20 November 2012

First World Problems

Since being home, I've been introduced to the social media trend of #FirstWorldProblems.  You know, the things we whine about it that when put into perspective pale in comparison . . . like flopping on the couch to watch TV only to realize that the remote isn't in arm's reach . . . or having so many grocery bags two trips are required . . . or 'she dropped her Kindle into the foot tub when she nodded off during her pedicure' . . . or the leather seats in the car are too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter . . . or can't hear the TV because the cleaning lady is vacuuming . . . well, you get the idea.

So, the other night, I had to face one of my irrational fears head on.  No, I didn't have to cross a plank-and-rope suspension bridge . . . or survive a night trapped in a cave after an avalanche . . . or have my right arm bitten off by camel (Dude!! I did say 'irrational' people!!  This is a Judgement Free Zone!).  As terrifying as those may be (for certain ones of us), they would be nothing compared to what I had to do . . . I spoke in front of a group of teenagers!

18 October 2012

Niger in the News: Hunger Brides

Niger leads the world with the highest rate of child-brides; 75% of girls are married before age 18, and one-third before age 15!  The ongoing food-crisis and never ending poverty only perpetuate families marrying off their young girls in search of dowries to help supplement income.

This photo essay was first published a few weeks ago, but thought you'd be interested.

Click here.

11 October 2012

Ten Eleven Twelve

Circa 1983
Today is October Eleventh.

And it's my brother's birthday.

Being two time zones away is the closest we've been in three years worth of birthdays.  So, since I can't be there when he blows out the candles, I thought I'd dedicate some ramblings his way.

Happy Birthday to Momma Berruti's Favorite Child.  (don't get too used to it, I will be reclaiming my title tomorrow!)

We've come along way from our Montauk camping days . . . you were my companion through childhood . . . I share that with no one else, nor would I want to.  But despite how the road bends, I am proud of you!

Your life is an example of loyalty . . . you are slow to give up on those who matter most to you.  Taking us at our worst and sticking by us anyway.

Thank you for being able to pick-up-where-we-left-off . . . despite the oceans between us.

I know the journey hasn't looked like either of us expected, but I pray that this next chapter will be full of joy and purpose.  That you would provide an example of perseverance for your children.  That you would demonstrate to them the richness of Christ-like character . . . and teach them that who they are is more important than how they perform.

I love you!

05 October 2012

Rethinking the Silence of Women in the Church

Today, I have the privilege of being the next guest-blogger of a series entitled, Women In Ministry.

In a Mirror Dimly is a blog that offers 'an imperfect and sometimes sarcastic perspective on following Jesus' by author, Ed Cyzewski.  I met Ed once, at a Bible study in south Jersey, before I left for Niger . . . but got connected to his blog courtesy of the comments section at theveryworstmissionary.com and I've been hooked ever since.

Ed was bold running this series . . . women's roles in the Church is a heated topic these days, and it differs between each denomination and congregation.  But instead of debating, Ed is opening his personal writing space for a public avenue where we women in ministry can share our own story.  It is a place where we have been invited to challenge, encourage and spur on one another.

So, click on over and visit Ed for a little bit.  (Scroll all the way down to the bottom to leave a comment . . . let him know you appreciate the dialogue!)  

Click here if you haven't already.

03 October 2012

Grasp: Five Minute Friday

It's been a while . . . okay, maybe even a little longer . . . since I've posted a Five Minute Friday.  And I know you're thinking to yourself 'Uh, Deb. it's Wednesday . . . of the following week!  And sorry, but 'jetlag' is no longer a viable excuse!'

And you're right!  There's no excuse . . . but it's never too late to start over again.  I had run across Lisa-Jo's blog again last Friday and when I saw the theme I knew I couldn't pass it up.

So here's how this works: set the timer for five minutes . . .  write, write, write . . . no editing . . . no over-thininking . . . just write.


08 September 2012

Frequently Asked Questions

For the past two months, I’ve been on a book a tour . . . except, the book is actually my life.

I’ve been traveling and speaking, catching up with old friends and making new ones.  Whether it’s standing before an audience or chatting with a stranger on a plane, these eight weeks have been characterized by the Q&A.  

And I’m beginning to find some common themes; certain questions keep coming up. Which makes me think that maybe you’d be interested in the answers.  So here they are, listed in order of frequency: 

Q: What kind of a house do you live in, and what conveniences do you actually have?

A: I live in a cement house with a metal roof . . . one side of a duplex actually.  It’s a comfy one-bedroom with a fabulous little screened porch that often doubles as Chez Déborah (ranking on ‘Galmi’s Top 10 Places to Eat’ two years in a row).

28 August 2012

Reverse Culture Shock

The other day I was pulling out of my parking spot and I nearly had an emotional breakdown.

Sitting behind the wheel, I felt paralyzed and wanted to cry.  I didn’t know where to go or what to do.  I wanted to run away and hide, never to return to such a God-forsaken place . . . as South Jersey.

That’s right.  After only seven weeks back in the US, I’ve been officially diagnosed with Reverse Culture Shock.

