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Dr. Azadeh and I stood in the bright African sun, leaning over a railing of one of the rural extensions of the clinic, sipping mango juice and chatting while waiting for the director of the clinic to finish up so we could all return to Kanifing.

“If you deliver any babies this week, could I come with you to watch?”  I asked.

“Haven’t you seen enough deliveries?”

“I’ve seen plenty, but they’ve all been to dead babies.”

And it was true.  Because the most complicated cases in the country are all referred to the hospital at which I did my internship, each delivery I have seen has been a still birth.  I am still trying to eliminate those terrifying, devastating images from my mind.  I can imagine nothing more devastating than carrying a child for nine months, feeling him kick inside your belly, dreaming of watching him grow up and then having it all end before it even begins.

“Why should I let you in to see a delivery then?  You are a bad juju.”  Dr. Azadeh said, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

A juju is a good luck charm carried by nearly all Gambians, either worn around the waist or the ankle or just carried around.  Dr. Azadeh and I frequently deal with them at the Saturday morning clinic where I have become the unofficial radiologist, allowed to carry out all of the ultrasounds and predict due dates based on the circumference of the baby’s head.  Before spreading on the lubricant for the ultrasound, anywhere from one to ten jujus have to be pulled over that bulging belly so that we can see the baby.

I am not a bad juju.

This morning I made the mile-long trek to Gambian Family Planning Association—a Saturday morning tradition that I have grown to look forward to each and every week–ignoring cat calls and forging my way through sandy back roads.  I arrived at the clinic just in time to carry out the first patient’s ultrasound, and the morning continued as usual.

After thirty-some patients had been seen, Dr. Azadeh and I packed up our stuff and headed out to his old Benz.  “Let’s check the labor ward quickly,” he said.  “Maybe you can stick around for a delivery.”

“Are you sure?  I’m a bad juju.”

“Shut up,” he joked, pulling me into the ward.

Sure enough, Adama Camara had just been admitted, already 7 cm dilated.

“Shouldn’t be long now,” Dr. Azadeh said as he walked out of the door.  “Call me later.”

Forty-five minutes of coaching, screaming, and some serious pushing later, Mariama Camara was brought into this world.  As cliché as it may sound, I can honestly say that I have never witnessed such a beautiful miracle.  Words cannot describe how excited I was to see that first little tuft of hair when she began to crown, and I cannot begin to articulate how awe-struck I was to see a whole miniature human body emerge from such a tiny woman.  I’ve read about it in books, seen it on TV, heard about it so many times, but absolutely nothing compares to witnessing the miracle of life first-hand.

As Adama recovered, I was on Mariama duty—cleaning off her little face and arms and making sure she didn’t kick off her blanket.  As the mid-wife dealt with the mother, I stood watching Mariama, simply amazed and overwhelmed with what I had just witnessed.  Gradually more and more color filled her perfect little cheeks and suddenly, after a few half-hearted blinks, she opened her eyes to see this whole new world and this strange, white-skinned creature she will later come to know as “Tubob.”

I fell in love.

After everyone had been successfully transferred out of the labor ward, I grabbed my bag and rushed the door.  “I’ll be right back!”  I said, hustling out.  “Give me an hour, max.”

I walked as fast as my little Tubob legs could take me, through the sandy back roads and across the traffic-ridden streets to Happy Camp, where I keep a drawer full of Tubob things that I have been saving for a moment such as this.  I grabbed two bars of fancy French soap and a baby soft stuffed bunny, threw them into a bag, and rushed back out into the 100 degree day.

I hustled past children playing and goats butting heads, dodged a circumcision parade, screaming obscenities at the masked man asking me for money, stormed by the car park as taxi drivers shouted their many pick-up lines my way, and finally made it back to the clinic.

“Adama!”  I said, walking in the room.  I walked over to her, bearing my gifts like a modern-day wise man.  “This is for Mariama,” I said, taking out the bunny, “and here is some really cool soap I brought over from America.”

“God bless you, God bless you,” she repeated.

“Adama, amuloo morom,”  I said in Wolof.  You have no equal.

“God bless you, God bless you.”

