Monday, November 12, 2007

Tuesday, October 30th

And on the second day, it rained. The roosters, followed the translators with their laughter and carrying on, woke us at six. Outside the compound, men rowed back through the rolling surf in their fishing boats. For breakfast we had avocado milkshakes (that was not a typo) and oatmeal with cloves, cinnamon and cocoa, more bread and manba, bananas, and strong coffee. In a pause in the conversation Berthany asked Yoella and me if we believed in God. We both said no, and then Berthany held court on his strong Catholic convictions. Karen joined the conversation looking rather surprised at our breakfast chatter, and told Berthany about Mother Theresa, whose recently (and posthumously) published diary revealed she doubted the existence of God. We walked back in the rain at seven-thirty to find the first people waiting to be seen. Steve and a man from the village tied up a tarp for people to stand under.


We were off to a slow start this morning, I think because of the rain. I’d only seen one patient by nine o’clock. Leon, as usual, was run off of his feet trying to do both optometry and the lab. I saw several people complaining of abdominal pain, burning pee, and general aches and pains. By noon we’d seen more than sixty people – slightly less the number we saw all day yesterday.

But not without incident. Mid-morning, as I was assessing three children with the now familiar distended bellies, a crowd of people began to agitate. There was yelling and jostling. Finally, Jo came to smooth things over. The plan today was to admit people in batches of twelve or so, rather than have people milling around in the corridors, but this made them feel as though they were being excluded and they were angry. Interesting contrast to people’s demeanour in our examining rooms, where they are disturbingly impassive and often leave without saying anything at all.

Some women outside the fence have set up a bustling trade in fried cassava for those who wait to be seen. A horse is tethered outside today, and there is an albino woman.


We saw more than 150 people today. We had malaria for the first time today. Tiffany gave money to a family so their child could go off and have surgery. Complete mayhem ensued over glasses. Some of us realized too late that people were to have been seen by the doctor or by the optometrist, not by both. That will change tomorrow. This is the first time the team has been able to give out glasses, thanks to a donation of 3,000 pairs from the Lion’s Club, and Leon was surprised to find people were not always overjoyed. He expected giving out glasses would be the instant gratification job. But he found people were often disappointed with their frames, and so might not tell the truth when he asked them to chose which pair helped them see better. Leon says he is surprised to have found vanity here; he thought that in a place without food, people might be more focused on the basics. Next trip the team will also bring down bring down sunglasses for people with sun damage. There are so many cataracts here.

We finished up around six, then head directly over to Jo’s house for supper – rice with bean sauce, lobster curry, fried plaintain, and pickle (pronounced “pickly”), which is a cabbage salad with hot peppers. After supper, spontaneous singling broke out, led at separate tables by Yoella, Leon and Angela. Leon challenged Blackstone to a dance-off and every one of us was laughing until we were doubled over or crying.

Afterwards, Steve, Karen, Yoella and I went up on Jo’s roof and watched the lightning and the few stars, the lights from the French villas. No light from the village – no electricity, and no wood for fires.
~ Monica Kidd

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