearthed human remains and counted skulls. The grass was ankle high, and I was eaten up with mosquito bites.


I had contracted malaria.
I recall awakening throughout the night feeling hot. I lay on the tiled floor of my hotel room because it felt cool to my cheek. In the morning my colleagues got me to a health clinic run by a humanitarian organization, and I was given medications that soon brought me back to a more normal state. The Buddha left. But I’ve never forgotten him.

I was fortunate. My co-workers recognized the signs of malaria and got me to medical care quickly. The medications and a skilled physician were available. Unlike the circumstances that confront millions of people sick with malaria on the African continent, neither cost nor travel were barriers to getting treatment.

Many of those who deal with the disease, particularly mothers, don’t know what causes malaria. They have no access to medicines or health services. Lacking knowledge, they act too slowly, if at all, and their loved ones die. Others seek out herbal healers who proffer remedies that risk damaging the kidneys or livers of the sick.

Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo says in the documentary, “A Killer in the Dark,” the deaths that result from this lack of knowledge are so common that his family simply considered the rainy season the season of death. The family, living in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, moved from one village to another when death struck.

But “A Killer in the Dark” also shows how community health workers who train families to use bed nets, clean up their environment and reduce standing water can stem the progress of this disease.

It also shows how the disease can be overcome as it was during the construction of the Panama Canal. The French abandoned the canal due to the toll of malaria on workers. When research finally connected the disease to infected mosquitoes, abatement measures were carried out that allowed workers to complete the canal.

The effort to combat this disease is continuing, and the documentary shows how the efforts of faith-based groups are making a vital contribution to reducing its deadly toll.

Moreover, the methods they use empower whole communities to act so they can enhance and improve community life. No more will these communities accept with resignation that malaria deaths are a natural part of the changing seasons, a part of the cycle of life and death over which they have no control. It is possible to imagine no malaria.  And to make it so.

Pauley Perrette, of NCIS fame, provides the narration for the United Methodist upcoming TV special called “A Killer in the Dark: An Extraordinary Effort to Combat Malaria.” The program, which will air on many NBC affiliates May 1 (check local listings), documents the daily struggle in Africa against malaria and highlights the work of Imagine No Malaria to wipe out a devastating disease that’s killing 2,000 people every single day. The program is presented by the National Council of Churches under the auspices of the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission and is produced by United Methodist Communication.

 

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