While I’m still waiting on the prognosis, the hope is it’s not terminal.

24 August 2012

A City Submerged

News worthy places get play-by-play coverage during disasters . . . when tragedy strikes Niger it takes a few days to make it on the wire I guess.
Photo Courtesy of R.W.

This morning, The Guardian has posted a photo essay of the damage done when several dams up-river gave way and the banks of the Niger River swelled well beyond capacity.  After years of drought and famine . . . oh, excuse me, I mean 'Food Crisis' (have to be PC) . . . this rainy season was looking hopeful.  Until the other day.

Now the UN is saying 14,342 homes  have been destroyed by the floods.  Unlike the homes destroyed in NewOrleans, these mud-brick homes in Niamey have literally collapsed into puddles.  And there is no such thing as Disaster Insurance!

20 August 2012

Niger in the News

A must read article from the WashingtonPost.

Click here.

11 August 2012

Portraits: From the Attic

A dear friend of the family came over this afternoon to revisit her childhood via my mom's old Ginny dolls.  Tucked away in an old cardboard box in the attic, the memories filled the room as we unpacked the antiques.

This of course led me to the boxes I had stashed when I packed up my apartment back in 2007.  I rediscovered my collection of old cameras, a few favorite sweaters, and a series of 20 or so prints of mine that had once graced my walls, gallery-style.

The prints were mainly portraits, taken on my travels during my previous life . . . the one I lived before I ever knew Niger held a spot on the map.

Sliding those large frames from their hiding place, I traveled through space and time, recalling in my mind's eye the moment each shot was taken.  Where I was . . . how I felt . . . the surrounding context that didn't make the cut.

30 July 2012

Niger in the [Olympic] News

Niger's very first Olympic rower!  Dreaming of the day when they can boast an athlete in the Paralympics too!

Check out the story here.

27 July 2012

Likita Tsoho

Last night, I spoke to a chapel full of hearing aids and walkers . . . I may have been the only one in the room still sporting real teeth . . . I certainly had the least amount of gray hair!  But there was no doubt about it, I was clearly the only rookie too!

'How many of you served at Galmi Hospital?' I asked.  About a third of the hands were raised.  'And in Niger?'  That brought us to about half.

And there I stood, still green from my first-term, before All Those Who Had Gone Before.

24 July 2012

Mechanical Problems

Air travel is always an adventure.  We should be lining up to taxi . . . but it'll be another two an a half hours before we even think about boarding.  Which means spending the night in a city where I know no one.  Eh, c'est la vie, right?!

Yesterday I was chatting with some friends about those small change-of-plans moments that happen in our lives.  You know, like when you forget a document at home, swing a U-turn, pick up what you forgot, and then drive past the accident you most-likely-would-have-been-in.

We all have stories like that.  It happens all the time.  Maybe it was someone you bumped in to . . . maybe it was a disaster averted . . . maybe it was something silly, like 'my plane was delayed, I'm going to miss my connecting flight, so the nice guy behind the counter just gave me a $50 voucher for my next flight with his company.'  Nice.

So, what's your story?  I'd love to hear it!

18 July 2012


I know it's been nearly two weeks since I've posted . . . I'm in the US and I'm still processing (that and since leaving Africa, my daily life doesn't seem interesting enough to hold my own attention, let alone all of yours!).

But, today, I need your help.

I need you to log into your facebook account, visit ReachOut (here's the link again, if you missed it), click the 'LIKE' button at the top, then click on the box that's labeled 'VOTE FOR PROJECTS'.  This will bring you to another page where you can choose from one of nine projects going on around the world.  The one with the most votes will receive $4000 (Australian) for the project.  Considering we need $250,000 for the new PT Department at Galmi, this will give us a GREAT head start.

30 June 2012

Out of Africa

I have taken a long layover on my way back to the US.  I needed some time to process this 'first term'.

So much has happened in the past three years . . . I've learned a new language well enough to build friendships, work, and live in a new place . . . I've begun learning another new language so that I can better understand the culture where I work . . . a small empty room was transformed into a multi-service physical therapy department . . . a new profession was introduced to a big village, with a strange name, situated between two speed bumps along Niger's Main Street . . .  I've witnessed the birth of babies, and the last breath of the sick . . . I've logged countless miles in planes, trains and automobiles . . . I rode a camel, ate a horse (and snails, and rabbit, and pirana eyeballs, and more types of cheese than I can count) . . . I've said goodbye to friends and made new ones . . . I've lived in three countries on three continents . . . and all of that is just on the surface.

21 June 2012

The Physiology of a Smile

One of my favorite things about Nigerien women is the way they smile.  Particularly the middle aged village women.  They are often young grannies with faces worn by a lifetime of harsh realities and rough terrain. 

The lines etched on her skin tells a story of perseverance and durability. The reward of bearing the role destined to her since birth. 

The deep tones of her skin compliment the vibrant hues of her traditional dress. 

Her lips taught and pursed as her eyes betray the fatigue of her body. 

But suddenly her eyes meet mine. My stare merges into a smile. And that's when it happens!

