Friday, November 21, 2008

Catching Up

Wow, it's been a long time since I've posted. Since Barack Obama won the election, I've been out on a mini-vacation to the Banana Islands off the Freetown area coast, attended countless meetings, ridden government buses for a total of 18 hours, and attempted to make cookies, which came out weirdly cakey from the powdered milk and margarine and blackened on the bottom from the intense heat of the oven, which does not go much below 400 Degrees Fahrenheit. Not sure what you're supposed to cook in there, though it makes great toast.

We've now sent off twelve patients and gotten I think 10 more from various outreach programs. We sent nurses out to the rural areas, and they recruited patients through advertising on the radio and driving around in the car with a megaphone blasting, as well as collaborating with our outreach coordinators and various friends in the public health/medical sector in different regions. Some patients were sent solo and picked up at the lorry park, others came with nurses, and some are staying home until after the holidays and the local chieftancy elections. Which is good because it means that these women are voting and are passionate enough about voting to put off their medical problems.

Banana Island was a strange, almost eerily sleepy place. The trees were imposing but beautiful, old buttressed cotton trees that shaded the beaches. We had to cross through the jungle to get to the best beach (Big Sand Beach). I saw vines crisscrossing up trunks and choking the trees, so incorporated into their hosts that I couldn't tell where one plant ended and the other began. Tiny flowers peeked out from the dark soil, and termites demonstrated their presence in jutting mounds and in the fallen branches on the ground that had been eaten from the inside out, so that they were left as sawdust in the shape of branches. The water was warm but cool enough to stay in for hours, the high salt of the water making it easy to lie, toes pointing upwards, and float on the waves. I managed to borrow a pair of goggles for a few minutes and watched subtly beautiful fish--small but bright, or large but only colorful when they caught the light the right way. The tideline detrius was not what one typically sees at the beach--shells, kelp, bits of styrofoam and sea glass. Rather, it was jungle castoffs from the trees threatening to overtake the water--vivid green praying mantises, small red bugs with huge antennae, leaves in various states of decay, and strange seed pods and plant buds plucked off by wind and driven into the water. We ate fresh fish grilled for us on charcoal fires and lobsters caught in traps and stored, live, until dinner. We swam at night, using the moon and the bonfire lit for us to keep our bearings and slept all day on the beach between swimming and volleyball (I didn't play--not a great game for we shorter ones). Like many things here, it had that element of decay or of recovery that I've sensed in parades and ramshackle buildings and the little kerosene lamps lit for nightmarkets. I also traveled out to the village of Charlotte outside of Freetown before heading to Banana, and it was much the same--old, mossy walls, rusting zinc-walled Krio houses, a shaded garden of found objects, plants potted in old shampoo bottles and benches made of car scrap metal. Children fishing with string and a bent nail. There was also a waterfall.

The new patients are quiet but already seem to have integrated into the "family"--they're getting their hair braided, carrying water (still no water at the hospital and the Bowser water trucks can't come today because the dam has some problems that has prevented them from being filled), watching soap operas. We're trying out best to fatten them up for surgery. We also have a new baby on the ward, who is going to be named Julia, I am told. I find this completely terrifying--there is something very scary in having a little life named after you, especially when you did nothing to merit it. The baby is huge, her head still deformed a bit from the natural birth, but the labor was quick, I'm told.

The calm or feeling of commonplace-ness that surrounds these births is also so new to me. The mother started feeling pains at 7pm, waited until midnight to tell the nurse, who waited until 4AM to tell the doctor that she was ready to deliver. It was treated like no big deal, and the mother was up and walking around just a few hours later and was out carrying water today. Women routinely do hard manual labor in their later terms, walking long distances with heavy loads for the market or fetching water. I know this is all healthy and fine, but it's so funny compared with the lack of this commonplace-ness in the US, which is partly because you don't see as many pregnant women or hear about as many births. I've been around more pregnant women in the past couple of months than I have in my entire life, though I guess it's cheating a bit since I'm in a hospital. All the same, I see tons of pregnant women walking around on the street just on my drive to and from the hospital. I once tried to compare the number of pregnant women I see everyday to the number of men I see urinating in public, but it was too hard to count because there was one or the other or both at every turn.

So, things are changing and progress is being made. My own activities have been relatively uninteresting--inventorying, writing documents, signing things, etc--but I feel like we're getting there, or getting somewhere. Sorry for the long delay between posts--I'm hoping the internet at the hospital continues to hold out, because otherwise it's hard to stay up-to-date.

1 comment:

  1. I am gapemouthed & humbled over the baby name. What an odd, immeasurable feeling that must be. I don't really know how to express it, and it's only second hand, but for some reason that really struck me, Juls.

    Incidentally, on a different kind of scale, I found out last night that the equivalent of "James" in Spanish is not "Jaime," thank fucking god, but "Santiago" (from "Iago," where the phonetic link is easier to see).

    My name in Spanish is Santiago. I have a name in Spanish. I kind of feel like a Santiago right about now.

    I don't know. Naming is a powerful little thing - easy, insignificant, but it sneaks up on you.

    Glad you're still writing. I was going to post an indignant comment.