I am still in awe from what I have experienced today.  I was told before I departed for The Gambia that this experience would change my life.  I never thought I would get to do all the things I have done, meet all the people I have met, experience all I have experienced.  This place has changed me, changed my future, changed my goals and dreams and all for the better.  I have been transformed.  I feel like the luckiest girl in the world—definitely not a bad juju.

You know that feeling you get when you feel someone staring at you?

I was looking over medical charts when I got that feeling.  I looked up from “Malaria Parasites:  3/1 View” (a pretty terrible diagnosis) to see two big brown eyes glued to my face.  Two huge, terrified brown eyes watching me intently.  And as soon as my blue eyes met his, a scream that could break a thousand windows filled the tiny clinic.  Deafened, I turned to Dr. Manneh (the latest victim in my voracious hunt for clinical experience) and gave him a panicked look.  As soon as I lost eye contact with the baby, the screaming ceased.

Interesting, I thought.  A kid who doesn’t like tubobs.  What is this?

As Dr. Manneh examined the boy’s older brother, weak and burning hot with his first case of malaria, I glanced back over at the terrified kid.  Eye contact made:  scream recommenced.

“Will you stop looking at him?” Dr. Manneh pled with me.

Sometimes I forget that I am scary—a scary tubob, roaming the streets, speaking some strange language with some strange accent, wearing scant clothing and over-sized sunglasses.  Sometimes I forget I’m the minority.  But, as the song goes, there’s always something there to remind me.

Whether it be a screaming child, terrified at the sight of this unbeknownst light-skinned species; or a 20-something male, hissing and yelling “Hey, Baby.  Hey, Sweetheart.  You’re my angel.  You’re my only one.  Hey, I want to talk to you.  Hello?  Hello??”; or a group of girls chasing me down the street screaming “Tubob!  Minty!  Tubob!  Give me five dalasi!”

There’s always something there to remind me.

I was so used to being the average-sized, single white female with average grades and average talents.  I love attention, bask in it even…at home.  Now I understand why celebrities walk by crowds of people, ignoring their screaming and never stopping to sign an autograph.

I’ve become way too good at ignoring people.  I’ve become way too good at tuning out male voices.  I’ve become way too good at keeping my eyes steady in front of me, avoiding eye contact, and walking quickly.  Way too good at making up stories about my life, my husband, my job, my name.

“My name is Pumba.  Yes, I’m married.  No, he’s not black.  He’s Chinese.  His name is Wong.”

“My name is Carrie.  Yes, I’m married.  I live in Nevada.  Yeah, I’m a card dealer.”

“My name is Yaya.  I’m a doctor.  Yeah, I just came from surgery.  I’ve been here for five years.  I don’t have a phone number, sorry.”

In a weird way, I think I’ll kind of miss my many pseudonyms, my many lives.  Everyone at Saint Mary’s knows I’m Sarah Brown:  Bio major by day, jungle juice connoisseur by night.   I’m just another white girl, just another barefoot girl walking down the path, just another Mustang on the highway.

Then again, I really won’t miss:

“Hey, First Lady.”

“Hello, pretty girl.”

“Baby, sweetie, I want to talk to you.”

“Hey, running girl.  You look so nice.  You look so strong.  Can I join you?”

“I see you walk by every day.  I really liked your white shirt and blue skirt last Monday.  You are always looking so nice.  I love you.  Come to my compound.”

No, thank you.  I am married.  I am engaged.  I have two husbands and I simply cannot handle another…

Craving of the day:  my mother’s favorite—Ledo’s Grilled Chicken Salad with extra cheese and black olives, smothered in honey mustard dressing.

And that Starbucks grande soy iced mocha…

I simply cannot believe that three weeks from today these feet will touch American soil.  These past four months have flown by faster than I could have ever imagined.  I have had my ups and downs, my moments of homesickness and my moments of never wanting to end this adventure.  I have laughed.  I have cried.  I have fainted.  I have held a uterus in my hands.  I have seen life and I have seen death.  I have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched more than I ever thought possible.  This daring adventure has been everything I imagined it would be and more, and I could not ask for more.

The last post probably left a pretty bad taste in all of your mouths.  I ended with a dramatic soliloquy depicting the ignorance of Americans, our inability to understand how great our lives are and what a nightmare women live in countries less fortunate.  A life update is clearly in order.  So what has Sarah Brown been up to this past month?