18 June 2012

A Special Goodbye

In just a couple of days I will be leaving Galmi for a period.  Nothing is wrong, it has just been decided that it is in the best interest of the new department if I go back to the US for a shortened ‘home assignment’ (as SIM calls it) sooner than originally planned and then come back and plow ahead with the new project.  At that time B. will begin working with me full-time and we will be able to devote more hours to his learning process.  
So, I have begun to say my goodbyes.  

In the Nigerien cultures, saying goodbye is just as important as saying hello.  You see, the goodbyes teach us a lot . . . they teach us to cherish the moments we have together . . . they teach us the importance of finishing strong and completely . . . they teach us the depth of our appreciation of one another.

16 June 2012

A Million Legs Too Many

Without question, the worst part of living in Niger is the abundant population of Creepy-Crawlies.  I've had more than my share of misadventures with scorpions, maggots, cockroaches, the famed midjin kanama, snakes, earwigs, grasshoppers, and locust.  And those are only the ones I've written about!

Apart from the occasional ant or termite that gets lost and wanders into my house, the bugs have actually been living according to our truce: they don't come inside, and I ignore them when I see them outside.

That is, until the other night.

15 June 2012

Portraits: A Home Visit

I've been seeing R. off and on since we built her a wheelchair over a year ago.  For those of you not familiar with the story, about three years ago, R. was just about to begin kindergarten when she contracted malaria.  She had been a bright little girl, and was anxious to learn to read.

But her case was very serious, and the malaria affected her brain.  R. cannot speak, but she understands.  She cannot walk, but she is learning to scoot on the ground.  She has very poor movement control, but she is learning to use her spasticity to help her move from laying on the ground to sitting up.  She is now able to feed herself small pieces of bread and other such food items.

In the West, R. would have access to adaptive equipment and a specialized school, what R. does have is a Granny that loves her deeply and believes that even with her deficits, R. has significant value and worth!

Since I first met her, R. has made an enormous amount of progress.  She can (most of the time) sit up on her own, she's reaching for objects that she sees and she can pick up and hand off some small things.  And now that we have OT-M for a short time, we've been going to see R. at her house once or twice a week.

It's been fun to watch her progress and a real joy to see her mom become more and more interactive with her.  Today, R.'s siblings were all home, and they couldn't wait to have their photos taken!

Hope you enjoy the view from here!

14 June 2012

Niger in the News

The BBC has published a photo essay on the use of the moringa tree to fight the food crisis in Niger.  Back behind the hospital, the CREN (our pediatric nutritional rehab center) maintains a small grove of moringa trees.  The Mamas who come with their sick babies are taught how to cultivate the trees and use their wonder-leaves in food prep.

Here's how some of our WorldVision colleagues are using the trees in a village on the western-side of the country.

12 June 2012

Phys Ed, Village Style

Last Friday, OT-M and I squeezed in a truck with four Nigerien colleagues, bound for the bush.

They were going to vaccinate babies . . . we were going to take photos . . . I mean . . . uh . . . screen babies for disabilities and survey well-babies for developmental milestones in their cultural and familial contexts.

But, life rarely goes how I plan.

07 June 2012

A Grief Interruption

Today is Thursday.  That means Club Foot Clinic.  And since my objective is to work myself out of a job, I haven't actually put a plaster cast on a baby in two months; today was no exception.  I busied myself with some paperwork, and started to update our patients' charts.

At one point, I reached for my stapler . . . it was empty.  So I walked to B-Ward, the nurses' station for our medical and pediatric patients, fully intending to steal a few staples from the drawer and be on my way back to the therapy office.

But, as I've come to learn, living in Niger, interruptions are important.

And today, when I thought I went to get staples, I was interrupted by profound grief.

02 June 2012

Old McDonald Had a WHAT?!?!

One of my favorite games we used to play in language school was What Do Your Animals Say.  Unlike Chess or Scrabble or Settlers, there's no board or pieces involved . . . and the only rule is: at least two different nationalities are present.

The game is simple, we choose an animal and each nationality takes his or her turn making said animal's sound.

One would think that universally all cows say 'MOO' . . . but I'm here to tell you, my friends, that is just not the case!

30 May 2012

Portraits: Market Day

Every Wednesday folks come from far out in the bush to go shopping, as it's our MarketDay here in Galmi.  Normally, when I go, I don't bother bringing my camera, as most people get angry if I take their photo, or they demand that I pay them for it.

But a few weeks ago, I received an email requesting that I snap a few photos of the World (okay, OUR world) Famous Onions.  The request was to show how onions are grown, harvested, shipped and sold.  Which meant, I'd have to take some photos at the market.

After asking a few old men about capturing a portrait of their purple harvest, I was surprised at how compliant they were.  So, I got up the nerve to starting asking vendors if I could snap a shot (or seven) of them . . . promising to return some day with a copy of the print.  Much to my surprise, only one old man refused!

27 May 2012

Fuel Smuggling in West Africa

Of the burn patients I see in Galmi, the number one cause of burns in males over the age of 16, is gasoline explosions . . . usually as a result of smuggling.  

