Saturday, November 12, 2011

My Namesake

On the morning of Fily’s baby’s baptism, my host mom pulled me aside and revealed to me that Fily was naming her baby after me.  I couldn’t stop smiling and felt so honored that she would name her firstborn child after me.  Unfortunately, no one here can pronounce Marielle, so my host mom said they would like to use my mom’s name.  Luckily, they can pronounce Margo and loved the name.  The baby is now named Margo Aissata, but we all call her Margo.  I call her “toxoma”, which means namesake in Malinke.

My family explained to me the importance of a namesake.  This baby is going to be extremely close to me for the rest of our lives, and whenever I come back to the village in the future, I’ll always be connected to Margo.  For now, being a namesake means I get to spoil Fily’s baby a lot! 

Attending a baptism in Nafadji was such a different experience than the baptism I attended during training in Mbour.  It was much more laid back and felt warmer to me.  A group of women met at our compound and went out to the center of the village with Fily and the baby to perform some traditional rituals, such as dipping the baby’s head and toes in water.  They had a mysterious mixture of leaves and other things in a bowl that they emptied on the ground, and then they stepped and broke the wooden bowl.  They said many blessings and ritualistically dropped the razor behind Fily’s back through a cloth 3 times.  After those steps were finished, we all headed over to another compound where a huge group of village women had congregated.  We laid out a mat and a woman shaved the baby’s head as the women sang a song.  They crushed up a kola nut and fed part of it to the baby. 

The women at the ceremony were full of energy and joy, and they danced around me out of excitement that I had received a namesake.  Everyone gave me blessings for my namesake, and Fily seemed so happy to finally be able to leave her room!  It was a beautiful ceremony, and afterwards we headed home to have a delicious chicken lunch.

Having Fily name her baby after me made me feel so close to her and my family.  Even when I leave my village at the end of my service, part of me will still be there.  I feel so moved that Fily has given me this honor. 

I told my mom that there is now a baby Margo in my family and she was touched.  I can’t wait for the two to meet when my mom visits me next year!  Every time they talk about baby Margo, I smile at how funny it is that I’m all the way in this tiny village in Africa and my mom’s name is now a part of my life here.  It’s nice to have a little piece of home here. 

The Mbamoussa Dilemma

As I mentioned in my last post, a couple days before Tabaski, Mbamoussa had not given birth yet.  She was lying on the floor of Fily’s room all day and didn’t look good.  I called Leah to ask her if she thought it might be better for Mbamoussa to stay with her in Saraya so she would be closer to medical care since both Sarr and Madame Diop were gone for Tabaski.  We talked about it and agreed that would be best if I could convince Mbamoussa to leave the village and figure out transportation.  Getting anywhere from my village is always a challenge, since the Niokolo only comes once a week.

I walked out to the area where the French doctors were camping and explained the severity of the situation.  They agreed with me that it was not safe for Mbamoussa to stay in Nafadji since delivering twins can be complicated.  2 of the doctors were heading to Saraya in a car and told me they were leaving in an hour.  So I had an hour to convince Mbamoussa to leave her family 2 days before Tabaski, the biggest holiday of the year.  I felt incredibly stressed out.

I raced back to the compound and hurriedly explained in a mixture of French and Malinke that I was concerned about her safety and the lives of her babies.  I told her that I thought she needed to leave because she would be in danger if there were any complications during the birth.  She seemed hesitant to leave her family, but she agreed to go.  I think she knew I wouldn’t have said anything unless I was very concerned.  She quickly packed a bag and I gave her money for any medical care she may need.  One of the female elders in the village, Aissata Damba (my namesake), showed up with a bag and was prepared to travel with Mbamoussa so she wouldn’t have to be alone.

The French doctors dropped the two ladies off at the Saraya hospital, and the doctors there took one look at her and started talking about sending her to Kedougou.  Saraya had medical staff but did not have the capacity to do a C-section.  Kedougou has the only hospital in the region that can do a C-Section, and that is 90k away from my village.  In Saraya, the doctors noticed that Mbamoussa had a fever.  After doing the test, it turned out she had malaria!  This is her second case of malaria this season.

Leah went with Mbamoussa in the ambulance car to Kedougou, where Mbamoussa was treated for malaria and monitored closely.  Leah stayed with Mbamoussa on Tabaski so she wouldn’t have to be alone, and around noon on Tabaski, I got a text message that Mbamoussa’s water had just broken.  She gave birth to 2 healthy baby girls without any complications.  I arrived in Kedougou the following day to visit Mbamoussa and meet her twins.  They are adorable! 

Aissata stayed with Mbamoussa up until she returned to Nafadji after Tabaski.  Seeing this elderly woman stay so close to Mbamoussa’s side showed me how tight the bonds of the village are.  They don’t leave each other alone in times of need.  Aissata missed celebrating Tabaski in the village to be a companion for Mbamoussa.  It was heartwarming to see that she would go so out of her way to support a fellow villager.

Mbamoussa now has 9 children and is only 30 years old.  The doctor told Leah that if Mbamoussa gets pregnant again, she could die.  I plan to talk to her about birth control and possibly mention this to her husband as well.  He cares about his wife and would not want to put her life in danger. 

The day that I forced Mbamoussa to go to Saraya, I was very unsure about whether or not I was doing the right thing.  Taking a pregnant woman away from her family for the holiday seemed so extreme.  It made me wonder what my role was supposed to be as a volunteer in this situation.  I never want to boss people around, but no one in the family seemed to be thinking about the future.  They didn’t seem to care that both the nurse and midwife were gone and that Mbamoussa was overdue to give birth.  My gut was telling me that she needed to go, but I kept second guessing myself.  Working with Leah on this was amazing, and she gave up celebrating Tabaski with her Saraya family to be with her namesake, Mbamoussa, in the hospital.  It’s lucky that Mbamoussa did go to Saraya, because otherwise we never would have realized she had malaria.  In Kedougou, she was able to get the care she needed to safely deliver her babies.

