30 April 2011

Life Lessons in Humility

In all parts of the world, there are very different smells.  Some pleasant, others not so pleasant.  We all have differing definitions of personal hygiene . . . as well as different access to personal hygienic products.

The first lesson one learns when taking a crowded bus in a foreign country, is that not all cultures believe in the use of deodorant.

29 April 2011

Miracles Happen!

When I walked into the Trauma Ward today, I was met with a room of forlorn faces.  Not only were the three men not thrilled to see me, they expressed no interest in getting up and moving.  In their defense, I was an hour earlier than normal . . . which meant it was hotter than when they usually do their exercises.

But they have learned, I don't go without a fight.

Reluctantly the first one got up.  Bed B.  We've been working together for two months.  5 long bone fractures!  And as a result his left knee doesn't straighten and his right knee doesn't bend.  His humeral fracture resulted in radial nerve damage in his right hand . . . and a collar bone that dislocates at the sternum whenever his scapula protracts make using mobility devices even trickier.

27 April 2011

Say WHAT?!?!

I always save the Trauma Ward for my last inpatients of the day.  Mainly because my won't-be husband always puts up a fight when it comes to therapeutic exercise and functional mobility training . . . and it's just too hot to argue before 5pm.

Today was no exception.  As I made my way from patient to patient doing therapy, I came to the oldest man in the room.  He's been in the hospital for nearly a month with an external fixator in his lower leg.  He's been a great patient, always willing to work hard, never complaining of pain.  So when he does refuse because of pain, I'm pretty confident that it's legit.  And today was one of those days.

A Strappy Kind of Day

****Disclaimer: Short-Story-Long Girl strikes again!****

A little over a week ago a guy came to the outpatient department with foot drop.  His nerve damage was permanent, so they sent him to me.  At home I'd give the orthotist a call and he'd fit my patient for a MAFO, a Molded Ankle-Foot Orthosis . . . basically a fancy piece of hard plastic molded to the bottom of the foot, extending over the ankle in the back, and up about halfway on the calf.  It would keep his foot in a neutral position which would allow him more ease with walking and wouldn't require him to hike his hip up so far in order to clear his toes from scraping the floor.

But I'm not at home.  And I'm the closest thing we've got to an orthotist.

25 April 2011

Top 10 Ways to Break a Sweat in Galmi

Apart from the palms of my hands and the bottoms of my feet, I've never been a big sweater.  Then I moved to Niger and discovered that I do, in fact, have functioning sweat glands.

Last night around 3 the power went off for about an hour and a half . . . which meant no fans!  I woke up so drenched that at first I thought maybe I had wet the bed, and then (much to my relief) I realized my pillow was just as wet as everything else.

23 April 2011

'It's Ready' . . . in 'African Time' That Is

One of the hardest cultural aspects for any Westerner newly relocated to Africa is the concept of time.  We just place too much value on it.  Time is money, we say . . . but that is one quip that doesn't translate here.  A patient the other day said to me, 'Why do you walk so fast?  What is so important that you have to rush?' It's the first time in my life I've been accused of being a speed-walker!  I simply said 'I'm a North American, we do everything fast.'  'Why?' he asked.  'Because time is important to us.'  'But why?'  He was as confused about my value of time as I am of their value of the head covering.

When I first arrived in Niger, you will recall that I spent my first week in Niamey doing prep things like grocery shopping and ordering furniture.  The furniture was to be custom built based on images and specifications I left with the patron of the furniture place.  We negotiated price and set a date for when the furniture would be ready: 6 weeks.

22 April 2011

Henna: The Hausa Word for 'Oops'

When I was in India 10 years ago (wow!  has it been that long!) the family I was living with put henna on my hands just before I left.  It was beautiful!  I've always wanted to have it done again, and here in Niger it's tradition to apply it for special occasions and holidays.  With Easter this weekend, one of our families here decided it would be fun and allowed me to crash their party.

21 April 2011

If I Had a Nickel for Every Time

I blame it on the strong pain meds, but some guys just don't take no for an answer.  Or maybe it was that jar of peanut butter . . . I just have a hard time believe I'm simply that irresistible.

That's right . . . I had another funny marriage proposal from my patient today . . . yup, the same patient.  Due to a drum of activity in the OR this morning, there was about half an hour that he and I had to wait for someone to come give him pain meds.  I was feeling very proud of myself as I had 'talked' (okay, 'charaded') him into cleaning and redressing the burns on his right leg himself . . . med-free.  But, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

20 April 2011

Because it Doesn't Make Sense

The past few days have been rough ones.  I have several patients with severe burns and intense injuries.  The hallways are full of overflow mattresses crowded with sick babies clinging to life.

