Monday, September 28, 2009

An unfathomable mix

My parents and my Peace Corps friends have asked me if I think these
women with malnourished babies would be going to the hospital if I weren't going with them. There are a few answers to that question, depending on the woman and her circumstances. One answer is no, or not until it's too late. We lost two babies, that I know of, last year because of this. I can't claim to explain it or understand it- it is an unfathomable mix of shame, pride, negligence, and ignorance.

Another answer is yes- Salamu, for example, was already on her way to get help. The other answer, which I think is more common, is an in-between-yes-and-no. Women recognize that their child is suffering, and do what they can (in the middle of the Sahel, how easy do you think this is?)- and depending on what they feel they can or cannot do (given the restraints of their marriage, their other children, their responsibilities at home) they may or may not consider going to the hospital as an option.

In Hawali's case, Gwallo had seen the
baby, suspected severe malnourishment, and came to find me because she knows that I've been helping some mothers out. Hawali wanted to come, right away, and is prepared to stay at the hospital as long as she needs to, no questions asked. I don't know why she didn't/couldn't go earlier- surely her son has been looking this bad for weeks. But. She's here now, and that's what counts.

PS: A weird thing happened yesterday- after seeing Hawali and her son. In the village I saw a tiny, tiny, tiny baby goat laying in the sand on its side-- I honestly thought it was a cat, it was that size--, panting, with its eyes closed. People were walking all around it like it was nothing. I just stopped in my tracks. Karima was there, and I asked her if we could help the goat- you know, either feed it somehow or kill it, because it was clearly born way too early (last night, and its twin was born dead). She laughed at me, and lord knows how I managed not to burst into tears right there. I was able to cough out "I guess we deal with these things differently where I'm from" before stumbling away. All I wanted to do was scoop up that little goat and run for it, but I didn't, because that's not how they do things here. I hate it when "how we do things here" is so hard for me to accept. Karima said that they'll leave it alone until it dies. Sweet, wee little cat-goat, alone in the sun. I feel a little better about it now that I've told you. Why did I cry for a goat and not the sick baby? I don't understand.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Illela, again

And here I am...again! Probably would've come to Illela
anyway to see Habi and Salamu and their babes, and then ended up bringing another woman and her baby this morning too. Enter Hawali and her son, Abdu Lawa'asu. But first- the really good news- Habi and Samsiya get to go home! Samsiya is now bright eyed and has a round face, and Habi is radiant and relieved. The two of them will come home with us in the truck this afternoon. So that leaves Salamu and her son Abdu Zaidi, who is also looking great. I never knew you could get chubby cheeks in 6 days; apparently, with Hajara's attentive help, you can. I wouldn't be surprised if Salamu gets to come home next week.

Hawali, the new arrival, is a gorgeous young mother. A few days ago,
Gwallo came over and said she wanted me to visit her that afternoon (you may remember Gwallo- she's a firecracker on the grain bank committee and I've mentioned her here before). My first thought was 'aw shit, what have I done now?' I thought I was in trouble...I almost didn't go to her house. But I did, and she sent for Hawali, who brought her son, who is very sick. He's 9 months old, and has the familiar signs and history of malnutrition/dehydration/illness that ruin little kids here: diarrhea that started 2 months ago, causing severe weight and water loss. To try to speak objectively- these babies come to resemble insects more than they resemble babies. Fragile little limbs, ribs, no butt, thin skin hanging off of their stick legs, hollowed eyes, skull...I will not take pictures of the sick babies, but I'll send some of the recovered ones. Deal?

So- you know the drill now, if you've been reading these entries for
the last few weeks. Pack everybody up and head to what I am fondly referring to in my head as Hajara's Haven. Hajara, nurse of nurses, who knows when to yell at you and when to praise you. I think this woman may be an angel. Scratch that, she is. Hawali and her son are settled in the infant malnutrition ward, and I'll swing by to see them again before leaving Illela. Hajara warned them that they will be there for awhile; Abdu Lawa'asu weighs 4.4 kg and should weigh 6, so he's got a ways to go.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An unplanned trip to Illela (Part 2)


This morning was the longest time I've spent at the infant malnutrition ward. There are five women staying there right now: Habi (in her 3rd week!) with daughter Samsiya, Salamu with son Abu Zaidi, and three women with their babies from other bush villages. One of the women has eight month old twins; one is a normal weight and well developed. The other, a little boy, has bright eyes and seems alert but weighs less that 2 kilograms. While these women stay at the hospital, they are under the stern but compassionate eye of Nurse Hajara. Hajara administers medicines, weighs the babies every day, tells the mothers when and what to feed them. Depending on the age and ability of the babes, they are fed fortified milk, or a peanut-butter like paste, or a combination of the two. Babies who won't drink are force fed; babies who will eat eventually get fed bits of fish and egg. When they reach a weight and health that Hajara approves, they are allowed to go home. Everything is paid for by the government.

