African Medical Pluralism

By William C. Olsen; Carolyn Sargent | Go to book overview

6
Wishful Doing
Journeying in a Nigerian Medical
Landscape

Ulrika Trovalla

In memory of Dr. Mohammed A. Labaran. Even if your tired feet are now
resting, I will always remember our journeys and how you opened my eyes to
the Jos landscape.

WHEN WE SETTLED down around a table in the Nigerian city of Jos at the beginning of 2004, it became apparent that Labaran’s troubles were mounting. After years of repeated religious and ethnic urban violence, the Nigerian Union of Medical Herbal Practitioners, Plateau State Branch in Jos had become divided and scarred in the same way as the urban landscape. It was not just that an “illegal election,” according to Labaran, had been conducted and that he was thereby no longer the unquestionably elected secretary of the union, but he had also come down with a very bad cold. He kept blowing his nose. At one point he was even forced to go out to buy more toilet paper since he had finished a whole roll. “Enough with this catarrh,” he exclaimed after blowing his nose, remarking that his condition was caused by the cold wind. This turned out to be an illness that, like his struggle to regain his position as the only elected secretary, would stay with him for the rest of his life. It was a struggle grown out of a body, a union, and a landscape in ailment. The urban landscape, Labaran’s body, and the union merged together in an illness story that is narrated here.

As he tirelessly searched for ways to heal his illness as well as regain his lost position within the union, Labaran moved through Jos’s highly heterogeneous medical landscape, with its ever-present churches brandishing big healing posters, its pharmacies, diagnostic centers, clinics, and hospitals of Western medicine, and its different consulting places, stalls, shops, temples, and clinics of the highly varied traditional medicine.1

The common denominator was not that these practices were “traditional” in the sense of being composed of local practices rooted in the past, but that they

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