The suffering is everywhere.  And it's immense.

Most days it doesn't make any sense . . . and some, like the past few, make even less than most.

18 April 2011

Don't Worry! I'm Beautiful Again!

Behind the hospital is the CREN (the nutritional reeducation center for malnourished babies) and the ACU (ambulatory care unit).  The ACU is for patients that aren't sick enough to be hospitalized anymore but still need some level of care, such as dressing changes, but live too far away to come back once or twice a day.

So I was out there doing crutch training with a patient, when some of my hair fell into my face.  I pushed it behind my ear without thinking.

16 April 2011

Cross Cultural Cooking Lessons

A few weeks ago, my Nigerien friend R. asked if I would teach her how to bake a cake.  Someone had already taught her how to make a chocolate cake, so she wanted something different.  In return she would teach me how to make sauce.

Considering ingredients are hard to come by here, and I didn't want to use anything she wouldn't be able to get (at least in Maradi or Niamey, if not in Galmi) it took me two weeks of scouring the internet (okay, so two weeks minus outages and blog writing time) to find a recipe that I could alter ever so slightly enough to not effect the cake.  The original recipe hails from The Cake Duchess and is probably the way to go for all of you outside of west Africa . . . but for those of you reading who are 'local' (that would be anyone Sahelian . . . from Senegal to Somalia) I modified things just a bit and then translated it (as best as I could) into French.

14 April 2011

Just as Ugly Dead or Alive

This morning when I lifted the bucket to dispose of the corps of my arch nemesis I nearly jumped across the room.  No he wasn't still alive, but I confess I did expect him to open up one eye, wink at me, and then eat me.  I know, even at 30 I have an active imagination.  I just don't like bugs.  Sue me.

Confessions of an Uncheerful Should-Be Giver

There's a book called African Friends and Money Matters by David Maranz.  It comes highly recommended.  I think it's time I read it.

Before moving to Niger, I had been warned that when there long enough, my African friends would eventually ask for money.  It's cultural.  If you have, you share . . . and you do so in the context of close(r) relationships.

13 April 2011

The Scorpion is Now a Widow

It has not been a good insect day!

Eleven days ago I had my first encounter with the famed Midjin Kanuma . . . the Scorpion's Husband.  Well, tonight when I went to feed the dog I'm watching for two months, there was another one, just inches from where I placed the bowl . . . which thankfully I didn't realize until after I was safely inside behind the screen.  L's door was open, so I mentioned it to her, said good night, closed and locked my door and went about my life.

The Local Wild Life

As a continent, Africa is best known for it's wild life.  Lions, zebras, rhinos, ostriches, hippos, gazelles . . . apart from tigers, if there's an exotic animal to be had, it lives in Africa!  Here in Niger there are places not far from Niamey that have wild giraffes, and I'm told that down near the border with Benin one can even find elephants.

But here in Galmi we have donkeys.  And camels.  And scorpions.  And Husbands of the Scorpion.  And nocturnal ants.  And . . . .

12 April 2011

I Still Don't . . . But Everybody Loves Déborah

Not gonna' lie . . . it's hard to be a single girl in a polygamous culture.  'You're already married' is not  a viable argument, and turning down ineligible men requires more creativity than it used to.

Ever since our little waltz the other day, A. has been much more peppy and interactive.  About a week ago, I gave him a jar of peanutbutter to get some extra calories and protein in his diet.  Originally I was going to give it to one of the male nurses to give to him, so he wouldn't get the wrong idea about it being a 'special' gift . . . you know . . . the 'I'm into you so I'm going to give you a goro and if you want to marry me I'll say yes' kind of gift . . . the one that doesn't exist in my culture and I find bizarre.  But when I had the jar and was passing by his room he called me in and asked if the peanutbutter was for him.  So, not thinking anything of it, I handed it over.  He refused it initially, but his brother took it and gave it to him and he accepted it.  I thought it was weird, but hey, right now everything is weird.

11 April 2011

Aqua Babes

When I signed up with SIM to come to Niger 'long term' (any commitment greater than two years) I had to go through some pretty extensive well-rounded training.  The motif woven through each session and course was: M's wear lots of hats.

Cet à dire we often end up filling roles and taking on responsibilities we didn't initially sign up for.

