31 December 2013

Lessons on Caring Until it Hurts

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.
Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
                                         ~Mahatma Gandhi

Last week a man came to my gym looking for a new pair of metal forearm crutches.  I asked for his paperwork.  He didn't have anything . . . claimed he had been told by the security guard at the front of the hospital that all he had to do was come down to see the white lady who gives away crutches for free.  I told him he had to first pay for a hospital card then pay for the crutches.  He said he had no money.

Maybe it was because I had already paid for several other patients' care that week . . . or because I had just come from a meeting with the hospital's director discussing the charges that would be implemented on 1 January for all therapy services . . .  or because I don't think giving everything away for free is the solution for poverty in Niger . . . or because I didn't like this guys attitude thinking he could just rock up to our gym and demand that we give him things . . . or because he wasn't satisfied with the wooden crutches we have, he wanted metals ones.  Regardless, he was going to have to follow the rules, like everyone else.

So what's he got to do with Mahatma Gandhi's opinion on Jesus and His followers??

I'll get there.

But first I want to tell you a story about a woman I met today.

28 December 2013

A Year Already

Christmas was just the other day . . . and New Year's is on Wednesday . . . and somehow it just now hit me that 2013 is T-3 days OVER!  How did that happen??

It was this time last year I said goodbye (again) to my family and so many of 'my people' with whom I had spent six months reconnecting in the US.   I'll be honest, it wasn't easy getting on the plane . . . I had no idea what this year was going to bring . . . it had the brand new potential for such great things and also deep heartache.  Being back home had started to feel a little normal, but so did returning to Niger once I stepped foot on the ground. 

I can't believe it's been twelve months . . . it barely feels like twelve weeks!  Where did it go!

But so much has happened!  Our therapy department went from living in a walk-in-closet to being a proper gym!  I nearly died scaling a treacherous waterfall in the jungles of BurkinaFaso (okay, that may be a slight exaggeration . . . but it felt treacherous . . . and everywhere in the world is a jungle compared to Niger!).  I led an improve training session on burn splinting and positioning for doctors and nurses from across the African continent (they were so hungry to learn!!).  I survived a collision with an exploding donkey (thank God the truck's windows were closed!!  YUCK!) . . . and walked amongst giraffes and hunted elephants (simmer down PETA, I was shooting with my camera!).

And then there were these twelve moments:

25 December 2013

The View from Here: My Day as a Tourist in Galmi

Last Wednesday was a public holiday: National Day.  I think it has something to do with no longer being a French colony . . . but I'm really not sure and have been too busy converting photo formats and therapizing patients to bother googling it.

Since I tend to be more of a procrastinator-type personality . . . though I prefer works-best-under-pressure . . . I decided not to tick of the many things on my Don't-Have-A-Honey Do List and be a tourist for a day instead.

Seven of us non-Nigeriens trekked to the far reaches of our village and went to visit with the Clay Pot Maker, the Blacksmith, the Spoon Welder and the Baker.  It was fascinating and lots of fun.  We were followed by hoards of children who loved having their photos taken.  And by the end of the day, my camera was as exhausted as I was.

23 December 2013

April Fools!

The other day I went to the workshop to snag a set of keys for a hospital vehicle I was borrowing for a few hours.  The shop was technically closed, as it was a public holiday, but D. who manages our maintenance department was working anyway.  As I entered his office, I greeted D. and the Fancy Man sitting with him.

I knew this man a little . . . he sometimes contracts with the hospital's construction project, and he once brought his son to see me, hoping I could get him a prosthetic leg.  So, I've seen him around, but other than the standard greeting process, we've never really had a conversation.

Until then.

21 December 2013

I've Got Your [Naked] Back

I woke up this morning feeling confident about my Hausa . . . I've had a few surprising interactions this week when I understood what was being said and the Nigeriens I was talking to didn't turn to someone else for clarification!  It may seem small, but for me, successful communication attempt was a huge victory.  My Hausa still leaves a lot to be desired, but I can make a few jokes and I've gotten really good at pretending to understand what is happening around me.

I woke up this morning feeling confident about my Hausa . . . let's just say, I shouldn't have.

13 December 2013

Immanuel: God's Great Act of Vulnerability

I wrote this for SIMNiger's bimonthly newsletter.  Based on the feedback I got from my colleagues, I thought I'd share it here.  Only twelve days till Christmas . . . and regardless of cultural traditions, it is the day that we who follow Jesus have set aside to remember His birth.  He came into this world humbly, and that is how He lived.  We have a lot to learn from His example of humility, compassion, and, yes, even vulnerability:

It’s starting to feel like each term has it’s own theme.  As the first year of my second term draws to a close, it’s become obvious that this go around is all about vulnerability.  Many of us subconsciously define vulnerability and weakness as synonyms . . . but I continually face the reality that vulnerability is actually quiet strength.  