The petrol is purchased, over our southern border, in Nigeria and then smuggled across to be sold here for a profit (which is still cheaper than at the gas stations).

The BBC has published a photo essay on the gasoline smuggling process . . . granted, they've focused on transportation via the sea . . . something we don't have.  But it's an interesting essay, nonetheless. 

24 May 2012

How Many Translators Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb

It is so fantastic to have another OT here!  M. is a pediatric Occupational Therapist from Canada.  She has jumped in with both feet and we are thrilled she is here!  She brings a new perspective and brand new energy to our little department.

B. and I are already learning a lot!

So, this morning we hung out for a little while in the PMI, the Under-Five-Clinic, so that M. could get a feel for what types of diagnoses we see here in Galmi and what is 'typical' for kids here.  But this afternoon was Screaming-Baby-Clinic . . . I mean, Club-Foot-Clinic, so we were back in my office.

After we were done, we watched and translated as M. eval-ed two babies who are having trouble with breastfeeding and are not gaining weight.  M. showed the Mamas some stimulation exercises to help 'wake their mouths up' before trying to feed them.

While we were seeing the second one, two women walked into the pediatric ward asking to see Déborah. But really, they didn't want to see me, they wanted to see this new Baby-Whisperer.

22 May 2012

How Quickly I Forget

I'm not going to lie.  Sometimes it's good to get away.  And sometimes it's hard to come back again.

This morning I returned to Galmi from the capital.  I had gone for an appointment at the USEmbassy, and stayed for a few days of rest . . . which turned into a few more when I decided to stick around to meet a visiting OT at the airport.

Normally I'm ready to go back home after a few days in the 'big city'.  But this time, I didn't want to go.  I didn't want to particularly stay either; I just wasn't ready to go back.

19 May 2012

When Things Go Wrong

I'm a design girl, myself.  As in . . . Intelligent Design.  I believe God is a whole lot more creative and brilliant than we could ever hope to be . . . and our human bodies are just more proof of it. 

What an amazing machine He made for us!  We run and jump and see and hear!  Our thumbs oppose!  Our toes wiggle!  Our skin sweats! (okay, maybe not where YOU live . . . but here, our pores are at it ALL day . . . and night!)

But what happens when something goes wrong?  When one cog rebells from the rest of the wheel?  When a rogue system deviates from the plan?

For most of the world, the best personification of this is Cancer.  But this week, in Niger, it was Osteogenesis Imperfecta.

15 May 2012



Something tells me that number is about to change my life.



That's right!  It's OFFICIAL!


14 May 2012

The Rains of Hope

I'm on the bus again. Heading west for an appointment in the capital.  Out the window, the ground is brittle.  Girls carry water jugs on their heads between the well and the village.  Sandy riverbeds lay exposed.  Eleven months ago, where shades of green painted the landscape, there is nothing but brown, orange, red and yellow.

But change is coming.

The other day, I was standing at the main entrance of the hospital. It was late afternoon and I had left a patient's bedside for a front-row seat of this year's first rain storm.

08 May 2012

In the Land of Men

Yesterday I was present for a C-Section.  It was amazing.

But after the baby was born and Mama's uterus was stitched closed, the OB prepared her for a tubal ligation . . . which for the rest of the world is just a fancy way of saying, she was about to have her tubes tied.

Baby Boy was Mama's tenth baby.  But he was only the fifth to survive.  And she was done.  

She looked to be about my age and she didn't want to have any more children.  

As she was prepped for the C-Section, the Chef du Bloc Operatoire entered the surgical theatre and began speaking strongly in Hausa.  There was a lot of back and forth between the men in the room.  I understood: 'her husband,' 'he doesn't want,' 'don't continue,' 'there will be problems.'

06 May 2012

Lessons on the Anticipation of the Yoke

I’ve been asked by one of our docs to do the wound care and limb wrapping of a 13 year old boy with abscesses in both of his lower legs and knees.  I was asked to see him because he has hemophilia . . . a disorder in which the blood doesn’t clot . . . and that makes his case a little more complicated.
Due to his blood disorder, we’ve been asked to put him under anesthesia only if necessary.  So I work gently and slowly . . . and use my (very) limited Hausa to try to distract him from what is going on.
Sometimes it works, but most of the time, the anticipation of what may hurt consumes his attention and he whines and whimpers, afraid of how bad it will be when the pain actually does come.
And the more honest I am with myself, the more I realize that I do the same thing . . . only with God.

01 May 2012

Portraits: Premier Mai

Today was Labor Day, which means instead of working we had a party.  The hospital employees spent the day cooking a meal of roasted ram and sauce (seasoned with all the rams' insides) . . . and then we all congregated on the tennis court for music and dancing, speeches and games . . . and of course, eating.  Everyone was dressed in their best, and we had a great time.  Thought you'd enjoy some shots from the evening.

27 April 2012

Even Silly Prayers Get Answered

Yesterday, a suitcase arrived on the bush plane.  There was no tag except 'GALMI' . . . and the pilot didn't know who it belonged to.  One of our doctors opened it and said 'It's for Deb.!'

