Continental Drift

March 3, 2010

A Very March Christmas

Filed under: Uncategorized — unaleona @ 11:30 am

As of March 1st, the Action for Health Program has been officially launched! Two weeks ago, we re-trained the team of Community Health Workers. Last week they had to pass a technical final exam: a medical exam of a child in front of Dr. Diak and I, showing us that they’d actually understood what they’d learned in the training. And despite the fact that Ami tells me that Malian brains are different from toubabou heads, and I should stop filling up their heads with too many pieces of paper, we all survived and they all passed with generally flying colors. So this weekend I printed official looking badges, stamped the MHOP stamp on 219 family identification cards, and organized 363 patient data sheets.

And then Monday morning came, and the CHWs and I were back out with the families one-on-one, just like when I started the survey in January. Except this time, instead of feeling guilty for asking them questions without giving them anything, I was accompanying the bearer of good tidings! The CHWs were official Health Agents of the Community, resplendent in badges, sacs brimming with thermometers, scales, and official documents. And though, luckily, we haven’t yet found any sick children, I think the families appreciate that someone else out there is looking out for their child. Although in some sort of egomaniacal fantasy,

I’d hope that the target families would consider our program like some excellent gift, this is not the Christmas cheer to which the title refers. No, there was an inundation of Christmas to the hills of Sourakabougou today. As Ami, Oumou and I walked towards target family # 16 to begin our visits, school let out for the mid-day break, and the students poured towards us; carrying with them a wave of red, green, and gold: shiny snow-men, pine trees, snow-flakes, baby Jesuses, poinsettias, Rudolphs and Santa Clauses. All these shoeboxes bursting with Christmas cheer, carried on children’s heads. Finally I had to ask what they were carrying, and they were only too happy to show us. Inside the boxes were toy trucks, t-shirts, colored pencils, and even a light saber. “A flashlight?” asked Ami. “Yes,” said the small child solemnly.

Tucked in among the wonderful stocking stuffers were little books, and when I finally got a glimpse of a title, I understood: Bible Stories, with a little picture of Noah’s Ark. Immediately I could see the small, squirmy, blond children in Sunday school somewhere in the mid-west, gathering their perfect cache of presents, parents helping to find the shoebox to wrap it properly, and then sending them off to bring Christmas to the hearts of little Malians halfway across the world. Considering the success of the Malian school system at teaching English (abysmal failure), and the firmly entrenched nature of Islam, I doubt that the books will get much action. The toys, however, are another story. While I sat and helped Ami through her first few visits with the mothers, it was a very pleasant change to see the kids delving through the stuffed dinosaurs and beagles, and holding up prize tractors. Usually, I watch them drag one of the ubiquitous black plastic bags around on a string as a pathetic, droopy sort of kite. Or see them place terrifyingly rusty discarded metal objects dangerously close to their mouths. Or crawl around in the dirt. The Lysol sprayed, choke-resistant world of American childhood toys is almost entirely lacking in Sikoro. Last week, Batuma got a fake cell phone as a present, and I came to appreciate that at least pathetic kites cannot play a repetitive, tinny tune, but still, I was happy she had something to amuse her.

But now happy (and verified healthy) baby Souleman was lying on the ground next to me staring up at the sky, amusing himself as best he could, when his older brother swooped in to claim the title of the ultimate baby pleaser. He brandished a neon yellow plastic slinky and held it over the baby’s head, opening and closing it like an accordion. I watched the baby giggle and gurgle a bit, while listening to Oumou explain the program to Awa Keita. I happily realized that Oumou was doing fine, and didn’t need me to but-in any longer, but also that I could be more useful elsewhere. I stood up and gestured to the kid with the slinky to “Nayan,” “Come here.” I took the slinky and brought it outside to the front step of the house. On my first try, the step was too deep. On my second, the surface was too tilted. On the third, I finaly got the slinky to do one drop and one flip back over, and the small crowd that had gathered was pleased. From the steep stairs of Great Aunt Laura’s house during Hanukkah parties in Brooklyn, NYC, to the crumbling mudbrick step of Sikoroni, I hadn’t lost my slinky skills. As Ami and Oumou wrapped up the introductory visits without any help needed from me, the same kid called my name to watch. Out of the doorway of a room on the courtyard, he got the slinky to slink twice.

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1 Comment »

  1. Sounds very exciting!

    Comment by Paul — March 3, 2010 @ 8:43 pm | Reply


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