Living vulnerably requires courage and risk.  It is blessing at the risk of pain.  But God calls us not to a life of self-protection, rather of self-denial.  The Christian Life demands the Death of Self,  and if I am to live as a disciple of Jesus, I am called to follow His example of a life lived out in the quite strength of vulnerability.

10 December 2013

Babu Husband, Babu Car

'Déborie, was that your car I saw you driving earlier today?' Granny asked me.

'Uh-uh.  It is the car of the hospital.' I answered in broken Hausa.  'I with boxes big . . . there are muscles . . . but . . . boxes big BIG!!  I no walk with boxes.  I pick up and boxes go inside car.'

Granny's head nodded in understanding but the blank stare on her face betrayed her.  She didn't have a clue what I was talking about.

Maybe it's because I didn't actually know the Hausa word for 'box' but instead just pointed to one and said 'this thing'.

'Wait until B. gets back.  He'll explain whatever it is you're talking about!' Granny smiled, revealing her goro stained teeth.  'Déborie,' she started again.  'Why don't you have your own car?  Foreigners are rich, you should have a car!'

I paused, wondering if I had actually understood her correctly.  I played the words around in my head again . . . I was 87% sure that's what she had said.  So I answered her with the first thing to come to mind:

'Babu husband, babu car!'

04 December 2013

One Story I Couldn't Tell

A friend of mine in the US has been using a lot of creative and energetic means to generate funding for and interest in our little therapy department.  One of her ideas was in the form of family Christmas presents . . . the gifts for her loved ones: stories from patients, in their own words.

I use this blog as a space to tell stories . . . my stories.  The stories of my experience as an Occupational Therapist in a decent sized mission hospital on the south side of the enormous Sahara desert trying hard not to screw up too much as I wade into the murky waters of cross-cultural, trilingual living.

I tell my stories, because they are the ones I know.  But every once in a while, I'm given permission to tell someone else's story.  So, my gift to you is E.'s gift to her family: a story from a patient, in her own words.

One of those stories comes from B., a woman you met in October (don't remember her? No worries! Click here).  At that time she couldn't walk and could barely speak.  But, that was just the first chapter!  Her story hasn't finished yet!

02 December 2013

F. is Still for Favorite

I've been working with my little pal, F., since July.  Four months prior, her head, face and hands had been severely burned by hot water.  It has been a very long road, and will continue to be, but today was one of those victorious days that doesn't come around all that often.

One of the major complications to F.'s case is that her left eye has had severe contractures in both the upper and lower eyelids.  Our incredible chief of surgery had already tried twice to release the contracture and apply a small skin graft under the eye . . . both times the graft site became infected and the transplanted skin didn't take . . . both times the contractures returned.

Last week was round three.

29 November 2013

Reason #476 Why I Have the Best Job Ever

When I was in high school I wanted to go grow up and take pictures for a living.  I wanted to go to art school and study photography and drawing.

But my parents said 'Over our dead bodies!!' (maybe in a slightly more tender way . . . then again, maybe not).

My mom always suggested becoming a doctor . . . but I hated math and who in their right mind wants to spend all those years in the library??  Not me!!  So I thought about Physical Therapy.  I began passing my Saturday mornings volunteering at a local hospital, pushing wheel chairs and pulling oxygen tanks . . . I helped clean out the Hubbard Tank after burn patients had dressing changes . . . and I knew I had found my calling . . . until one day, a new therapist showed up and changed everything!

28 November 2013

Therapy from Scratch

In the past few days I've inherited three new burn patients . . . two of which are pint-sized girlies with terrible burns to their hands.  One was caused by boiling water, the other by hot oil.

Selon moi, there is no worse injury than a burn.  It is incredibly painful and in some cases the healing process takes a year of compression therapy and several more of reconstructive surgeries and contracture releases.  For those with face and hand burns there are often psychological scars as well, as many struggle with self-image issues and social isolation.

On top of that, when a more severe burn injury crosses a joint, there are often functional deficits as a result.  As an Occupational Therapist, it's my job to do whatever I can to limit those deficits.  Using special hand splints, for example, is one way to help the thumb, fingers and wrist stay in a 'position of function', providing a continual stretch to certain bits of important anatomy in order to guard against tissue 'shortening'.

But those splints are expense.  And they don't exist in Niger.  And I've tried multiple different materials that have either been too strong we cannot mold them, too weak they don't hold the proper position, or too water-soluble we can't clean them.  But I'm happy to say, Plan D has finally worked!!