After schlepping it up to my office (thanks to the willing hands of several passers-by), I unzipped it, only to find the case stuffed with priceless treasures!

I know you're thinking rubies, sapphires, and diamonds . . . but you're not thinking priceless enough!  We're talking knee braces, wrist splints, and pediatric Miami-J Collars!  It was an OT-at-the-edge-of-the-world's dream come true!

But you've got to hear the story behind it!

25 April 2012

In My Wildest Dreams

I had two conversations yesterday about dreams.  Two separate people sat in my living room and shared the vivid dream they had each experienced the night before . . . both about Galmi . . . both very spiritual . . . both about hurting people.

The Bible is full of stories about dreams . . . Jacob and his ladder . . . Joseph and multiple anti-fraternal night visions . . . Daniel and his apocalyptic revelations.  I grew up learning these dreams and believing in the power of the God who gave them.

But I also grew up being told by my religious influencers that dreams are no longer used by God to communicate with His people.  That the canon of the Bible is the final revelation of God to man and to believe that His Spirit would speak to an individual through a dream was an extremist position . . . and besides, all those gifts were for a time, which has ended.

And then I came to Galmi.  And the conservative dream theology I had bought into was slowly being picked apart.

22 April 2012

Confessions from a Closet Hypocrite

I was convicted today about my attitude . . . which is really just a prideful way of saying 'about my ugly sinful heart.'

Today I was impatient and snappy with my Nigerien colleagues in the hospital.  I responded in anger when things didn't happen as quickly or efficiently as I had hoped.  My tone and words were anything but kind to my patients' families when they complained about the heat and long wait for dressing changes.

And I blamed them for my irritability.  I said that today I hated this culture.  And I wanted to leave.  And that my desire to throw my hands in the air and quit was their fault.  And I angrily judged my Christian Nigerien friends and hated the men of this culture for their pride and attitudes toward women . . . and . . . and it was all because I'm tired and cranky and hot and . . . .


It was because I'm a hypocrite.

19 April 2012

Butterfly Baby

'I want you to do the wound care for a two-day-old baby I just diagnosed with Eaosivaljvlkajsviwjv Bkcvalkjvalwkj.'

'I'm sorry . . . with what??'

'Eaosivaljvlkajsviwjv Bkcvalkjvalwkj' our visiting pediatrician repeated himself.

'Sure, okay, I guess . . . but you're going to have to write that down for me!'

Epidermolysis Bullosa, Dowling-Meara Type.

It's a rare genetic abnormality.  VERY rare, in fact.  And baby's skin is literally blistering and sloughing off wherever he is touched. 

15 April 2012

Mercy Hurts: A Very Deep Lesson

Thanks to short term nurse practitioner and doctor super-moms, we western women that live in Galmi get together on Saturday afternoons to study the book of James, courtesy of BethMoore and her MercyTriumphs study.  It's all about the practical outpouring of our faith . . . answering the question of 'Okay, sure I believe in Jesus . . . now what?'

We examine what justice, mercy, and love look like when applied to our faith, attitudes, speech, and actions.  And yesterday, words were put to what I've been feeling and struggling through:


10 April 2012

Niger in the News

The BBC is running a photo essay about the food crisis in Niger and other countries in the Sahel Region. Photos courtesy of Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam.

To view, click here.

Lessons From My Giant Shoe

This afternoon I tried to express a bit of a journey I've been processing for the past six months or so.  In my post, I mentioned washing the face of a four-year-old little girl.  She was admitted to our hospital in the wee hours of the morning today, along with her older brother and her uncle.  She and her brother had been sent, along with two cousins, to a small shop to pick up some seasoning their mom needed to cook.  Their uncle waited outside.

According to the story, there were some bottles of gasoline in side the small shop . . . and somehow, there was an explosion.  With the four kiddos inside.

The uncle ran in and was able to pull the siblings out, catching himself on fire in the process.  The two cousins did not survive.

By the time I got back to the hospital after lunch, this little girl I had cared for only hours before had died.

How Much Longer?

For the last little while, my posts have been sporadic and shallow; they recount funny moments or light-hearted events.  But consider that a coping mechanism.  I am trying to remind myself that there is Life in our hospital.

I want to tell everyone I encounter about my friend Little H. and the cute things he does . . . because he is an island of light in the midst of a turbulent storm.  And while the pounding of the waves smoothes the rocks overtime, they first have to holdfast, remain solid, and not crumble.

07 April 2012

Expanding the Repertoire

When I was learning French, I loved learning idioms and expressions.  You know, those cultural phrases that mean something deeper than just the normal definition of the word.  For example, in the US we say 'Stop beating about the bush' . . . no one is actually out beating bushes . . . what we mean is 'hey, quit avoiding the issue and say it already!'

So now that I'm (as informally as possible) learning (or rather 'picking up as I go') Hausa, it's time to begin expanding the repertoire to include colloquialisms.

04 April 2012

A Newer Assistant

This morning when I arrived at work, I was greeting by a very loud

Nothing quite says 'Happy Birthday' like the love of a three year old.

