Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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Posted by Lucille on June 4, 2011 at 12:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Today in outpatient the Senegalese student kept trying to hold hands with me. I managed to find a pair of gloves, but they were XS and barely fit. I kept them on for a while thinking they might serve as a deterrent. It didn't work.

"What is your surname?" he asked.

"I don't have one," I said, "It's just Jainaba."

"No, no, no, you must have a surname. What is it?"


"Towa? No, that's not good. Your surname is Fati."

"Oh, really."

"Yes, because that is my surname, and you are my wife."

"I'm not your wife!" I said, laughing to show him I thought the idea was ridiculous.

"You don't like me?"

I rolled my eyes at him. "I'm too young."

"How old do you want to get married?"

"Twenty-eight," I said, "Twenty-four, minimum."

"So in six years, if I come to the US and find you, you will be my wife."

"If you come to the US in six years and find me, we can talk about it. Deal?"


He backed off, though, which I appreciated. Except I'm pretty sure he stole my pen.

That Kind

Posted by Lucille on June 4, 2011 at 12:20 PM Comments comments (0)

I went to set my bag down in the outpatient office and a man was clearing the table where the nurses eat breakfast.

"Are you going to see patients in here?" I asked.

"This boy needs operation," he said, pointing to a 5 year old.

"Oh, are you taking him to the operating theatre?"

The hospital actually has an operating theatre. It's not sterile by any means but it's a lot better than anywhere else.

"No, is not necessary. I will do it here."

I hope they wash it before people eat there again.

"What kind of operation?"

The man lifted a pair of scissors and mimed a cutting motion by his penis.

Oh. That kind.

"Come, come, you will help."

I don't think so. I didn't even want to be in the room. I went to the bathroom (where, incidentally, I met the biggest, hairiest, scariest spider I've ever seen) and didn't come back for half an hour.

"We are doing another one," he said, "Come and help."

I told him I was fine out here.

"Oh, ho! Jainaba is scared! Are you afraid to see blood?"

"I've seen other operations," I said, "I just don't like operations that aren't medically necessary."

But he didn't know what the word necessary meant, so I dropped it.

I closed the door to the office and watched someone taking people's blood pressure while little boy after little boy filed past me. They must have done five or six in the first hour and a half I was there. I couldn't see what was happening but I could hear when they started crying. When the door opened I glanced in and it looked like a scene in Frightown: a filthy shed of a room with dirty water on the floor, cobwebs all over the table, a cockroach in the corner and a man with a bloody cloth in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other standing over a child's prone body. I started feeling sick and asked our group leader if I could switch to RCH for the day.

She encouraged me to stay in outpatient.

I compromised by switching to the other outpatient room, which was much better. They don't do operations there.

Thank You

Posted by Lucille on June 4, 2011 at 12:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Thank you, everyone, for those lovely comments you left me. I really want to answer them all, but I honestly haven't had time, so I'm writing this post to let you know that I do read them and I love hearing from you all and knowing that people are actually reading this thing. It means a lot.

Am Not

Posted by Lucille on June 4, 2011 at 12:20 PM Comments comments (0)

A boy from the lodge came up to me today. "Why are you so quiet?" he said, "You are always alone and quiet. What's wrong?"

"Nothing," I said, "I just think a lot."

I completely expected him to say, "Well that's not good, you'll give yourself depressive syndrome!” But instead he invited me to sit with him and the others, which I did.


Posted by Lucille on June 4, 2011 at 12:20 PM Comments comments (0)

We went to one of the local soccer games. There's a wall around the field, and when I looked up during the game the trees were full of kids trying to see in.

The guy behind me kept messing with my hair. I'm getting real tired of people touching me when I don't want them to. I changed seats.

Maybe I'm just not good at watching sports, but I couldn't keep track of the score or figure out which goal was which. I had fun watching the cheerleaders, who were playing African drums. It seemed to me that the players got injured a lot, an image completed by the three vultures that were circling overhead.

