Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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1000 Words

Posted by Lucille on June 4, 2011 at 12:35 PM Comments comments (0)

If I could capture the feel of Gambia in one image, it would be this one. Mangoes in the rain.

Also these honorable mentions.

Last Day in Outpatient

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

I got my pen back.

Most of the doctors weren't there yet when I arrived. A woman came in to drop off a box of medicine and asked my name.




The nurses that were chatting in the corner started laughing.

"No, you are Jainaba Fati!"


"Because that boy is nice and we like him to be happy."

Great, so now I'm outnumbered. It is still Tower, for all concerned.

While I was waiting for everyone else to arrive, a patient stuck her head in.

"The doctor isn't here yet," the nurse said.

"I want to see her," she said, pointing at me.

"She's a student."

"I want to see the tubab."

"The tubab doesn't know anything," the nurse said, "Go away and come back later."

It continues to astound me how many people assume I'm in charge because I'm white.

We saw a lot of five-year-old boys with genital infections, a couple guys that were injured at last night's soccer game, two hernias, and a couple UTIs. One guy came in howling, his eyes rolling and spit flying all over the place. They carried him toward the table where I was sitting, and I thought he had rabies and leapt to the other side of the room. Apparently the look on my face was a sight to see because the boy from Senegal started laughing. They diagnosed it as hysteria, which is pretty much their catch all for any odd behavior they can't pin down, but from what his friends were saying I'm pretty sure it was a drug overdose. He was thrashing so much he broke the table but he calmed down after a while. He started cussing out the nurse when she tried to give him a shot. A very kind, patient, and soft-spoken Cuban doctor stood up and said, "You come in here, you yell at my staff, you break my table, and now you don't want your shot? Me, I have had enough. You can sit quiet and take your shot or you can leave. The man accepted the shot and the Cuban doctor sat back down and resumed his usual content and jolly demeanor.

The police came in carrying a clipboard and an opaque plastic bag, and said there had been a baby dumping and they needed someone to write a report. No one seemed to know what they were talking about. "A dumping," he said, waving the plastic bag in the air, "You know, a baby dumping!"

"Is that a baby?" the student from Senegal said suddenly, pointing at the plastic bag.

"Yes, yes. The mother killed it and dumped it, and someone found it and brought it to the police."

I was staring in horror at the plastic bag. It didn't look baby shaped at all, and it kind of sloshed when they moved it.

"We need someone to write a report." They tried to hand it to me because I was the tubab. Hell no I'm not opening that. One of the Cuban doctors told them to take it to the head of the hospital.

The student from Senegal had been trying to take my hand throughout this, and finally said, "You smile and talk to me like you want to be friends, but you won't hold my hand. What is wrong?"

"It means something different in my culture," I said, "Here, I know everyone holds hands, but in the US people usually only hold hands when they're in a relationship with someone. I'm already in a relationship so I'm not comfortable with that."

"Oh, okay. Sorry. Je m'excuse."

He let me practice taking his blood pressure, then took mine. He stared at the dial for a minute. "Jainaba!" he said, "You need to eat more salt!"

Will do.

He then wanted to take my temperature.

"I know how a thermometer works," I said, but consented to holding it under my arm.

The Cuban doctor looked at it a minute later. "Normal."

"What?" the boy said, "Jainaba is not normal, she is hot. We must find a better thermometer."

The other Cuban doctor started laughing. "He tells me you are getting married in six years," he said.

"I said we'd talk about it!" I said, turning to the student, "There were no promises made!"

"I know, I know," he said, laughing, "By then I will be a doctor. Maybe I will have my own hospital in the United States."

"In six years you'll be 24, right Jainaba? How old will he be?" one of the doctors asked.

"He'll be an old man," I said, and even the student started laughing. Someone started playing music from their phone, which somehow evolved into an hour-long Cuban dance party. I'm moving to a new station tomorrow, but I'm definitely going to go back and visit.


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.