23 November 2013

My Cultural Reflex

Despite these years of living out of the UnitedStates, there is still so much 'American' in me.  I love chocolate chip cookies . . . apple pie . . . and pumpkin spice lattes.  I root for the Yankees (even when they lose) . . . I, like everybody else, love Raymond . . . and I even own a pair of Crocs.  Thanksgiving is my favorite . . . I take Tylenol when I have a headache . . . and I learned to drive in a car with an automatic transmission.

No matter which visa is current, my passport is still American.

And, regrettably, so are most of my initial reactions.

18 November 2013

My Gym Runneth Over

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want . . . my cup overflows, surely goodness and mercy will follow me and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23: 1, 5&6

PT-E. shows B. the ropes of SCI Rehab
Since my arrival in 2011, we've had several visiting Occupational & Physical Therapy practitioners and students.  It's always wonderful to have helping hands and moral support!  And this past week I had a small taste of a dream-come-true.

For three days, our gym was packed . . . it's often busy, but not like this!  For starters, our visiting orthopedic surgeon has come for a month, so our little department is even busier than usual . . . which means long hours and lots of therapeutic exercise. 

But there is a saying: many hands make light work . . . and last week we had many, MANY hands!

08 November 2013

Legs for Life

My dear friend E. is running a marathon on Sunday . . . in Malibu.

One of our [many] amputee patients hard at play . . . I mean, work.

Just thought you'd like to know.

Well, okay, so I don't typically use my blog to advertise the athletic participations or social calendars of my people at home . . . but this is different.  E. isn't racing for herself, she's running on behalf of those in Niger who can't.

E. is running to raise awareness and funds for the Galmi Hospital Prosthetics Clinic project.  Many of you write to me asking for ways you can participate in the work from afar or how you can donate towards the cause.  Well, here's a perfect way.

Help E. reach her goal and the clinic reach ours!  Every little bit helps!  [Give here]


03 November 2013

Judging the Elephants in the Bus

DavidSedaris is an American humorist whose essays are regularly read on NPR and collected in books such as Me Talk Pretty One Day.  One of my favorite stories he tells details a run in with some tourists that he has on the Métro while living in Paris.

The couple loudly scrutinized his appearance and accused him of being a pickpocket . . . while he stood next to them!  He explains that they clearly assumed he was French and therefore did not speak English; he details his judgement of them as obnoxious and ignorant travelers.

And today, I felt a lot like him.

20 October 2013

You are Very Handsome

When I first interview with SIM in 2008 they were asking me to consider a placement at the Leprosy Center located four hours east of Galmi.  While I had an unique desire to work with lepers, I had absolutely no interest in coming to the desert or learning French . . . so I told SIM I'd pray about it and planned to send an email when I got home informing that the answer was no.

As I flew back to Philly, sitting in the plane processing my interview and why on earth these strangers would want to send me to a country I had never even heard of, the man next to struck up a conversation.

17 October 2013

Remembering the Unknown

Living 12km south of the middle of nowhere, I rely on the magical world of social networking to stay up to date on the cultural happenings of home.  Around here we don't have grocery stores, let alone checkout aisles lined with gossip magazines, and the BBC World page doesn't post too much on social trends.

So, facebook and pinterest keep me savvy.  Or at least in-the-know a day or two late.

This week, my wall has been littered with posts regarding the Day of Remembrance that happened in the US on 15 October.  I had never heard of it before, but it's stuck with me and today it sat face-to-face before me in the therapy gym.

01 October 2013

The Power of One

Over the past few weeks, I've made a couple of trips out to see some patients in their homes as well as to visit some other medical centers in the area.  As an Occupational Therapist, one of my favorite things is to see the disabled active in their homes and communities.  What we do in the hospital context is important, but hospital-based care is only a step toward getting a patient home.

Kids who scream when they enter the gym at the hospital, offer smiles when we come to their homes.  The therapy department is a controlled environment, we have tile on the floor and ramp access . . . no ruts in the ground or natural obstacles standing in the way . . . but at home, our patients maneuver around big rocks and livestock (definitely NONE of THAT in the gym!!).

But there's also the communal aspect of life in Niger that we cannot, yet, simulate in our facility.  While our gym is enormous in comparison to the walk-in-closet we started with, it's still only big enough to have two patients (and their familial entourage) tops working at the same time.  And in this non-individualist culture, teaching goes further when everyone is involved.

27 September 2013

One OT Fits Most

When living in a land of plenty, there are certain things we take for granted; conveniences we've stopped thinking about, because when we want them, they are there.  Things like boneless-skinless-chicken-breasts . . . AAA . . . high speed internet . . . and Speech & Language Pathologists.