Abije, Abijan

Posted by Lucille on June 4, 2011 at 12:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Greetings here usually involve an exchange of several phrases. It starts with, "Salam alecoum (Peace be with you)," to which you would reply, "Alecoum salam (And also with you).” Then comes, "Cortanante?(Do you have any troubles?)” The usual answer is, "Tanante (I'm fine,)” or the more formal, "Cairadrone (Only peace).” Next, "Sumole? (Where is your family?)” Gambians typically answer, "Abije (They are here)," but we were instructed that as tourists, we must say, "Abijan (They are there.)”

I asked a man what people say when they have no family. He looked confused. "What do you mean?"

"You know...What would someone say if they were disowned, divorced, or orphaned...if they had no family?"

"That is not possible," he said, "If they have no family, it just means they haven't met them yet. Their family is in the future. They would say 'abijan'."

Fire Woman

Posted by Lucille on June 4, 2011 at 12:15 PM Comments comments (0)

I had a dream that I was Fire Woman, which I think is a kind of shaman. I had a name but I don't remember what it was. I had an afro a foot out from my head and blue fireflies in my hair. It was a very cool dream.

Flowers Grow From Soil

Posted by Lucille on June 4, 2011 at 12:15 PM Comments comments (0)

We went to a restaurant in Senegambia on our way back from the beach. I was feeling like crap. I've been sick for a few days (a cold, of all things. I brought medicine for pretty much everything else but I didn't think to bring a decongestant). One of the women from the lodge wanted me to get up and dance while we waited for our food, but I felt too tired to move. I had a headache, which normally happens when I'm dehydrated, but I knew I'd had at least two liters that day. And probably peed the same amount. Which is when I remembered that water goes right through you if you don't have enough salt. I ordered a cheese omelet for the protein and added salt to it. It was probably the best tasting meal I've had here. Even before I finished I felt amazing. I got up and danced with everyone else. They wanted to go to a club afterwards, but I went back to the lodge and got a full ten hours sleep.

Today is Sunday and I feel fantastic. Everyone else is still sleeping. My cold's almost gone. I took a long shower this morning. The 'long' part was not my doing, it was because the water kept going on and off, but I enjoyed taking my time. I don't plan on doing one jot of work today. I'm going to go to the Internet, email my parents, and play with the kids for a while. And remember to eat salt this time.


Posted by Lucille on June 4, 2011 at 12:10 PM Comments comments (0)

You know that low point on the culture shock chart, characterized by 'behavior of others does not make sense' and 'your behavior does not achieve desired results'? I'm definitely in that zone. We drove by the airport and I thought, "I could go get on a plane and go home right now." They would let me. But I don't actually want to do that. If I went home now the dark parts would overshadow the fun parts, and besides, I know it will get better. It's just hard now.

I've been very homesick, and not just for people or specific things, but also the general pattern of human interaction. I know I've written about the excessive forwardness here, but I don't think I expressed that it's not only romantic. People are touchy. Everyone holds hands, hugs each other, and plays with each other's hair. A lot. It's nice to some extent and I went along with it for a while, but now I think it's a genuine safety concern. You won't know if someone plans to cross the line until they cross it. If you get used to people coming up and hugging you from behind, you won't know something's up until they try to take your clothes off, and by then you're already vulnerable. It's like the frog in boiling water thing. Or like being in a room full of snakes. If there's one snake, you can assume it's poisonous and avoid it. But if you're in a room full of snakes and one of them is poisonous, you won't know which one is poisonous until it bites you. I must be really tired because even I'm not sure if I'm making sense.

I think going along with the culture here was good. Full immersion was good and a necessary part of the experience. But actual adaptation is going to mean blending my own values with my surroundings. I am Lucille, not Jainaba, and I'm going to enforce my personal boundaries as I am familiar with them in my culture, except with the people at the lodge I've learned to trust.


Posted by Lucille on June 4, 2011 at 12:10 PM Comments comments (0)

I had a dream that I was raped. Hey, subconscious! That's enough, already! The nightmares are getting old.



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HIPAA Disclaimer

Sometimes I have the privilege of being a part of intimate, powerful moments in other people’s lives. I cannot and would not share these stories, because they are not mine to tell. However, they touch my life and become part of my own story. When I share these moments here, you can trust that I have not broken anyone’s confidentiality. The characters are invented. They are not real, but could be. I take creative license to communicate the essence of my experience while respecting the privacy of others.