Easter Sunday on the beach followed by cocktails with The Happy Campers

a great day, though nothing could ever replace a dinner of lamb and mint jelly followed by a carefully plotted egg hunt at my grandmother’s.

Painting a mural on the wall of a local all-girls secondary school

a project planned by one of our MAT students, Chris, whose determination to leave a mark on The Gambia is simply unprecedented.

Finishing up classes

meaning no longer do I have to call my Embryology professor twice a week to beg him to hold lecture instead of merely handing us a print out to read.

Throwing a party for all of our UTG friends

complete with our original Gambian Bruschetta, a recipe inspired by the Gambian snack of green mangoes with Jumbo seasoning.  Green mangoes, jumbo seasoning, some red pepper, onion, orange juice,and  sugar all mixed up and chilled, served on slices of toasted tapalapa (Gambian French bread—a 5 dalasi loaf of heaven).  Delicious.  Kay and I have clearly become culinary masters.

Learning to make domada for the second and third time

and simultaneously discovering that every Gambian woman makes domada a little differently, but it always ends up delicious.  Who knew peanut butter and tomato paste could combine to make the most amazing dish known to man.  If you are lucky enough to be a close relative of Sarah Brown, you will reap the benefits of my Gambian culinary endeavors this summer.  Plans for a family meal are underway🙂

Food Poisoning, The Sequel

I’ll leave out the gory details, but it should be noted that I have never gone this many consecutive days with diarrhea before in my life.

Realizing that Peace Corps is more than just dirty hippies putting off finding employment

I have never eaten so much food in 24 hours ever.  Rice rice rice.  Fish balls.  Chicken.  Yassa.  Coos.  Peanut butter.  Tapalapa.  Domada.  We stayed with a volunteer up-country for two days and a night, spending the majority of our time eating.  The volunteer, Rachelle, was amazing–fun, happy, down-to-earth, doing real work and totally immersing herself in the culture.   We talked about Chipotle and Starbucks until the wee hours of the morning then dreamed about burritos and lattes all night.  More stereotypes overcome.  Not all Peace Corps volunteers are dirty hippies.  And if they are, they are really awesome dirty hippies and I envy their lives…even if they do live in mud huts with no electricity or running water.

Cervical cancer symposium at the University success

I sweat and stuttered my way through my presentation in front of approximately 50 UTG students.  Although it started two and a half hours late, the turn-out was good, my point got across, and the feedback was excellent.  Saving lives one sweat-drenched shirt at a time.  That’s my Gambian experience.

Three weeks, two finals, one paper, and one road-trip to Senegal stand between me and a Starbucks grande soy iced mocha.  And a Chipotle salad.  With extra cheese and sour cream.  And a big hug from my Mommy.

As has become my Saturday routine, this morning I woke up bright and early and strolled over to the Family Planning Clinic to spend the morning with Doctor Azadeh and his crew.  I waited amongst the crowd of Gambian women in their brightly colored, beautiful outfits, sticking out like a sore thumb in my rolled up jeans and tank top.  Every seat quickly filled as women continued to shuffle in, the most pregnant of whom were given priority seating.  When Dr. Azadeh finally strolled in, half an hour late, I joined him in the examination room and waited for the patients to be called.

Three hours and thirty-three patients later, my jeans were stained with ultrasound gel when the last patient quietly entered from the now empty waiting room.  She was thin and delicate looking, not more than 20 years old with hollow eyes and a blank stare.  A medical student I recognized from the hospital walked in behind her, sat her down, and began to explain the situation to the doctor.  I still can’t believe what he said.

Around10 p.m.on Thursday night, this 19 year old girl was coming home fromSenegambia, a local tourist town.  She hailed a taxi, and paid the extra money for a “town trip” so that the driver would take her precisely to where she needed to be as opposed to one of the usual taxi stops.  The driver then proceeded to drive her to a dark alley, beat and rape her.

Throughout the day, Dr. Azadeh had been his usual jovial self, making jokes in English that patients could not understand, just to put a smile on my face.  After this story, however, his face completely changed.