30 March 2012

My Best Hausa

This morning my feisty LOL from the other day called me into her room as I was passing in the hallway. As I made a quick detour into her room, she began thanking me profusely for helping her walk again.  I told her 'No problem, tsohwa (old lady)!'  But she took my hand and just kept on.

So in my best Hausa I said: 'Tsohwa, I work for Jesus.  Really, no problem.'  She stared me.

I repeated myself, this time a little bit louder, as she is, after all, a Little Old Lady.  She blinked at me.

Third time's a charm!  I thought to myself, and said it again.

She patted my hand and said to me: 'Sorry.  I don't hear any Hausa!'

So much for trying!

29 March 2012

Just Relax

Physical therapy as a medical service is still a very foreign concept here at Galmi Hospital.  So many of our patients come from remote villages and barely have access to primary health care, let alone functional rehabilitative services.  There are so many tasks and commands I give to my patients that must seem incredibly bazaar and so out-of-this-world to them.

Today, B. and I were working with a little old lady (her chart said she was 50 years old . . . pretty sure she was actually on the upper end of her sixties . . . which around here is about 107 in western-years) who had one of her legs amputated yesterday.  We were teaching her how to do some important exercises to keep her residual limb flexible and strong.

The first of which required that she lay on her stomach.

28 March 2012

Intro to Greek Mythology

I know . . . I know . . . I know what you're thinking: 'Deb. we understand that you live in the middle of nowhere, but where the heck have you been??'  Well, I've been a bit busy, I guess.

Over the past few weeks, B. and I have been working on memorizing the bones of the foot and the muscles of the lower leg.  He's been getting good at identifying the landmarks and parts on paper.  But unfortunately for B., the foot and lower leg of a real-live person are covered with skin . . . which makes finding important places a bit more of a challenge.

19 March 2012

The Velociraptor

You know that scene in Jurassic Park when two of the main characters are in the resort kitchen, hiding from the Velociraptors?  And he whispers to her that they need to stay very, VERY still.  Well, I think that's the scene . . . it's been a while since I've actually watched it . . . but you get the point.

They are being hunted by predatorial beasts; they are overdosing on adrenaline . . . it's Fight-Or-Flight in it's purest sense.  They don't know if they will survive . . . so they stay very, VERY still, hoping he won't see them (and then eventually eat them).

I relived that scene today.

Only, I wasn't the prey.

I was the Velociraptor.

15 March 2012

Something New

Earlier this week I was asked to see another patient with a spinal cord injury.  A few months ago, he fell into a well.  Now he can't walk.  But he came to our hospital because he's been laying on a mat on the floor of his house since his accident and in turn, developed pressure ulcers.

The good news is, his family has plastic arm chairs.  The bad news is, it's too high for him to get into.  Or, at least that's what he thought three days ago.

12 March 2012

The Teacher Gets Schooled

I've been feeling a bit intimidated by the responsibility of teaching a Nigerien how to work as a therapy aide.  It's a daunting task . . . taking six years of higher education, removing it from a classroom, and making it up as you go along.  But I've decided to give it a go, and so has B., my new trusty sidekick.

Since I'm trying to get him independent with the things I like least . . . I mean . . . the . . . uh . . . easiest things for him to learn (crutch training, post-amputation rehab, and club-foot clinic), we've started at the beginning . . . or pretty close to it: the foot.

You need to understand that B. grew up in the Nigerien education system . . . which is similar to the American education system in that teachers educate students in a place designated as a school.

05 March 2012

Meeting the Kwadda-Kwadda

*Due to security concerns, I cannot, at this time, disclose my current location . . . I'll just say it's not Galmi.  But don't get too homesick, I'll be back soon enough!*

When I first signed up with SIM, the intention was to go to a different hospital, in a different country.  A country where they spoke English and I already knew some people.  But after a bit of a Jonah-process in my life, God closed-and-opened many different doors . . . leaving the FINAL one unlocked . . . the one with 'GALMI' sign on it.

But back before all those door-closings, and I still thought I was going to that other country, I was in SouthAfrica, in a little tiny town in the Draakensburg Mountains spending time with orphans.  At that point, I had been there several times and knew the children well.

'Ahn-tee Deb. whin ah yew kuhming baack tuh see us uh-giin? they would ask with their sweet little accents.  And I would tell them that I didn't know, because I was moving to the other country to work there.  Their eyes would get big and they'd beg me not to go:
'But dey have du Kwadda-Kwadda dere!  Yew can NOT go dere.  The Kwadda-Kwadda are VERY dangerous!  No!  Yew can NOT go DERE!'

29 February 2012

Hallway Apraxia

Brace yourself, it's about to get a little nerdy up in here!

In Galmi, we play chicken a little differently than in the US and other parts of the world. Instead of two cars charging head-on until one swerves (or they collide), we play with humans . . . in the hospital hallways. 

Often it's with a family member of one of the patients, but it's always the same thing: I move right, she moves right; I go left she goes left.  This continues until we meet in the middle for a either a slow-dance step or a more sporty fake-turn-and-run-with-the-ball type move. 

