Sunday, December 9, 2012

En Brousse

My counterpart took me out into Africa.  Proper Africa.  The part of Africa where there are long stretches of land interspersed with occasional trees.  Mostly just brush and bushes for are far as you can see.  You know what I’m talking about, it is the Lion King or National Geographic (back when it was worth a damn) and you are half expecting some beast to pounce on you from behind a bush.  There were three of us ridding a moto on narrow little footpaths, bouncing along and scrapping against the brush.  That’s what en brousse means by the way.  In the bush.

Pretty accurate depiction of the countryside.
I might add that our “moto” was of course basically a dirt bike.  That’s what they all are here. They are plentiful.  You can buy one for six hundred American dollars, which would be more tempting if they didn’t literally just kick a volunteer because he was caught riding without a helmet.  Dirt bikes are appropriate here.  This is the Sahel, which is not as deserty as I originally thought.  There are plenty of trees providing God’s gift of shade in this heat and they grow millet and strange gourd like things as well as random other crops like cotton.  But the ground is sand wherever there isn’t something alive.  The little footpath or game paths (I just can’t call them moto paths as it seems clear they are not meant to be) seem to me to be the growing desert.  It isn’t the sands just creeping in mass as the desert grows; no, the sands are webbing out as plants get uprooted or destroyed and creating islands of green to be later engulfed.

Cows, the road is not for you!
We went to seven different villages that day.  None of which were very large; the biggest had maybe twenty compounds.  That’s important too; families live on compounds with their extended families.  In the city that means concrete walls that surround a number of small, usually one room, buildings each with their nuclear family.  Part of that communal living really appeals to me, though I have my own compound and can hardly keep people out so the lack of privacy might prevent me from enjoying it too much.  These compounds might be small with only one family and some animals, but the larger ones could have over twenty people and dozens of animals.  Of course out in the bush, these families were poor.  Most places had maybe one shared well to drink from.  Everything seemed covered in dust.  Clothes were often tattered, though many women obviously took pride in their beautiful robes.  I do think people were happy though.  Or maybe just happy to see us.

We were there to examine kids for malnutrition.  This was actually the second round of visits for this program.  The first was before I arrived.  My counterpart is a volunteer with this Red Cross initiative.  She has been out to virtually every village in the Bogo area and checked as many children as possible.  Then the undernourished ones can travel into the city and receive free nutritional supplements: plumpy nut.  I’m actually incredibly pleased with the program and judging by the number of children we found, it seems to be working.  The test is relatively easy and just involves measuring children’s upper arm.  Feed, rinse, repeat.  The problem is of course how you pay to send someone out to all the villages and pay for all the food.   People out in the bush don’t know their kids are undernourished and they are not likely to just show up in town to check.  And what if they can’t afford to come into Bogo?  While out there we talked about a lot of other issues: pregnancy, malaria, vaccinations and the question is how you get that healthcare out to where it is really needed.  I met a small child who was semi-paralyzed on its left side.  They don’t know why; the family couldn’t afford to get back into town and make the visits to the hospital. 

It’s ok though cause that baby was super happy.  Just sitting there laughing its ass off.  Adorable, fat baby.  Some babies cried when they saw the strange white man.  Some stared, eyes wide.  That baby just laughed and pounded the ground with its hand.  In fact, I can happily say I only terrified one little girl.  She stopped dead, stared at me for a full minute, then screamed and ran away crying.  Everyone laughed.