“Were you a virgin before this?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Did you tell the police?” he asked.

“Yes, but they cannot find the driver.”

The girl stared at the floor, avoiding eye contact with everyone in the room, giving short answers or none at all.  I gazed into her empty face, reading her horror and trying to hold back my own emotions as the story unfolded.  Doctor Azadeh asked her to lie down on the examination table and he carefully carried out a pelvic exam.   As soon as the speculum was inserted, the girl began to scream in pain.  I held her clammy hand as she squeezed with all her might.  Mas, mas, mas, I repeated.  I had no idea what else to do.

When Doctor Azadeh was finished, he sat down at his desk, his face stricken with the most solemn expression I have ever seen him wear.  I listened carefully as he explained the situation to her and her escort.  She already has some vaginal discharge indicative of an STI.  She will need to have a blood test immediately and again after three months to test for HIV.  She will need to buy emergency contraceptives immediately at the one pharmacy in the country that sells Plan B at an extremely inflated price.

I sat next to her, completely dumbfounded and at a complete loss for words, listening as these horrors poured out of the doctor’s mouth.  When she finally walked out of the room, I stared at Doctor Azadeh who stared back at me.  We both said nothing.  After seeing one final patient, the waiting room had finally become vacant and I walked out of the clinic, dazed.  I walked down the dirt path leading from the clinic, made a right, and sat down at the corner outdoor bar, took out my journal, and ordered a beer.

As I wrote, I cried.  I am so disgusted by this that I can hardly speak, I wrote.  This poor girl lost her virginity to a rapist and now she has to deal with the consequences while that stupid (insert choice word here) taxi driver gets off free.  She has to deal with the STI he gave her, make sure she doesn’t have HIV, deal with pregnancy if such is the case, and all because some (insert choice word here) couldn’t control himself.

You hear these stories on the news, read about them in books, learn about them in school, but it’s not until you see with your own eyes the look on a victim’s face, the sheer terror in her eyes, that you realize the devastation that such a disgusting, degrading, selfish crime bestows upon an innocent girl.

If I’ve learned nothing else in this country, I have learned that seeing is believing.  You can read every book, track world news religiously, listen to every humanitarian activist drone on and on about his or her cause, but it’s not until you see a situation first-hand that it becomes real.  It’s not until you see the empty gaze of a traumatized victim that you realize that this is real, this is a legitimate problem, and terrible disgusting evil people really do run rampant in this world.  It is not until you see pain in someone’s eyes, sorrow on someone’s face, that you realize how incredibly great you have it.  I drive around the U.S. in my new sports car, drinking my latté, singing songs about lost love and feeling sorry for myself.  In the meantime, some innocent girl in a third world country is losing her virginity to a sex-hungry misogynistic pig.

One girl cuts herself to feel pain while another is having pain forced upon her.  One girl complains about feeling fat while another starves.  This world is full of sick, bitter irony and, ironically, the majority of us are hardly aware of it.  The majority of us will never fully be aware of it.  We will continue to feel self-pity for the most miniscule of problems; we will continue to inflict pain upon ourselves just to feel; we will continue to ignore activists who speak out against the disparities of this world; and we will ever know the sheer beauty of our own lives.  We will never know what real pain is.  We will never realize how lucky we truly are.

 

 

Fingers aching.  Vision blurry.  Chill music flowing lazily out of my speakers.  Half a cup of cold coffee sitting neglected by my side.  Typical crunch time routine–only this time it’s not some biology lab report I’m typing up.  It’s not a heavy chemistry book laying open on my desk.  It’s not a heavy burden weighing down on my shoulders.  It’s the most beautiful kind of crunch time–a kind that I never knew existed.  With the rough draft of my final paper due in ten days, I spent the afternoon today sitting in front of this patchwork lap top, trying to put into words the last three months of my life.  I spent the afternoon writing about what I want to write about, about what I wanted to research, about what I wanted to learn.  Eight pages later, I’ve finished my introduction.