Known to the common man simply as a SpeechTherapist, the SLP is a vital member of the rehab team.  They focus on the motor aspects of speech and the cognitive components of language . . . but they also address swallowing deficits.  Which, as a an OT with my hyper-active gag-reflex, it was always nice to have a colleague who took over once food entered the patient's mouth.

Dysphagia is the technical term we give for 'difficulty swallowing' . . . it is often related to an injury of the brain, such as a stroke or TBI, but it can also be present in some cases of dementia or other neurologic conditions.  And at home, without fail, if there is a diagnosis of dysphagia, we call in the big guns and the SLP arrives on the scene, armed with applesauce, a spoon and a packet of Thick-It.

11 September 2013

The Gift of Stubbornness

When I was interviewing with SIM back in 2007, they asked me to go to a country I had never heard of and start a therapy department in a village-based hospital on the south side of the Sahara.  I wanted to say 'HECK NO!' but, all my inner people-pleaser could muster at the time was 'Uh . . . why would you want ME to go THERE??'

'Because you're stubborn.'

03 September 2013

Strong Enough to Cry

I finally had malaria.

Well, it's quite possible I've had it before just never got tested or treated . . . but after a week of symptoms that weren't getting any better I decided to let the vampires prick my finger and take my blood.

Sure enough, it was positive.

23 August 2013

F. is for Favorite

I know I've written a lot about the numerous patients, children in particular, who have touched my life since moving to Niger in 2011 . . . and from time to time I claim to have a current 'favorite'.  But if I look back on the past thirty-one months, there's only been two that have reached so far deep inside of me, stealing a little piece of my heart.

In September of my first year at Galmi, my faith was shaken down to the core when a sweet six year old was stripped of her life through a scenario with which I wrestled for months.  Little N. did not accomplish anything significant in her few years . . . but she has left a lasting impact on my life that has come to define a part of my spiritual journey (you can read bits of her story herehere and here).

Little N. was a favorite because her life (and death) deepened my faith . . . and now there is F. whose example is facilitating my ability to trust.

02 August 2013

We are Going to Eat Food Up With Jesus Some Month Some Day

Tsoho I. sitting in the back of the church
About two weeks before B & E's wedding, a patient came to see me.  Fourteen years ago, his right leg was amputated as the result of a badly infected wound.  For fourteen years he had found independent mobility through the use of a vélo, or a hand-peddled tricycle . . . but over the years his wheels began to breakdown.

The family had scrapped together bits for an improvised fix, but it continued to break.  Apparently it needed a major overhaul.  Wanting to help in some way, I asked if they could bring the vélo from their village . . . he talked it through with his son and his brother.  No, they didn't think that was possible.

'Where do you live?' I asked.

27 July 2013

Where the Magic Happens

We had a big inspection this week.  Like JACHO big . . . except, only smaller.  Much smaller.  The inspection team consisted of two African surgeons and a small representation of our administration and doctors.

They stopped by the therapy gym, mid-chaos, to say hello and get a front-row-seat to the show.  We chatted about the method-du-jour of prosthetics fabrication in resource poor areas and before I knew it, they were back out the door.

As an aside to the surgeon who had been most interested in my work, I muttered a quick 'Doctor, most believe the magic happens in the OR, but actually, it's right in here!'  He shot me a knowing smile, just as our Chief of Surgery fired back a witty 'Well, come tomorrow, we'll just have to see about that!'

It was a challenge and a promise that I couldn't wait to hold him to.

21 July 2013

The View from Here: Always a Bridesmaid

Here are some more pics of the wedding and festivities.

20 July 2013

Always a Bridesmaid: Hausa Style, Part III

The beauty of the human race is that there are certain threads that weave through all of us.  Despite color, creed or culture there are commonalities we share.  As women we are all mothers and daughters, sisters and friends.  We are the same at the core . . . but it is the texture of these relationships that sets us apart.

It is the delicate details of culture that define the fabric of these roles.  And B&E have been my tour guides through this journey of learning what friendship means in Hausa.

Always a Bridesmaid: Hausa Style, Part II

It's been three weeks since the wedding . . . and my allergic reaction to the henna is nearly gone.

The day before B&E got hitched, I spent the day with the Bride-To-Be and a hoard of her Nearest&Dearest.

For seven hours we lounged around in a sweaty room, waiting.  In the moment, I couldn't help but think of all the other things I could have been doing . . . but being there, with E. and her life-long friends was more important than I realized.  I had been invited into the inner circle where I was going to receive an important education.

30 June 2013

Always a Bridesmaid: Hausa Style, Part I

Well . . . it's official!  B. & E. have tied the knot!

Yesterday, my trusty sidekick B. married my dearest Nigerien friend . . . and I not only had a front-row seat, I was invited into the ring for a few rounds.