27 February 2012

Lessons on Taming the Dragon

When I was at university, homestarrunner.com was super popular. My favorite character was StrongBad, a Mexican wrestler, complete with face mask, no shirt, and boxing gloves.

Once a week he would send an email . . . often they were completely pointless. But sometimes they spurred our creative juices (oh how I miss the Colleger Girl Squad). And then, there was my favorite: Trogdor, the Burninator.

Trogdor was a dragon.

And being a dragon, he breathed fire, hence the burninating. There was no thatch-roofed village safe from the fierce fiery flames of Trogdor.

24 February 2012


Earlier this week I was in Niamey . . . and while waiting for a colleague to join me there, I ended up with a 'free' afternoon.  And thanks to the old-friend-just-passing-through of a friend-of-mine, I found myself tagging along with a filmmaker from the UN's fundraising division as she went with the director of the Christian Blind Mission (CBM) Niger out to a village east of Niamey to find some hope in the midst of Niger's food crisis.

They were going to visit Oumou.*

At the age of 12, Oumou contracted polio and never walked again.  Now, as a woman in her 40's, Oumou sits with her legs curled up beneath her.  But as our Djarma-to-French translator says, she has no interest in keeping her arms crossed!

22 February 2012

And the Award Goes To

Last week . . . or maybe it was the week before . . . could have even been last month, now that I think about it . . . my old friend from high school, RV., passed on the Versatile Blogger Award to me!

Here's how the award works: 
1) Thank the award-giver and link them back in your post.
2) Tell your readers seven (7) things about yourself.
3) Give this award to up to fifteen (15) recently discovered bloggers.
4) Contact those bloggers and let them in on the exciting news.


16 February 2012

Small Miracles

Monday morning I began my day with the news that the three month baby we had been treating for partial-thickness burns on his feet and buttocks hadn't survived the weekend.  When I had left on Friday he seemed to be doing well.

Wednesday morning, the nine year old with full thickness burns on his back and buttocks died while he was the next in line to be brought in for his dressing change.

In light of last weeks losses and struggles, the deaths of these two children came as quite a blow . . . and of course, a well of emotions.  Anger, frustration, confusion, doubt.

15 February 2012


You matter because you are you, 
you matter until the last moment of your life
and we will do all that we can
to help you live until you die.
                                          ~Cicely Saunders

13 February 2012

The Art of Carrying

This morning as I was checking in with the rounding doctors to see if they had any new patients for me, a young mother offered me her baby.

Believe it or not, this is a typical occurrence, which usually ends with roars of laughter when I explain that I have no physiological means to feed their baby . . . which, as a woman of 30, just blows them out of the water . . . and then once they've all explained it to one another how on earth, for the moment, my wells could be dry, they laugh at my expense.

And today, there was laughter, as usual, but this time it was because I don't know how to properly carry a baby!

09 February 2012

Confessions of a Spiritual Mason

You know, not every story at Galmi has a funny moment or blog-post-worthy victory.

It is nearly impossible to walk from one end of our hospital to the other without being stopped by a suffering patient who is desperate for pain medication or barely clinging to life.

We work tirelessly to keep patients alive, and in the end, they still die.  Despite all efforts.

It's exhausting.  And discouraging.

But lately I find myself ducking behind a wall . . . it's not too high, but just enough that I can drop to my knees and hide behind it for a little while.

05 February 2012

It Takes [Going To] A Village

It's time for another episode of The (Long) Story Behind The Photo.

Every Thursday, the Therapy Department holds a club-foot clinic . . . we counsel mom's that club-foot is a malformation and not the result of a sin they've committed or a curse someone has put on the family . . . we remove the cast or splint from the week before, reposition baby's foot with a little more stretch, and recast him so he's stuck until he comes back to see us . . . oh yeah, and we make babies scream.  And boy, are they loud!

So far we've had two kids.  So that's two kids that should have been crippled, that will now be ambulators!  How's that for 'making the lame to walk'!

Things were going really well, until little A-H got some sand in his cast that resulted in a small wound on his shin.  (Brace yourself . . . Short-Story-Long Girl strikes again!)

04 February 2012

Fair Game, False Advertising

I'm sitting here watching the 2010 film Fair Game . . . within the first 15 minutes, one of the main characters travels to Niger.  Except, it's NOT Niger!  It can't be.  The cows are too fat, and the goats are too furry.  The taxis are black and the license plates on the cars are not long and skinny.  The gendarmes don't have the right camo uniforms.  The architecture of the city is wrong.  There are too many airplanes at the airport.  There are cafés on the street.  The city is loaded with tall apartment buildings and palm trees.  The dirt is a light golden color, not rust.  And there is not a single red Kasea motorcycle to be found.

Niger's only on the screen a few minutes . . . but it's longer than the scenes shot in Kuala Lumpur.  And those are accurate city shots. The director also filmed in Cairo, Baghdad, New York, and DC.  All of which are recognizable cities.

The Owner of the Giving of Walking

'Ban likita ba.  Babu magani.  Ni, mai ba da tafiya.'

'I am not a doctor.  I don't have any medicine.  Me, I'm the owner of the giving of walking.'