It’s amazing to me how much I have changed just in these few short months.  I didn’t realize it until I went back and re-read my blog.  I didn’t realize it until I began telling our new house-mates about how stressed I was when I first got here, how much trouble I had just trying to relax.  It took me a while to find my niche, but I have certainly found it and the things I have learned, the things I have experienced along the way were well worth the anxiety for those first few weeks.  They have been well worth that sweat-laden eight hour drive from Senegal, well worth the nights I lay in bed wondering if I was doing the right thing, well worth the research and the phone calls and the work and the lazy afternoons that I thought I would die of homesickness.  As a wise woman did remind me, “this too shall pass,” and what I have found on the other side was certainly well worth it all.

That said, the rough draft of my final paper is, as the name suggests, rough, but the following is an excerpt I felt was blog-worthy.  Mariama is truly the portrait of a Gambian woman.  Enjoy🙂

…As my time in The Gambia progressed, the women that I saw got more and more incredible.  It was not uncommon to see a woman alone in the ward, mere hours out of surgery, breastfeeding her child.  It was not uncommon to see a woman laughing and joking with the woman next to her immediately following a painful evac.  It was not uncommon to see a woman sitting up in bed smiling just hours after a hysterectomy.  One of my most memorable patients gained such a title by demonstrating the most inspiring panka moment I have ever seen:

Mariama was 55 years old, incredibly thin, and quite visibly very ill.  The first time I saw her, I took a great liking to her.  As was my typical routine, I approached her bed as I would any patient’s, said “salaam alaikum,” and grabbed her folder.  She watched me with classic panka eyes.  “Naga def?” I asked.  “Jaama rek,” she responded—peace only.  Chronically ill, but peace only.  We exchanged a few more greetings as I looked over her charts, and then I moved on to the next patient.  As I worked, I felt her watching me.  This would continue to be the case every day for the three weeks she remained in the ward, and even though we hardly spoke one another’s language, I could not help but be so incredibly inspired by this peaceful woman.

It wasn’t until the second week of her stay in the ward that I truly saw her panka come out.  It was only hours after her surgery, and while using the bathroom she had bled a bit on the floor surrounding the toilet.  Several minutes later, the cleaning lady emerged from the bathroom, livid and yelling at the top of her lungs.  I had been sitting at the front desk, going over charts and talking to a nursing student when the incident unfolded.  I looked at the student, wide-eyed, and asked her to translate the drama.  The cleaning lady shouted to the patients, inquiring about who was the disgusting woman who made such a mess.  Mariama confessed, and the cleaning lady continued screaming, telling Mariama that she would die right there in her bed.  With as much strength as she could muster, Mariama yelled right back.  The match continued for several minutes until finally the cleaning lady left, leaving Mariama with a smug look on her face.  She looked at me, smirked, and lay back down on her bed.

After this episode, I took a great liking to Mariama.  I studied her charts and researched her syndrome—Meigs Syndrome, a very rare disease composed of a triad of a benign ovarian tumor, ascites, and pleural effusion—and looked forward to seeing her each day that I was in the ward.  After her hysterectomy, I held her hand every time the doctor changed her bandages, repeating “mas, mas” (sorry, sorry) as she winced in pain and squeezed my hand.  The day she was discharged was bittersweet.  I wished her a peaceful journey, as it was the only meaningful phrase I could think of in Wolof, and never saw her again.  She will probably never know the impact she had on me, but I will certainly never forget her.

When Dr. Azadeh asked me if I would like to assist him at the clinic on Saturday morning, I responded with an enthusiastic yes.  See patients referred from up-country?  Learn to read ultrasounds?  Learn to estimate due dates by fetal size?  No thank you, I think I’ll pass.  I’d rather sit around the house and do research.  Sorry.

Saturday morning could not have come any sooner.  The night before, I was too excited to sleep.  All I could think about was what an incredible opportunity this was, all the patients I was going to see, what I was going to wear!  I woke up bright and early, showered, and stood in front of my closet, dazed.

What does a doctor wear?  Nothing that I have in my wardrobe.  Nothing that I have in my wardrobe in The Gambia, that’s for sure.

I settled on white capris and a black shirt, threw them on, and ran downstairs, now late due to my famous indecisiveness.  I went to slip on my flip-flops, as has been the case every day for over two months, when I realized worn-out sandals would probably not be the most professional-looking choice.  I ran back up the stairs, grabbed my dust-collecting black flats, and ran back out the door.