There is something fascinating and enlightening about attending festivities from a culture different from one's own . . . to observe, learn and experience something new.  But there is a whole new level of enrichment that comes when participating!!

27 June 2013

This Is What Improv Looks Like

A month ago, a lady came to see me . . . she comes from a city four hours away from Galmi, and back in the fall, she had been evaluated by a visiting orthopedic surgeon who had written a script for OT.

Unfortunately, I was still in the US.

But word-of-mouth made it's way to her, and she came with the hope that something could be done.

24 June 2013

Thoughts on a Childless Mother

A woman came to my office today with some interesting neurologic symptoms.  In the half an hour I spent with her I was able to ask enough to get a little snapshot into her life . . . she lives in small village about an hour from our hospital.  She passes her day pounding millet, drawing water from the well and collecting firewood.

After I had finished my evaluation, we talked through some things she can be doing at home to help reduce the strain she places on her neck and spinal cord . . . such as not carrying anything on her head.  'Do you have any children or grandchildren who can transport these heavy loads for you?'

'No.' she said.

23 June 2013

When Helping Hurts

If the poor are among you . . . do not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but, instead, freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him what is sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks . . . for the poor will never cease to be among you; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand too your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'
Deuteronomy 15:7,8 & 10

Earlier this week, B. and I were walking through the Surgical Pavilion when he directed me to a semi-private room.  'You remember the patient who couldn't walk that we gave the wheelchair to . . . he's got pressure wounds.'

We came to the bed, but it was empty.  'No, B., he's in bed 1A, not 2A.'  'No, not that one . . . he's a different one . . . this is the one with Potts.'

21 June 2013

Niger in the News

This came across my desktop today.  We are not feeling the effects of the outages in Galmi, but when I was in Niamey two weeks ago the wahala was just beginning.  During Hot Season, power cuts are typically frequent and usually we all just adapt.  But we're talking two or three days at a time . . . with minutes on in between!  To my friends in the capital: Merit Badges coming your way!!

Read about how the lack of electricity in a major portion of the country will have deep and lasting effects on the whole nation of Niger here.

15 June 2013

The Comic Relief of Perspective

A two year old floppy baby was sent to see me this afternoon.  He had been born completely healthy, but after only four months of growing and thriving, a mosquito transmitted malaria to into his little body and the fever reeked havoc on his brain.  As a result, this sweet boy has lost all muscle control, unable to move his arms and legs or even hold his own head in a functional position.

Still sound asleep, Granny pulled him from her back and positioned him in her lap.  Like a rag doll he slumped into a little bundle.  It took a bit to arouse him from his slumber, but once awake, he was nothing but bright eyes and a wide smile.

26 May 2013

Niger in the News

Earlier this week there were two suicide bombings in separate cities in northern Niger, high in the desert (very far from us).  One targeted a Nigerien military barracks, the other, a French uranium mine. Niger's president speaks out, read about it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22671625

22 May 2013

A Cry for Help

It's been two weeks since my last post . . . not because I lack content, but rather it's a time issue.  My Honey-Do lists are quite long . . . and considering the absence of a 'honey', I'm on my own in getting it all done.

Unfortunately there's only so many hours in the day, and when it's a blistering high of 111F/44C, it's hard to be motivated for anything other than napping.

08 May 2013

Up Up and Away

'So, I have to go up in the plane today to take some aerial photos of the hospital.  If the pilot is okay with it, would you like to come with me?' I asked B.

He looked up from his lesson on Record Keeping, Documentation and SOAP Notes . . . 'What did you say?' he asked, certain he did not hear me correctly.

'If the pilot agrees to it, would you like to go for a ride in the airplane?'

My assistant, B., smiles . . . a lot . . . but never quite as big as today!

29 April 2013

This is Not Walking

Everybody has a story.

One of my favorite parts of being an Occupational Therapist in Niger is that I get to help change how that story ends.

Most of the time, when patients come to my office, they are hoping I have some sort of special medication . . . maybe there's a pill the doctor didn't give them which I keep stocked next to the bubbles.  Sometimes, disappointment is written on the patient's face when I explain that I am the medication . . . that my exercises or silly toys are better than a pill . . . or that my adaptive thing-a-ma-bob will make their lives easier.

Sometimes, that realization brings on pure joy.

24 April 2013

Jump

So . . . I missed Friday, again.  But since I'm on African Time, I figure this will be right on schedule.  Despite it being the Wednesday Edition, Five-Minute-Friday is brought to you by the GypsyMama.  Rules are simple . . . you get five minutes, type until the timer buzzes, no editing, no polishing, just type.  Today's topic: Jump.

Jump. 