Everything worked out in the end, and all 4 babies are safe at home.  What a relief!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Babies and Bubbles

Sounkharou and Fily both gave birth to baby girls!  Early yesterday morning, I got a knock on my door, informing me that Fily had just given birth to a healthy baby girl.   I ran over to Fily’s room to congratulate her and to see the new baby, and she already had a room full of visitors.  It seemed as though all the women in the village stopped by the compound yesterday to see the baby and give blessings.  In the morning, all the female village elders came to the compound and dug a hole and buried what I think was the afterbirth and put a rock over it.  I tried asking why they were doing that but it seemed like a personal tradition that they didn’t want to answer questions about.

Apparently when you have a baby here, you are quarantined to your room with the baby for a week.  Fily was very disappointed since she’s going to have to celebrate Tabaski (the biggest Muslim holiday of the year) in her room.  She still insists on tressing my hair tomorrow though.  The whole family has been really good about hanging out in her room with her, even though it’s insanely hot in there.  Last night, we ate dinner in there with her and shelled peanuts for a while. 

Sounkharou had her baby and baptism while I was in Thies for a Summit meeting, so I met baby Samiyo when I got back to Nafadji a couple days ago.  Since there are no diapers here, getting peed on is inevitable.  The first time I held Samiyo, she peed all over me.  Now I’m hesitant to hold the babies for too long if I don’t want to get showered on. 

Mbamoussa, who is expecting twins, still has not given birth, and she was due before both Sounkharou and Fily.  I can tell that she’s getting very frustrated, and I’m worried about her delivery since Sarr and Madame Diop are both away for Tabaski.  Randomly, there is a team of French doctors who are in my village for a week giving out free, expired medicine to the villagers.  Sarr and I are both very unhappy with these people since giving out medicine is not sustainable development, and the medicine is expired.  They gave expired medicine to Mbamoussa, and Sarr was furious with the doctors since she is very fragile right now.  The one good thing about them being here is that they came with a car, so I may try to see if they can drive Mbamoussa to Saraya so she is closer to a hospital in case she needs a C-section.  I’m anxious for her to have the babies safely so I know all the babies are out safe and sound. 

Bubbles are the new craze on my compound.  My grandma sent me some bubbles for the kids, and they went nuts over them.  It was so much fun to watch how excited they got and how amazed they were by the bubbles.  After the bubble liquid was gone, one of the little girls asked if it would work with soap.  I poured some of my liquid dish soap in the bottle with water, and sure enough it worked well!  So now bubble time is turning into a daily ritual on the compound!  The elementary school kids fight over the bubble wands, while the little ones try to chase the bubbles down to pop them.

Before I returned from the Summit meeting, I called Mbamoussa to let her know I was coming back to Nafadji the following day, and when I got back, her son Saibo had started pulling all the weeds in my yard!  The little girls, Adama, Asu, and Fanta Founee helped me sweep my room and haul buckets of water back to my hut.  It felt so good to be back after traveling for over a week.  I love the kids on my compound!

Before I left for the Summit meeting, I went out to the fields with the entire family and we harvested peanuts.  It was an exhausting day but such a fun experience.  We sat around pulling peanuts off the plants and chatting.  By the end of the day, we were all covered in dirt, so we had a nice bath in the river. 

My baseline survey is finally done, and I analyzed the results.  My survey covered 571 people on 51 compounds.  Here are some of my findings:

·      *  53% of the population does not have a working latrine
·      *  Of the population surveyed, there is 1 latrine for every 19 people, and the ideal is 1 latrine for every 10 people
·      *  67% of the population does not wash hands with soap every day
·     *   100% of those surveyed knew what Moringa is and 82% grow it
·      *  100% of families said the mothers breastfed their babies until at least the age of 2
·      *  96% of women said they attended prenatal visits while they were pregnant, and 100% of families said their women gave birth at the health post
·      *  In the past year, families reported that 380 people had had malaria in the last year, which is 67% of the population surveyed.
·      *  Health post records show 251 Nafadji villager cases of malaria in the past year, confirmed with positive malaria tests
·      *  It was reported that 87% of the surveyed population sleep under a mosquito net
·      *  Out of girls of school age, 21% dropped out of school, and 91% dropped out to get married
·      *  Out of boys of school age, 8% dropped out of school

There’s a lot to work on, but I was pleasantly surprised by the maternal health and nutrition responses.  I had no idea that so many people in my village grew Moringa, and if they are making leaf sauce out of that, they’re getting lots of vitamins and iron in their diets.

I’m starting to do work which is exciting!  Ian and I submitted a grant proposal to fund matrone training for 5 women coming from small villages in our health zones.  These villages do not have a trained birth attendant, and it would greatly help the maternal and child health of the communities for them to have trained matrones.  I also just met with the matrone in my village, Kaba, and she agreed to be my counterpart for the Care Group that I plan to start.  We’ll be choosing 10 women in the next couple weeks to be part of the group, and the group will meet once a month to be trained in a health issue.  After the training, each woman will be expected to teach 7 other women on different compounds whatever skill they learned.  At the end of each month, the entire village should have learned the information taught in the Care Group training.  Ian and I are also planning to organize cervical cancer screening in Nafadji and Missirah Dantila before the holidays.  Lots to do before I go home for Christmas!

Tabaski is the day after tomorrow, and my host dad told me that we’ll be killing 2 sheep for our family.  I got a new complet made in Kedougou, so I’m ready to celebrate!