After about a hundred yards of power walking, the realization that my feet have known nothing but flip-flops and running shoes since the dawn of 2011 became all-too real.  After about a mile, I could feel the skin over my Achilles tendon wearing away.  By the time I reached the clinic, I could hardly walk.  I limped into Dr. Azadeh’s office apparently with a clear look of distress upon my face.

“Are you okay?”  Dr. Azadeh asked, squinty eyed with a half smile.

“I think I’m dying,” I explained, removing my shoes to reveal the massacre of my precious feet.

Dr. Azadeh offered his diagnosis:  “That is disgusting.”

We reviewed several patients, mostly ultrasounds of late second trimester pregnancies.  Dr. Azadeh would measure the head of the baby, read it out loud to me, and I would use a chart to estimate the age of gestation and the approximate due date.  Seeing the heartbeat of the babies was as exciting to me as it was to the mothers.  Movies do this moment no justice.

After the last patient was seen, Dr. Azadeh sent me off to attend a lecture on STIs while he hurried off to another clinic to check on patients.  “Come tomorrow and help me with that hysterectomy, okay?”  I still cannot believe this is my life right now.

I sat through the STI lecture attempting to pay attention while dreading my walk home.

After an hour or so, the lecture ended and I reluctantly stepped onto the street.  Two steps into my journey, I realized that I had no other choice but to remove my shoes and walk home…barefoot.  I hesitantly removed the devices of torture, placed them into my bag, and began the longest trek of my life through the jungles of Jimpex, the construction market of Kanifing, which separated me from the oasis of Happy Camp.

Women stared.  Men inquired about the status of my feet.  Children approached this strange tubob, questioning “Tubob, ana sa dala?

I smiled wearily, grumbled, “It’s a long story,” and walked on.

Forty-five minutes later, my freshly blistered feet reached the comforts of home, were thoroughly scrubbed, and lain to rest.

The next day, I was advised to come to surgery in flip-flops.  Every day I love this place more and more.

 

The V Word

I climbed the viciously steep three flights of stairs behind Auntie Alaba as she struggled in her purple pumps.

“Stairs like these should be illegal,” she uttered breathlessly.

“They are in America,” I thought.  Such high steps without a railing would never fly in the US, and there would be an elevator alternative if such stairs did indeed exist.

When we finally reached the summit, we walked to the president’s office of West Coast Radio, where I was introduced to a tall, thin young man sitting in a chair surrounded by Liverpool Football Club flags.  I introduced myself and my mission of cervical cancer awareness.

“Yes, yes.  We had a young woman much like you come in here to promote STI awareness several years ago, a young woman from the UK.  She caused quite a controversy.  You can’t just go around saying ‘The V Word’ so nonchalantly.”

The V word.  God help us.

“So ‘the v word’ is off-limits, eh?” I asked Auntie Alaba when we were clear of the president’s ear shot.

Auntie Alaba simply rolled her eyes.  “We’ll say what needs to be said, dear.”

Several minutes later, Dr. Azadeh walked into the room.  I felt sweat dripping down my back as I nervously re-introduced myself to one of the best, if not the best, gynecologists in the country.  The three of us chatted for a bit about what exactly we would talk about, and then entered the studio.

We were all introduced on air, and then Dr. Azadeh was unleashed.  “Cervical cancer is a highly preventable disease.  A regular pap smear could save your life.  A tool called a speculum is placed inside of the …. vagina.”

I shot a glance at Auntie Alaba across the table.  Dr. Azadeh continued on, oblivious.

The show continued on smoothly with the occasional v-word thrown in, until the last half hour when the phone lines were opened up for questions.

After a few dropped calls, a man’s voice came through our headsets, very rushed and obviously quite upset.  Auntie Alaba looked up at me, eyes wide, as I sat completely oblivious to what the man was shouting in Wolof.  At the next commercial break, I took off my headset and asked what happened.

“He said shows like this one are offensive and should be aired late at night when children are asleep,” NaIsatou, the host, explained

I turned to Dr. Azadeh with a grin.  “Shouldn’t have used the v-word.”

