Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Shades of Grey

So Saturday night we had the next installment of the Dogbo cooking sessions. On the menu?? Freshly decapitated lizard.

Haha...just kidding. That was on Scout's menu. After eating an entire lizard, she caught a second one and was apparently just too full to eat more than the head. Slightly reminiscent of biting off the head of the chocolate easter bunny, if i do say so myself. Anyway. She left this for me as a little cadeau to clean up.

For OUR menu...we went with an American BBQ theme. A lot of people from our region came up and after sickness and lack of cell phone reseau kept her away from the last 2 dinners, Carie finally made it up to dogbo in one piece for our delicious feast. All because of Dennis's amazing meat-grinding efforts, we had hamburgers, potato salad, and cole slaw. Courtesy of the Dutch couple's refrigerator in Dogbo, we also managed to have jello and Angelina whipped us up a delicious chocolate cake with amazing betty crocker frosting someone sent her from home. Oh, was amazing. There was even Heinz ketchup.

Pictures: Burgers!!! Angelina with her yummy cake!!


...and hardly working (just kidding...Dennis was pretty clutch to making the is the only reason we were able to make the burgers and happens to be our head chef)
Afterwards we went out to a buvette to have some drinks and hang out. The buvette nearby is pretty swanky and even has a really old school disco ball hanging up from the ceiling, and a black light as well. It is set up in a way that reminds me of a dance studio because one wall is floor to ceiling mirrors. We were the only people there until two women finally came and danced point blank in front of the mirrors just watching themselves. It was actually, really funny/interesting. We got out of there though since it is much to hot to stay indoors. We ended up sitting outside and missing most of the show as a result. C'est la vie.

So the next day Carie and I had been in the marche and when we were walking back to my house, maybe about 100 feet away from my door, we all of a sudden heard this scraping noise from them moto that just passed us by. I instinctively turned around and saw the moto flounder a little. the driver had taken his feet of the rests and I was wondering if it was going to tip over when I then noticed a child was hooked onto the side and being dragged--that was the noise. The driver finally stopped and the woman got off the back and stood off to the side. The driver unhooked the child and picked him up by one arm and kind of dragged him to the side of the road, placing him flat on his back on the dirt. Carie and I doubled back to see if the kid was alright, and when i saw that the jackass of a driver was smiling I reproached him vehemently. Upon first looking at the boy, I thought something had exploded inside his body...his stomach was so terribly swollen. When I realized that that was either because he had worms or was suffering from Kwashiokor (severe malnutrition due to lack of protein), I actually felt a little bit better about it. The boy (Anthony was his name as I learned later) didn't speak any French. He lay there, not crying or screaming but rocking back and forth slightly clucking his tongue furiously in obvious extreme pain. When the zem driver touched him he was moaning. Within a minute a circle of at least 30 people and kids had surrounded him to stare and gawk and be entirely useless. The one good thign I heard in the shuffle of it all was one man who said the boy should go to the health center because we didn't know if there was itnernal bleeding. He said we shouldn't wait for the parents because he could die. While I agreed, I didn't think he was going to die, and I can't begin to imagine the fear a mother would feel if this random white person ran off with her kid, so I demanded to know where his parents were. The kids in the circle were pressing in so close and really overwhelming so Carie and I started to yell at them to leave. His mom came, and I thought that she didn't understand french at all because she wasn't saying anything. She looked at her soon and walked over to him, grabbed his left wrist and dragged him to his feet until he cried out in pain. I told her to leave him and she dropped him back down and walked away to drop off the child that was strapped to her back at home. At that point about 5 minutes had lapsed by and Carie and I made the decision to take him out of the circle of a useless audience. I handed her my bag, picked him up, and hopped on a zem to take us immediately to the health center, and the mom came back just in time to hop on a second zem with Carie and follow us.

I know that no matter what i say, my words will not be able to express the frustration that we felt at the health center, but I guess I will try anyway. We got there and the doctor wasn't in, just an arrogant, egotistical, thinks he is 'God'-type nurse, who I've dealt with before. Anthoney's mom took him from me and brought him into the room and the nurse gave him a shot for pain...because God knows if you are sick in this country, it is ALWAYS malaria, and if you get into an accident you ALWAYS get unnecessary shots for pain that are supposed to magically cure everything. And how is this for encouraging. When Carie asked the nurse if anything was broken, his response was "not for the moment." And we know that the man thought we were a bunch of high-strung, crazy overreacting yovos. He left anthony on the table and handed his mother a bill for the shot and service. Anthony's mom looked at me and made as if to hand me the bill until i shook my head no and said I didn't have money for it...which, is technically true. At the time I did not have the cash on me to pay it. The nurse spoke in local language but i heard him laugh obnoxiously and say yovo so I asked him what he had said. And when he came over and put his hand on my shoulder i told him never ever to touch me in a tone which, as Carie pointed out, was probably unwisely vindictive. But here is where it gets fuzzy.

