The one thing about driving through Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali, besides the bumpy roads is, speed bumps. Large enough to make you drop your speed to about 5 mph. They are everywhere and each village has their own at both sides of the village, to slow traffic down. What I really love is the ingenuity of the people when there’s a new road put in and the speed bumps are not put in. The villagers will bring, drag, and roll anything into the street to slow you down. This village decided to make you slow down by making you turn. Every village seems to have their own ‘personality’.
There have been so many village health workers working in the field, weighing babies, measuring their height and arm circumference. I really was wondering how so many people knew what to do. The other day we stopped at the health clinic in the town of Banamba, to see the program where they actually do the teaching. They had classroom training and practical training in all the arts of discovering malnutrition.
Then on Friday I was going north and what I noticed driving north to the town of Diema (pronounced Joy mah), up near the border of Mauritania, is I’m starting to closer to the Sahara again. The trees are thinning and the soil is becoming that sandy soil I saw in Niger. Not to mention hotter and the direct sun is so intense, it’s hard to explain. Just walking in it, it’s like being 2 feet from a heat lamp, direct and hot. I was informed by the staff at HKI in Bamako, that the food might not be good for ‘me’ up in Diema, so when we went to the Shell station to gas up, I went in and stocked up on water, juice, crackers, anything I could get — packaged!
We are going up to Diema to visit the local health clinic and to meet and watch two of its doctors at work. Dr. Sy Ousmane and Dr. Felix Dembelé. Dr. Felix does eye surgery to repair Trachoma, a disease of the eyelids. This is actually part of the Neglected Tropical Disease’s program that HKI has been working on, teaching the kids to wash their face and hands regularly, to avoid this problem. Then they wouldn’t have to go through the surgery or go blind. I first met up with Dr. Felix in the afternoon, when he was visiting a village to check up on a patient he did surgery on last July. Then the following morning I was invited to go to a village to watch him perform the surgery.
When we got back into Diema, it was getting a bit late and I came across a very large group of kids, right in the middle of the street. I started watching and you should have seen the adults trying to control this large a group of preteens and teens. Total chaos for at least ½ an hour. They were actually doing a little play, teaching the kids the importance of washing their hands and feet. Sounds simple doesn’t it? But it really is a problem and they are getting diseases from not doing it. The kids were all lined up at least 8 deep, just trying to get a place in the crowd. Well, you know I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, it was in French, but the kids were yelling, screaming, and laughing their heads off.
I saw one little girl, probably about 6 or 7, and she was running around and crying because she couldn’t get past all the big kids and see what was going on inside the circle. Well, seeing a little child in emotional pain is a killer for me, and this little girl pushed my button. I bent down and started showing her the photos on the back of my camera, that I was getting by reaching over the other kids heads and she just started to smile. Just made my day.
So the next morning I’m going out to the village of Tinkare to watch Dr. Felix perform the eye surgery on a patient. Zana, Amadou and I were driving out around 7:30 and we came across the large bog, I’d call it. I could see the village on the other side, but we needed to find our way around it.
I took a video on my iPhone to show how we are getting to these villages. All the bumping going on, running into women and children walking along the path, children driving their ox carts, but I’ll be damned if I know how to get it from my iPhone to computer, to the blog. Someday! Then we needed to stop and let the locals fill up…
We get into the village, fairly large for the ones I’ve been in and we’re driving through past the mosque, kids playing and finally end up near the back of the village. We get out and they’ve already slaughtered a goat and are laying it out for the day’s shoppers. Of course Zana and Amadou go check it out and decide the meat they saw beside the main road was better, so they’ll wait until we’re driving back to Bamako.
So now I’ve caught up with Dr. Felix and he introduces me to the gentleman he’s going to perform surgery on. We chat and then we follow him on foot, through a bit more of the village back to his home. So they bring out two blankets to lay out in front of his home, under the shade lean-to. I must tell you, that the next time you may be having surgery, ask your doctor if the O.R. is sterile. Dr Felix spent quite a bit of time washing his instruments with alcohol and laying things out, but I think the neighbor’s horse was as interested as anyone.
