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!