Should we have paid? Why? Just because we were there, we found him? we're white? at the end of the day we do have the money? What are the implications of that if we did? Would we have to pay for every medical issue for every kid that we come across? Is that our responsibility or why we came here? Anthony's mother seemed so furious and she wasn't speaking to us so we were under the impression that she was angry with us, which confused the issue further. SHould we have brought him to the health center at all? What would have happened if we left him there. Something could be seriously wrong, but if there wasn't anything really wrong with him at all, would he just be taken home and beaten later for causing his family a bill? Because that DOES happen here. Had we done more harm than good? Would his family begrudge us for what we did? And if she really absolutely couldn't pay for him at the end of the day, which seemed likely judging from the state of his belly, do we pay?

The thing is, people here find the money for what they see as truly important. They might "not have" the 15.000CFA it takes to send their child to school for the year, but if their parent dies, all of a suddent they'll be able to scrounge over 100.000CFA for the funeral parties and ceremonies--to buy sodas, and a DJ, and meme tissue, and death photographs...because THAT is what is important in the culture here. Give a kid some money and he'll use internet time to visit love chat rooms or solicit money from people abroad. It's just that their priorities for the most part are so askew. So I waited, and didn't pay the hospital bill, because I figured they'd be able to get the money...and they did. Eventually the dad brought the money, and it turned out the mother had been furious at the zem driver who hit him for not paying the bill. But in the meantime, the mother was squabbling with the zem and he was claiming that he hadn't hit the child and it wasn't his fault. I flipped out again, and told him he was lying, which, as Carie pointed out again, was probably a little unwise as well. I just have a problem controling my temper in situations that are that frustrating...just as I seem to lose all french speaking capability when I am that angry. Probably for the better...i don't even think I could express what I really wanted to say in French anyway.

While Anthony's mom was out working out how to get the money, several women (maybe family?) from my street had finally made it (walking) to the health center and when they saw Carie and I, came up to us and said thank you over an over again. It felt really odd because we really hadn't done anything that made the decision to stop lallygagging comme les beninoise and take him. And like I said, we weren't even sure at the time if his mom was angry at us. We called our APCD lauren, to ask her advice on the situation since anthony told his brother he was having trouble breathing. Lauren told us basically that she didn't have clinical experience so didn't know what to tell us and that in terms of paying, it was surely "a moral dilemma, but ultimately not our responsibility." That did nothing to make the issue any less grey for us as we sat there though.

Anthony's brother, Marius, looks so much like him, and was really good about answering our questions. We wanted to know about the we asked him what kinds of things Anthony ate (because Marius looked relatively healthy...his belly was not at all swollen like anthony's). They eat, like most Beninese people i guess a lot of pate (cooked corn flour and water), akassa (fermented cooked corn flour and water), rice, sauce, etc. Never meat or fish...too expensive. So Kwashiokor was looking like a distinct possibility. But then Marius told us that Anthony eats dirt a lot, especially after it rains. And there you had it...he's anaemic. Severely. And in eating dirt to get iron, he probably developed worms. Then Marius told us that he himself had been sent to Cotonou when he was younger by Klaus because he had Marasmus. Klaus is the German man who runs the orphanage in Dogbo and visits there occasionally, and Marasmus is another form of malnutrition that means a general lack of caloric intake and can lead to stunting. So clearly proper nutrition is a significant problem in their family, but how to deal with it. We talked to Marius about foods his brother should be eating because his mother just seemed so angry still at that point. But eventually when she came back she seemed much more calm and thanked us for taking. Since she seemed receptive, Carie and I pulled her over to the side away from all of her neighbors and talked to her about adding more iron and protein to Anthony's diet. She took in the information and was engaged, asking us about different types of food etc. It wasn't like she didn't care or what we said was flying over her head so that was encouraging and I hope that he gets well. And, as Carie pointed out...hopefully I didn't annoy anyone too much with my flying temper that day to regret it later on.

Later that night, walking down my street, Anthony's sister stopped Carie and I and thanked us again. All seemed ok, until approximately 3am or so when the throwing up commenced and didn't stop for all of the next morning. I threw up 8 times, ever sip of water, everything, until finally i emptied out everything and the dry heaving began, amongst other things. When I finally had it under more control, I got in a taxi with Carie to Cotonou and have been in the med unit since then. Apparently it is not amoebas have some bacterial infection and am on Cipro. I still don't feel great and am not really eating much because every time i do I feel sick, but at least I am not throwing up anymore and feel like I can funtion. Plus I don't have a fever anymore so that's an improvement. Well anyways, a la prochaine, I suppose. 55 days and counting...

Happy Easter!!!