No Dr. Felix didn’t mind me, he let me do what I needed. I was even shooting with the macro, so I’m getting like 12” away and all’s fine. I will show a bit of decorum here in the blog and save the real graphic images for Jennifer at HKI in New York.
Now the patient and Dr. Felix are sitting on two rugs laid out on the dirt in front of the house. I’m walking around and getting down on my elbows and knees to get in low and close. Dr. Felix jumps up and starts slapping his butt and the patient kept slapping the rug. Seems as though there were black ants all over the place. Then I soon found out because they had crawled onto my elbows then up my arms to inside my shirt and were biting me on my back and under my arms. Yes they hurt! But we kept going, this is a surgery after all, and Zana and Amadou kept walking around trying to get rid of them.
I was asking Dr. Felix how many of these he does, thinking maybe 5 per week. Then he tells me he may do as many as 100 per week. Seems as though trachoma is a major problem here in Mali and a lot of West Africa.
There was another gentleman sitting and watching the entire surgery and I found out later he was waiting for Dr. Felix to look at his eyes when he was done. So the surgery was about 45 min. and then he bandages up the eye and starts to clean up.
Then the prescription ointments and bandages are given the patient along with instructions. It’s all done and over.
So later that morning before heading back to Bamako, we stopped off at another village, Kolokani. We were going there to see some more farming HKI is teaching the women how to do and to grow and feed their children better and more nutritious food. We first went out to their farm where a few things planted erlier are just now starting to come in. Now that the rainy season is ending, they are starting to plant more new crops.
These women are placing an elevated layer of dried millet stalks. This is to keep that horrible direct sun from burning the baby lettuce until it has a chance to germinate and start growing.
Afterwards on the way back to the truck, I stop to see again the checking up on the children in the village. I do find it amazing that wherever I’ve been, there seems to be a never-ending supply of malnourished children that need this help.
But I really wanted to end this on a happier note, so I would like you to see a happy mother and her baby. I met them at the hospital yesterday were I was watching the students learn how to track and help the malnourished children in the villages. She was just so happy and willing to let me snap her photo.
So it’s now Sunday and I got back to Bamako last night. I was actually able to sleep in this morning for the first time since I’ve been in Africa. Heaven, if only till 7:30. I did make it to the le Grand Marche this morning and even for a Sunday it was very crowed. A lot like the souks in Morocco, with all its twists and turns, and stalls everywhere you turn. I first went with Amadou, and then later today I went out on the street grabbed a cab and went back. When I went to get a taxi to return, they wanted 2,000 CFA’s and I was told no more than 1,000, so I walked away. They called me back and said oui. I get in and then 5 guys pushed us to get the cab started, but I did get back to the la Chaumiére. I leave for the airport around 8 tonight, right after dinner.
So I have to say it’s been a very interesting, enjoyable, and educational 3 weeks here in West Africa. Not to mention how happy I’ve been the entire time. I am sad to see it come to an end but when I finally get back to San Francisco this Wed., I’ll have been gone a full month. I will be glad to be home, happy to see everyone, but I will once again miss Africa and I will return again.
I hope for those of you who have been able to make it once or twice or more to the blog, that it was enjoyable and maybe educational for you too.
I would also like to thank everyone at the HKI office here in Bamako. Marjon, Letitia, Christian, Vanessa, Berthé, Dr. Touré, Dr. Fainke, and Zana. Out in Diffa, a thank you to Robert and Christine. Thank you to Ken and I wish you the best upon your return to UC Davis. A special thanks to the drivers who have been so nice and patient with me, Oumar, Sangare, and Amadou. I thank you all and everyone else here at HKI, Bamako.
Now if I may say a blanket Thank You to all at HKI, in Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and New York City. A special thank you to Douglas in Dakar and Jennifer in New York, for all your hard work with me during the last 3 months putting this all together.
Merci Beaucoup. Ça Va!