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.


Kerry said...

Jessica. Don't you see: you WERE crying for the sick baby, all of the sick babies.

The Bug said...

I would cry for the goat because it didn't have a chance - and the sick baby will probably be able to get healthier. But your mom is probably right & you cried because you feel so much...

Anonymous said...

Kerry is right Jessica.


ps. I showed a video in my Gender class last week that had a portion of it filmed at the Nairney (sp?) Hospital in Niger. I thought of you.

Anonymous said...

Hi there. I just wanted to say that I came across this blog out of the blue ( googling about women in Niger) and was blown away by Jessica's insights. I've only been to Africa twice on short trips, and nowhere near Niger, but some of the stories she shares are universal, aren't they?
Jessica, you sound like you are learning so much from the remarkable women in the village, and dealing really well with finding your place in a completely different culture. I am going to forward your blog to my teenage daughters as an inspiration.
Best of luck!
Leora, Toronto, Canada

Kerry said...

Hello Bug, and I do think these feelings are overwhelming...I feel them along with her, and I'm thousands of miles away. I can't read all of this without tears of my own.

Beth, you are true-blue. I would like to know more about what you are studying, and about the Gender class you are teaching.

Thank you Leora. Your comments are so very much appreciated. I don't know what J will decide to do with this blog in the future, after she comes back, but I am delighted to hear that you found it of value now.

Dave Braun said...

Hi there, I stumbled upon this site, as I have been trying to get some in site into the peace corp, and other similar organizations. It is amazing! and very informative. I have been toying with the idea of joining the peace corps after early retirement (in 2 years). If I read correctly you are from Oregon. I grew up in Oregon and would love to talk to you about the peace corps and your work in Niger. I live in Germany and will be visiting Family in July (in Lebanon) if you have any spare time?

Kerry said...

Dave, I just left a comment on your blog.