When Habi came with 5-month old Samsiya 2 weeks ago, the top of
Samsiya's skull was so sunken in you could have filled it with a half cup of water. She weighed 3.8 kilograms (sorry guys, how much is that in pounds? 8?). Today I got to watch Hajara weigh her again- she is now a whopping 4.0 kilos and will be released when she makes it to 4.3. Hajara said that Habi is the best of all of the mothers at making sure Samsiya is getting better. I was really, really happy to hear that. Salamu was smiling this morning; Abu Zaidi already looks better. She told me today that he had passed out three times yesterday, and she thought he had died. But now he's drinking canned milk and getting a whole smorgasbord of medicines and vitamins. It is too soon so guess at how he will do, but I sure do trust Hajara, and I think she'll know what to do for this babe. Habi and Samsiya will probably be home within the week, and hopefully Salamu and Abu Zaidi won't be far behind.

Some of you who read this blog last year may remember that September,
October, and November were hard months for mothers and babies. One difference this year is that women seem more aware of where they can get help. It could be my imagination, but I think that perhaps some of the negative stigma- associated with revealing that your child is malnourished- is fading in my village. I hope so. I'll probably write about this again; I sure think about it a lot.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

An unplanned trip to Illela (Part 1)

I wasn't planning on coming to Illela today, although I did want to
come up here sometime soon to visit Habi and Samsiya at the hospital.
What happened was: yesterday evening at about 6, an older lady found
me at Narba's and asked me if I'd take another woman and her son to
the hospital.

I got up to go see what was going on; it turned out the woman and her
baby were already sitting in a truck on the road. The woman, whom I
recognized but didn't know that well, had tears all down her face and
was holding her son, a tiny bundle on her lap. Someone handed me a
note from the nearbly clinic; it had "severe malnutrition, admit to
hospital immediately" written on it in French. People were all around
us, staring at her and watching me to see what I'd do, shouting advice
like "Throw your bike in the back, you can come back in the morning!
You're in charge of things like this, you should go!"

I didn't feel like I could just jump in and go. Maybe if I had had
even 10 minutes to get ready, I could've. But the driver was revving
his engine, impatient. What I decided to do was run back to my house,
grab some money for the woman, Salamu, wrap it in paper, run to the
truck and give instructions on where to go when she got to Illela. We
got Hajiya, the older lady who came to find me, to go with Salamu.
They sped off.

I joined them this morning, via my bicyle. When I got to the hospital
I found a whole crowd of people from our village: Salamu and her son,
Abu Zaidi, plus Hajiya, and Salamu's husband Sa'idou and one of his
friends, all together with Habi and little Samsiya. My village is
filling the infant malnutrition ward! Not exactly something you want
to feel good about.

If it's the truth that there is infant malnutrition,
which it is, then it IS good that the women are getting help.

Green: Generally Food Secure
Yellow: Moderately Food Insecure
Orange Highly Food Insecure
Red: Extremely Food Insecure
Black: Famine
Gray: No Data

Here is the FEWS map for the way things stand in Niger now. Compare it to the map from July and you can see the difference. Foloa is in the yellow zone. Although harvest season is beginning, we now face the most difficult season for infant malnutrition.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Not fasting

The village mosque

Ramadan is almost over. I tried fasting for one day, don't have the willpower or stamina for it, and gave up by noon. But I love cooking up nice meals every night to share with people- the most popular treats so far have been popcorn and boxes of raisins (courtesy of my grandpa!).

Do you like how I call popcorn and raisins 'meals'?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Don't worry, I have Narba

With Narba

Narba (who is over 70 years old!!!!) climbed over my 7 foot-tall mud wall last night at 10:45 pm because some of my neighborhood guys (Ayouba, Shaibou, Suleil, and Mustapha) thought they heard someone banging on my door. They wanted to make sure I was okay, but they didn't want to freak me out, so they woke up Narba to come check on me. I was fast asleep, oblivious to the world, until I awoke to Narba calmly asking me:

"Did some guys bang on your door?"

"Nooo-- wait, what is going on? How did you get in here? Are you OKAY???"

"I'm fine; I just climbed your wall is all. Now let me out and go back to sleep."

Turns out whoever it was didn't knock on my door at all, it just sounded like it. In case any of you ever still worry about me-- really, you don't have to.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I added a video to this post, from July, about planting. It gives you some idea of the size of the fields hand-planted in millet, and shows Mariama in action. The video was shot in June; some of this millet will hopefully be harvested soon.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Today I am in Illela, site of a new internet cafe. I came to accompany a woman from my village whose 5 month old daughter is severely malnourished. They'll stay at the hospital here until, well, until the girl is better, hopefully.

My friend is Habi; her daughter is named Samsiya, after me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Community classroom photo update

The classroom is FINISHED and it is realllly nice- shiny green doors, smooth cement steps, a roof and walls... I will send pictures asap! THANK YOU EVERYBODY!!! Letters from the kids of the village soon to follow-- if you donated to the project via check and would like a card, please send me your address! Otherwise, if you donated online, I think I have it.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures taken by my dad in early August:

This is the old classroom; the roof is made of millet stalks.

Inside the old classroom.

Bricks, handmade, and drying in the sun. They had to be sprinkled with water as they cured.

Plastering the wall


It was a lot of heavy work

Me with part of the crew in front of the new blackboard

Putting in the ceiling. This is so much better than millet stalks.

See? It looks so nice.

Working on the door frame

The building, not yet plastered or painted, from a distance.

With the crew