Part two of our show is to be aired today from 9 to 11 a.m., Eastern time in the US.  Make sure you tune in to 92.1!  www.westcoastradio.gm

 

I said it once, and I’ll say it again:  when God closes one door, he opens another.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself pounding “ñool” to make palm oil in an outdoor kitchen, rambling on to yet another woman about cervical cancer.  “It’s so preventable!” I explained, throwing out newly learned statistics left and right.  “Did you know the rate of cervical cancer deaths has declined by 75% in developed countries?  Pap smears are so easy!  And they save so many lives!”

NaIsatou listened attentively, nodding her head and smiling.

When I was done my rant, yet another door swung open.

“You know, Ina, I host a radio show every week on 92.1 about women’s issues in The Gambia.  Would you like to do a show with me on cervical cancer?”

Four days later, I had a date set.  Four days later, I began the long, tedious task of finding clinics in The Gambia that offer pap smears.  Several hours and many a failed Google search later, I had a list of several numbers for four clinics within a fifty mile radius offering the service.  The typical telephone conversation went as follows:

Secretary:  Haa-lo?

Tubob:  Hi!  My name is Sarah and I’m researching cervical cancer in The Gambia.

Secretary:  What?

Tubob:  Yes, I was wondering if you offer pap smears at your clinic.

Secretary:  If we offer what?

Tubob:  Pap.  Smears.

Click.

After an hour, I had seven numbers crossed off of my list (“The Africell customer you are trying to reach is not available.  Please try again later.”), the knowledge of the price of a pap smear at one clinic, and zero credit left on my track phone.

It seemed as if every door that I knocked on was locked.  The light glimmered from underneath, but every door remained closed.  Or was slammed in my face.  Or was simply not present.  After a week of failures, I decided to go with what I knew, show up to the radio station, and do my best to simply get the word out.

And then I was given a telephone number.  It’s amazing what asking for help can accomplish.  After complaining to our “house mom,” Yamai, about my terrible week, Yamai gave me a number for a woman—an activist for all things needed activated, and maybe the most inspirational woman I have ever shaken hands with.

After deciding to meet at my new favorite hang-out, The Parisian, Kay and I sat waiting for “Auntie Alaba” to arrive, sipping coffee and chatting about the economics of consumption.  After a few minutes, two women in bright pink shirts walked in, introduced themselves, and sat down.  I still cannot believe the conversation that ensued.

Five years ago, Auntie Alaba’s son, a MIT graduate and software engineer, died suddenly of a malignant brain tumor.  Five years ago, Auntie Alaba began the Francis DeGaulle Njie Foundation—a non-profit organization that offers scholarships to promising Gambian students, holds annual fundraisers, and hosts a number of seminars on anything and everything negatively affecting The Gambia, from brain tumors to drug abuse to discipline to, get this, cervical cancer.

I was obviously in my element talking to her.  After hearing her incredibly inspiring story, I was off like a rocket—cervical cancer is the number two killer of women in developing countries, we could eradicate this, we could bring the HPV vaccine to The Gambia, we could save thousands of lives!

The conversation carried on, flowing from one topic to the next as I sat awe-struck in front of this incredible woman.  To make a long story short, I have been invited to attend meetings with every single one of the clinics and organizations that hung up on me last week, I will be hosting a cervical cancer awareness seminar within the next month with the help of one of the top gynecologists in the country, and I have been invited to serve on the health advisory committee of The Francis DeGaulle Njie Foundation.

Oh, and my radio show tomorrow?  It has transformed into an entire day dedicated to cervical cancer awareness.  From midnight to midnight, West Coast Radio will be airing talks to spread the word about pap smears, HPV, and cervical cancer to women all over the country.

“Everything happens for a reason. Every action has a reaction. Always remember that whats meant to be will always find a way to come about.”

http://westcoast.gm/

I’ll be on at 1 p.m. Gambian time, 9 a.m. home time🙂

 

Last time on An American Girl in Kanifing…

Sarah’s computer overheated and ended up in a run-down African sweat shop.
Upon going to drop it off for the second time, a full-fledged fight broke out, spraying blood and sweat within inches of the poor little tubob.
Three days later, the computer remained missing somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.
And that’s what you missed last time on AGIK!