Have you ever seen a person who had polio as a child, legs coiled beneath them?  Well, have you ever seen a person who had polio jump?  Or better yet, do a modified backhand spring?

23 April 2013

A Snapshot from Today

The view from my office window looks out over the back of the hospital property.  The Guidan Baki is our Ambulatory Care Unit.  It is a space where patients with ongoing wound care needs can stay without having to pay for a hospital bed.  It is also where we have our Rehab Center for Malnourished Kiddos.

For most of us, the work day ended 15 minutes ago . . . the sun is setting to the west, frosting the mud buildings with golden light.  The heat of the day is easing, and for a moment, this feels like the most peaceful place in the world.

I love that my office faces the ACU . . . because, when they think I'm not looking, I get to steal a glance at life . . . I get to watch women preparing meals and men washing the few pieces of clothing they have with them at the hospital . . . I get to watch the children of patients play in the dirt and babies who were near death yesterday eat their fill of plumpy-nut.

But I love the ACU most because it is a place of healing.

21 April 2013

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others


Since moving to Niger two years ago, I have spent the majority of my time feeling out of place.  Whether it be my mother-tongue, my nationality, the color of my skin, my age, my gender, my status as an unmarried and childless woman . . . you name it, there has been a time when I'm the only one in the room falling into a certain demographic.

But yesterday, my role as The Odd (wo)Man Out reached a whole new level!

13 April 2013

Perspective Presumptions

This morning I came across an article on the BBC telling the story of a well-educated, well-off, older single lady who is a staunch advocate for freedom of speech and woman's rights in Bamako . . . the capital city of our western neighbor.  The conflict in that country has been ever present in our news and we do feel its affects across our borders.

I love the article because it so clearly communicates a western perspective on an African's situation.  Let me explain.

12 April 2013

Here

It's been a long time since I've found five minutes on a Friday to stop and write.  Sans editing.  Sans creating.  Just pure writing.

It's usually on Mondays that I realize my life whizzed past Five-Minute-Friday and I think to myself 'I'll get it next week.'  And well, here were are, months later.

So no more excuses.  Five minutes.  Ready.  Set.  Write.

Here.

11 April 2013

The View From Here: Wild Life

There is a nature reserve in the southwest corner of Niger.  Last week I was able to spend two days out there with some friends.  Word on the street is there are lions prowling about, but we never saw any.  Next time.

28 March 2013

Language Learning and Other Disasters

Three weeks ago I officially started studying Hausa.  I'm working with a tutor twice a week . . . and I'm already having flashbacks of the trauma of learning French.  

But this time, I'm in it alone . . . no classmates to cry with . . . no one else to explain it to me if I'm not getting it . . . no one to talk me down off the ledge.

And instead of having a language school . . . with professors who hold degrees in teaching others to speak and understand . . . and a proven curriculum to organize and guide . . . I have a native Hausa speaker, an empty notebook and a set of colored pencils.

Those Who Can't, Teach


I never agreed with that silly saying Those who can, do, those who can't, teach . . . that is, until I became an Occupational Therapist and realized that I was re-teaching many of my patients fine motor skills . . . I once had a burn surgeon tell me that I was the only OT in the world with butter-fingers.  I think he was right.

But these days, motor-skills is the only subject I'm teaching.  Since starting again with my assistant, B., we've hit the ground running with his training . . . well, I hit the ground and he's running (so I don't have GROSS motor skills either . . . gees people!  No need to rub it in!).

B. is super curious, and my botched-French gets the job done . . . most of the time.

23 March 2013

Tastes Like Pigeon

One of the side effects of having an unsatisfiable wanderlust is an insurmountable collection of sampled delicacies.

You know . . . foods that are particular to a certain region or people group . . . those special dishes you would probably never try at home . . . and are only trying because someone generously offered them to you and you really don't want to be offensive . . . or because life is an adventure and now you can say you 'did'.

21 March 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Cornea


Today, my assistant B. asked me about a patient's cranial nerve injury.  He had learned about the cervical, thoracic and lumbar nerves, but never those that connect the brain to the spinal cord.  I pulled out my trusty Anatomy Coloring Book en français and turned to the section on the brain.

There were wonderful black-and-white sketches of what each of the twelve cranial nerves control, and when we talked about the pupil of the eye he asked 'what is that?'

'You know, the black hole in the middle of your eyeball.'

He stared at me.

'You know, the little black hole in the iris?' I explained

'What's an iris?'

18 March 2013

You Know It's Hot Season When

In the States we call it summer . . . in France, l'été . . . in Greece they say καλοκαίρι . . . and for the Japanese it's kyuuka.  But here in Niger it's lokacin zahi: Hot Season.