09 April 2011

Adventures in WheelChair Building: Part 1


(This post was started a few days ago . . . but our internet has been down.  Oh the joy's of life in the sandbox!)

At the end of March I shared a bit about my frustration when I was told that I wouldn't be able to build a wheelchair from scratch for a little girl in the community that is desperately in need of one.  Well, the good news is I found a usable chair.  The bad news is the only thing that won't need to be replaced is (most of) the metal frame.  But that's what makes it fun.

Every City Has a Chinatown

It's funny the things you miss when you live far away from 'home'.  
The other day I was really craving Chinese takeout . . . so I decided to organize a community dinner with an Asian twist.  

Let me just start off by saying, tonight was Missionary Ingenuity at it's BEST!  I was so incredibly impressed with the dishes that were brought!  I work with a great team of people who really know how to take what they have available and turn it into something extraordinary!

I made pot stickers and a BerrutiFamily favorite: cold noodles with sesame.  This should hold me over for a while!

06 April 2011

No Rules Left to Break

There are many social rules between men and women in Niger.  Things like a woman walks behind her husband, not with him.  And a woman refers to her husband as maigida ('owner of the house') never by name.

Being an outsider in that early-learning phase, I feel as though I am constantly breaking rules I don't even know.  It is hard to be a professional woman in a context where most women cannot read and to be unmarried by 20 is rare.

05 April 2011

White Balance

It's time to apply for my Permis de Séjour . . . it's kind of like a residency card.  The problem is, I didn't bring any passport photos with me.  Thankfully Galmi has it's own version of Olan Mills: Photomi.

I went into town this morning with three other hospital staff members to get the ID pics taken.  Two were Nigerien, the third Canadian.

We parked on the side of the road across the street from the shop, where we found the photographer sipping a Coke with some buddies.  He led us through the door into a dark dirt 'hallway' that curved around into the 'studio'.  It was fabulous!  Hanging on all four walls were shower curtains picturing scenes of remote off-the-beaten-path far-away-from-the-tourists China: red pagodas and bamboo bridges as the foreground to jutting rock formations in calm aqua waters.  For a moment I forgot the Sahara is only a few hours north.

A Good Day of Gifts

A great big 'MERCI!  NA GODI!  THANK YOU!' to all of you who sent me such lovely birthday wishes!  My team surprised me with cake last night . . . it was very special.

I realized today, though, that the best thing about being 'abroad' on my birthday is that I don't just get one day.  Due to delays with the mail or SIM Air schedules or time zones, I just keep getting to celebrate!

Today, when I got to work, R. the secretary of the surgical ward grabbed me and said, 'Debo, I have something for you.' and from her purse she pulled out a violet and black head scarf!  She took the one I was wearing off and tied this new one on.  In Nigerien culture, gifts are a sign of friendship.  Pretty sure she didn't know it was my birthday, but the point is, I have a friend!

04 April 2011

Scratch and Sniff

Last week I was treating some patients in the OR block and a very scared 9 year old little girl was brought in for a cast.  I didn't get the whole story, but it involved a motor cycle, a collision, a broken leg and an eye swollen shut.

She was terrified as I casted her leg, but by the end we were pals.  Over the week I'd chat with her by name when rounding with the docs and she'd smile at me and giggle and that was that.

Well, today I got an order for crutch training as they want to send her home.  I found my smallest pair of crutches and prayed they'd fit.  And they did.  And she got the concept of non-weightbearing on the side with the cast.  And she managed the coordination of the crutches.  It was great!  My biggest success story of the day.

30 Reasons

. . . I'm glad to be in Niger for my Thirtieth.

Yup.  Today's the big 3-0.  I admit, in all my dreamings of 'some day', spending my 30th birthday in Niger was nowhere on the list!  Don't get me wrong, I've never been a big birthday person (okay, maybe when I was 8) . . . it should be a day with close people . . . maybe a nice dinner . . . or something unusual.  Last year my birthday was on Easter, and two class-mates in language school went with me to Reims, in the Champagne region of France, just to get away (since the French believe in Easter-Monday . . . Oh how I miss France and their holidays!).  Champagne is a bit hard to top, regardless.

02 April 2011

The Scorpion's Husband

I knew it was only a matter of time before I met one.  But it's been six weeks without a single sighting, so I was beginning to think I would be able to make it until September 2013 without ever having to see one.  But, as they say, all good things must come to an end . . . and I'm still shaking.

I'm told they're harmless, but anything with that many legs, who runs that fast, and jumps that high, and is that ugly should be considered armed and deadly.