Redial. Yemi.
“Aaaaa-free-cell! Aaaaa-free-cell! Africell’s having a party tonight,
Call Isha, call Lamin, the timing is right. Lamin call Fatou, and Fatou call Mary. Mary call Musa…” I sang along with Yemi’s ring tone as I called for the fifth time that day. Finally an answer.

“Yes, Sarah, hello, how are you?”
“Yemi. Hey. Is my computer done?”
“No, Sarah, please. I beg you. I haven’t been answering my phone because I don’t know what to tell you. I’m working on your computer but I can’t figure it out. I’m sending it to my friend. Give me until Sunday. I beg you.”
“Fine. But if I don’t get it Sunday, I’m calling the police. And if it’s not fixed, I want my money back with it.”
“Okay, okay. See you Sunday.”

A week had passed and still my computer remained with Yemi. My computer along with my hard drive, my files, my password, my pictures, my music, my everything. After a couple days, I had started to worry. After several days, I had started to cry. I gathered an army and stomped down to Yemi’s shop on Sunday.

And there, sitting on the old plywood table, sat my baby, covered in dust but fixed nevertheless. I started him up, made sure everything remained in tact, and exited Yemi’s shop.

“I hope I never see you again,” I muttered as I left the shop. Never a truer sentence has ever escaped these lips.

Apparently, Yemi didn’t understand. Today, while sitting in the gynae ward reviewing files, my phone rang. Yemi. Joy.

“Hey, Yemi. What’s up?”
“Yes, Sarah, how is the computer?” Yemi asked, in his typical much-too-fast broken English.
“It’s great, running good as new. Thanks.”
“Okay good. Sarah, I can’t get you off my mind. I see your face every time I close my eyes. When can I see you again?”
“…are you freaking kidding me?”

“You told me you would have the money!” a man shouted.  “I’ve been waiting for two weeks.  Don’t make promises you can’t keep!”

Five minutes ago, this same man sat beside me, sweating just as profusely as I, on an old wooden bench in a cement block room known as “Yemi’s Computer Repair Shop.”  Five minutes ago, this man was laughing, joking with Yemi’s apprentices about God only knows what in incomprehensible Wolof.

This cement block room had become all too familiar to me in the past week.  On Tuesday, when my computer suddenly froze, the screen turned purple, and Jack Johnson’s voice repeated the same syllable over and over, I was sure I was screwed.  Computer repair in The Gambia is about as hard to find as computer sales in The Gambia—hard to come by and really friggin’ sketchy if one can be found.

After a failed Google search, I decided to break down and ask someone for help.  Four phone calls later, I found myself at a tiny computer shop about a mile from Happy Camp.  “Pastor Bill” (clearly a pseudonym) looked at my computer, closed it, and called “Ben” (also clearly a pseudonym).  Another mile walk later, I handed my sick, sick baby over to “Ben” for the night.  The next day, I pick it up, and another couple miles walk later, left my sick, sick baby with “Yemi.”

Four days and 2,000 dalasi later, I picked my less sick baby up, newly equipped with a used, black market motherboard.

Twelve hours and a temper tantrum later, I returned my sick, sick baby to Yemi’s shop with a death threat.

An hour after our scheduled meeting time, Yemi moseyed into his shop where a large crowd of customers awaited his arrival—about 10 Gambian men and one little tubob.

“You promised me it would be done two days ago…expletive, expletive, expletive…My wife needs this computer for her job…expletive, expletive, expletive…

I sat on my little bench in the corner, smirking.  Karma had prevailed once more.

When I was finally called to Yemi’s desk, I sat down in front of the man, still smug upon witnessing the beauty that is sweet pay-back, while Yemi stared blankly at my sick, sick baby, trying to ignore the ruckus that was escalating in his shop.

“I want my money!  This man is extremely unprofessional!  This is ridiculous!”

I heard an apprentice make the mistake of sticking up for his boss, then the unmistakable sound of a fist hitting flesh.  I turned around just in time to see a second punch thrown, then a body slammed up against the concrete wall.

I turned back to Yemi.  Yemi turned to me, then back to my computer.  I turned back to the action.

“Life is a daring adventure of nothing.”  Every day in The Gambia is an adventure.

My computer remains with Yemi.

To be continued…

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