Before I moved my life to Niger, I knew it would be hot here.  But I wasn't really able to comprehend what 'Sahara Hot' means . . . until I experienced it firsthand. 

So, for those of you who call 'home' somewhere other than our little pocket of the world,  here's a little checklist to help you know for sure that Hot Season has arrived:

11 March 2013

Confessions: When Sciences Trumps Faith


Nearly a year ago, a patient came to see me for a pair of crutches.  He had a low level, incomplete spinal cord injury.  That means he could feel pressure in some parts of his legs and light touch in others . . . he could walk, sort of.

His gait pattern was by no means worthy of the runway, but he was able to get from here to there with significant effort.  Our hospital director had met him at a church about an hour away, and upon seeing his terrible, heavy, homemade 'crutches', promised the man a new pair if he could get himself to our hospital.

The man arrived the following day.

09 March 2013

When Jesus Was an OT

Earlier this week, I received a request to consult on a patient from the Obstetrics Ward.  This is only the third OB patient I've seen in the two years since I arrived in Galmi.  And, like those prior, this Mama had nerve damage due to a complicated pregnancy.

She had been in labor for three days.  Baby had been quite large . . . and didn't survive.  Her legs were marked by the streams of dripping urine that she could no longer regulate; now they were numb and she was unable to walk.

01 March 2013

How to Train Your Pterodactyl

One of my first nights back in Galmi, I was busy unpacking my house when all of a sudden I heard a shrill screeching squall.

Realizing it was coming from just outside my back door, I armed myself with a broom (which apart from my can of insecticide, is the only weapon in my house) and slowly slid back the deadbolt.

I flung the door open, hoping to scare away whatever beast might be waiting.  But there was nothing there.

24 February 2013

How to Cover a Multitude of [Cultural] Sins

Over the past two weeks I've been given a[nother] new Hausa nickname: Mai Wayo: The Owner of Cleverness.

This is a society that appreciates witty responses and apparently these past few weeks I've proven that I can hold my own when it comes to offering come-backs that meet the Hausa cultural standard.  Between the Nigerien nursing staff, several crutch-training patients and a couple of vendors around town, I'm no longer just The Owner of the Giving of Walking.

But before you jump to the wrong conclusion and think that I'm well on my way to rubbing shoulders in this society, the reality is, when it comes to culture, every step forward comes with (at least) two steps back!

18 February 2013

The Art of Asking a Favor

As I prepared for my return to Niger, I made the assumption that last term, I had learned a thing or two about the culture.  I felt confident that this time, I'd make fewer mistakes.

Then I landed.

And it's felt like I've done everything wrong since!

Maybe, like me, my Nigerien friends had made the same assumption, and therefore have raised the bar in terms of cultural-appropriateness.

I guess it's safe to say I've kissed my Get-Out-of-Culture-Free Card goodbye . . . it's time I should know better!

Chapter 2: We Have a Gym

When discussing prime real estate, they say location is everything.  When I arrived in Galmi near the start of 2011, I was given a small office space that was central to the whole of the hospital.

I'd like to think that gesture was intentional . . . an unspoken commentary on the recognition of the importance of physical rehabilitation on the patient care spectrum . . . but really, it was just the only space available that hadn't yet been condemned.

Working in such cramped quarters had it's advantages . . . if a pair of crutches started to slip in one corner of the room while simultaneously a patient began to fall in the opposite corner . . . no problem!  Two outstretched arms, and crisis averted.

You know how they say 'Three's a crowd' . . . well, in the old therapy office, four was a mob.

17 February 2013

There is Hausa and I Still Have My Skirt

I've been busy moving back into Galmi . . . both in my house and my new therapy gym.  We are in the process of rebuilding the hospital . . . which means the hallway where the therapy office used to be is now a pile of rubble.  But it also means our little department has had an upgrade!  With about 4 times the space as before, we now have the space to practice without tripping over equipment, crutches, or one another.

It also means we now have adequate space for a PT or two . . . or five!  (apply here)

My new location brings with it a spectacular new view.  Instead of staring into the windows of the private ward, like before, the new therapy gym faces the gidan baki, aka the ACU (Ambulatory Care Unit).  An open space framed by small buildings composed of five rooms a piece where patients can stay who need wound care or TB treatment, without being hospitalized.

07 February 2013

SWF Desperately NOT Seeking (8-Legged) Roommate

Laying on the bottom long list of Reasons It's Harder to Be Single Girl In Africa is: changing lightbulbs . . . . highest on the list: sharing an apartment with the dregs of God's creation.

That's right, I am, once again, talking about the Creepy-Crawlies.

