When we as Spine Health Africa began in 2017, we were unsure how the people in rural Mashonaland, in Zimbabwe would receive chiropractic care. We had been told to keep our expectations low. That maybe chiropractic was a bit too cerebral, a bit too complex for these people to understand, that they were so used to only being given medication for their ailments and that a drugless health intervention would not be well received. So when we went on our first mission trip in November 2018 we went in with low expectations. We were only armed with just a hundred intake forms, a couple of portable chiropractic beds and very small team piled into a small sedan. It would be light work. Oh how wrong we were.
By the morning of our second day, we realized how sorely we had underestimated the turnout. Maybe it was because we were this new shiny thing that had come into the village and maybe it was because we were offering free services- but whatever it was we were soon overwhelmed. And the numbers did not let up for the entire mission trip. We began our days in the morning and worked well into the evening, sometimes depending on the light from solar torches or even car lights to make notes. We, quite literally, had our hands full.
We made a point to always begin our day with a prayer and then taking a few minutes to explain to the waiting groups of people what we had come there to do and what they could expect. One of the most interesting things for us to explain was the word for chiropractic adjustment or spinal manipulation in Shona. My co-founder Kudzai, and I had learned our trade as chiropractors entirely in English, she in New Zealand and I in South Africa. We sat for hours on those evenings after a long day of seeing patients trying to figure out how to explain what we had spent years learning how to do into a five minute address to our patients in Shona. This particular challenge is one that has always excited me. So much of our modern education seems to remove us from our local contexts here in Africa Particularly in specialized fields not much of our professional training seems to have had the average African in mind. And so now here we were, in our own rural community, grappling to reconcile the education we had received with the people right in from of us who we were trying to serve. We needed to find a bridge. A phrase or word or a pithy explanation that would immediately clarify what it is we were doing there.
‘Tinenge tichitwasanudza mabhonzo’ was the magic bullet we needed. Specifically the word ‘twasanudza’ helped turn the vague looks of confusion into nods of understanding and agreement. With this one word we were able to create a bridge between the community in rural Zimbabwe where our families are from and the great education we had received abroad. The idea of Spine Health Africa is to make quality health care accessible for Africans. And being able to communicate spine care in a language that people can understand clarified to us exactly why our organisation exists.
Happy World Spine Day