Three sentences I use even more than 'Kafa, ittatchi; kafa, ittatchi.' ('Foot, crutches; foot, crutches.)  For our patients, being Western means being a doctor.  Being a doctor means giving out medicine.  A good portion of my day is spent being stopped in the hospital hallway, told of an illness or compliant of pain, and asked for medicine which will help.

28 January 2012


I’ve had a really fantastic caseload this week.  I’ve been busy, but my patients are challenging, and interesting, and I’ve really enjoyed them as people!

There’s K. with the TBI . . . his enthusiasm in each treatment session is contagious and his determination is inspiring.

And H. who comes for hand therapy . . . she expresses deep gratitude with each small step of progress which helps remind me that I love my job, not for the thank you’s, but for the small steps that help people live again.

There’s also Little H. who still cries and hides his face every time he sees me coming, but whose struggle to survive keeps present in my mind the reality that life is fragile and short, but worth the fight.

I have others too, but I really want to tell you about M. . . . who, after today, will be fondly referred to as ‘Pélé.’

26 January 2012

Oh Yeah, I'm Still Here

Sometimes I forget that I'm not working the US any more.  One would think that my surroundings would remind me on a minute-by-minute basis . . . but no.

And normally I don't remember until I do something my patients find ridiculous!

Like, today, for example.

22 January 2012

Niger in the News

Interesting article on the food crisis in Niger and the ongoing conflict in the northern region of our southern neighbors.

Click here to read it straight from the BBC.

20 January 2012

Flash. Mob.

We all have a Bucket List.  Mine is decently long.  But I confess, sometimes I add things after I've already done them, because I'm not actually creative enough to come up with interesting and adventurous Must-Do-Before-I-Kick-It's.

But one thing that has been on The List since I first discovered it, was to dance in FlashMob.

And so, that's just what I did.

19 January 2012

Promises . . . Galmi Style

One of the worst parts of living in Galmi is that our compound has a revolving door.  In my first year here, we've had over 100 'short term' folks come, help, and leave.  ONE HUNDRED!  That's a lot of hellos and goodbyes.

Today, our friend, SwissA, left.

Saying goodbye is a way of life here . . . but it doesn't really get easier.

To ease our grief with the departure of yet another who shares our experiences in this crazy corner of the world, Cool-J and I ate chocolate.

My Own Mango Princess

If you've never read Where is the Mango Princess by Cathy Crimmins , you should.  It is the firsthand account of a wife's journey with her husband as he returns to life after a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  It's funny and sad all at the same time.

Kind of like my therapy session with L. today.

18 January 2012

Adventures in TBI

I like burn care.  I'm good at it.  I understand it.  It makes sense.  It's logical.  The burn healing process is predictable.

Unlike that of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).  Which is anything but predictable!

Right now, on my caseload, I have two guys in their early 20's that both have a severe TBI.  And while at first I was a bit nervous about it, I'm having a ball!

13 January 2012

I'll Be Ready

Yesterday I was working with a guy who shares a room with three other patients.  Each of the four has a caregiver who sleeps on a mat on the floor at the base of the patient's bed.  It makes for a crowded treatment session, but after a year, I'm getting used to it.

As I was helping my patient sit up in bed when suddenly there was some background music.  It was a ringtone coming from the brother of the man staying in the bed across from my patient.  It took him a few runs through to find where he had put his phone, so I had enough time to recognize the tune.

I knew the tune, but couldn't place it.  I began humming it to myself.  And that's when it hit me!

It was the theme song from Baywatch!  HA!

12 January 2012

The Cries We Like to Hear

For about six weeks now, I've been treating a little boy who is not quite two.  Little H. has partial thickness burns over the entire right side of his body.  He was burned by hot oil.

It has taken a significant effort to keep this little guy alive.  There were several periods over the last month and half that I wasn't sure he would survive.  At one point he refused to eat or drink anything and his surgeon ordered a nasogastric tube.

It took a few educational sessions, but we were able to teach his mom how to feed him via the tube in his nose and how to keep it clean.  We had to put little mittens on his hands, yet he still managed to pull the tube out twice.

11 January 2012

Pipe Dreams

Today, I shared a fabulous bonding moment with the old plumber that works for our hospital.  I love this old man . . . not as much as I love my own Soho from the OR, but almost.  He's gentle and kind and always assumes I speak more Hausa than I actually do.

My shower has always had a bit of a drip . . . but while I was away for the conference, it turned into more of a stream.   

I had been advised that when it comes to leaky faucets, it's best to try and fix it yourself.  So that's what I did.  

But that was a really dumb idea. 

Sweet Applause

No, I haven't been ignoring you . . . or holed up like a hermit.  I've been away at our annual country-wide spiritual life conference in the capital.  So not to worry, I've got a few pre-written saved-up posts coming your way.  Thanks for your patience.

Yesterday, one of our short-termers, Cool-J, came to work with me.  She shadowed me for the morning and then shared a bit on her own blog . . . which I HIGHLY recommend!  So please skip on over to Cool-J's No Zebras Here and read her account of Sweet Applause.