I mean, really!  I know this is prime climate for so many of the grossest-things-to-squirm-this-earth, but come on!  I have locks on the doors for a reason!  And while I can, on occasion, overlook the friendly mosquito-eatting gecko that sneaks through a crack in the wall, I do NOT appreciate showering with a long-legged, big bottomed SPIDER.

06 February 2013

Cultural Incorrectness

Living cross-culturally is like waltzing in a potato sack . . . no matter how much agility, flexibility or grace you think you may have, in the end, you looks less like a ballerina and more like a lame kangaroo.

We are still in the midst of Harmatan Season . . . that's when the temperatures are bearable because the wind is blowing.  And not just any wind, wind from the northeast that carry dust and sand from the Sahara-proper and deposits it in our tear ducts and nostrils, coats our teeth, fills our ear canals and hides under our finger nails.

Since the wind was roaring this morning, I decided against an African wrap-around skirt (that, and I still live by the First Rule of Therapy: no free shows!) and opted instead for a flowy down-to-my-mid-calf skirt that I purchased in 2008 when I first came to visit Galmi.  But two steps outside and I knew I had made the wrong choice.

01 February 2013

Bakers Gonna Bake

Went on a mail run today . . . which also means running some errands in a town slightly bigger than our village.

Black-Market-M. and I had a nice sized Honey-Do List that included picking up OliveGarden-ish breadsticks from the local bakery.

We found the Gidan Brody (House of Bread) and went inside the compound gate.  We bought what we could, but there wasn't enough . . . and the dough was still rising, so we'd have to come back.

31 January 2013

Coming Back

I've been back 'home' for a couple of days . . . and finally left my unpacking to go say my hellos up at the hospital.

As I made my typical morning commute, I was stopped nearly every three steps by another workman laying covering dirt over new water pipes around the property.  After the initial gasp once I was recognized, we'd go through the regular welcome-back greetings: how was the road . . . how is your mother . . . and your father . . . and your fourth cousin, twice removed . . . and how is the cold season back in America . . . and how is your father's house . . . and have you come back alone, or did you FINALLY get married, because we have been praying that you hurry up and stop wasting any more time (tick-tock, tick-tock).

30 January 2013

The Masquerade - Part IV

I was scheduled to head out to the village last Saturday to finally pull Y.'s face mask.  But, as is common in these parts, plans changed at the last minute.  J. and I flexed to the reality of life in Niger and decided we'd try again on Monday . . . only this time, Y. would come to me.

Borrowing the kitchen, dining room and living room of my favorite Niamey peeps, I spread my tools out and waited for J. to arrive with Y. and her dad in tow.

Finally, the moment of truth arrived.

24 January 2013

The Masquerade - Part III

If I have come to learn anything in Niger, it is that nothing (as in NO-THING) works/happens/comes to pass in the way I expected.

And pulling this mask for Y. has been no exception!  (You can catch up on Part I and Part II here and here.)

That's right friends . . . it STILL hasn't happened!  C'est la vie!

22 January 2013

Une Chinoise

When I was in New Delhi, the family I lived with used to insist that someone down the line in my genealogy was from India . . . they couldn't understand where else my dark hair and dark eyes might come from.  Insisting otherwise didn't do any good.

On my arrival in Niger I was continually asked which city in France I was from . . . and once at an international border, the guard at passport control looked at my last name and began speaking to me in Italian!

But this is the first time I've ever been accused of being 'Chinese'!!

20 January 2013

The Masquerade - Part II

The bad news is . . . the mask didn't get pulled.  The good news is, there will be a Part III.

This was the first time I've been west of the capital . . . and I couldn't believe how remarkably different it was!  The earth was a brilliant rust, and there were trees everywhere!  And not just the same stubby trees we have out east, but tropical-junglish trees!!  And the people look different . . . we have some Fulani out in Galmi, but they're different Fulani . . . it's sort of a subtle difference, but it's there.

18 January 2013

The Masquerade - Part I

About a week after I returned to the States in July, I received word that a 14 year-old girl, Y., in a village west of Niger's capital had been severely burned from the chest up.  Her father works in the SIM village medical clinic run by a tremendous nurse, J., who was involved in her care from the beginning.

J. and I began emailing . . . she needed a crash-course in burn care.  We wrote back-and-forth about the wound healing process and the need for early and frequent movement, how (and why) to stretch, the necessity for compression garments down the road, and the reality that this would be a very long process (both physically and emotionally).

16 January 2013

The Normal I Forgot

Six months isn't really THAT long.  But it isn't really THAT short either!  Though clearly, it's long enough to forget . . . yet short enough to still feel normal.

Like, I forgot what it's like to fly over a city that has no grass . . . but the red earth was so natural.

And I forgot how dirty my feet get walking around . . . but it feels like part of the dress code.