23 april 2009
This job is teaching me more about myself that I care to know.
Today my boss’ boss, the Country Director of Peace Corps Mali and unquestionably the coolest guy in the Peace Corps staff, came to visit along side the Safety and Security Officer. It, as most visits go, was nice because I was able to pick and choose the people they met, the places they saw and was able to convey the aspects of the life I love here.
Today, 15 minutes after they drove off in their AC’d 4x4, I went to the pump to fetch water for my bucket bath. While in line kids were cutting in and out and I was speaking with Taati about the concept of cleaning up the pump area, riddled with swarms of thirsty bees and buzzing flies, it finally came to be my turn. I set my bucket under the spicket and grabbed of the handle and just after my first push we heard a thud.
A young woman had a seizure today. She was near the pump and I was talking with Jennaba and Musoba and had just set my bucket down. It was a normal day, the sky was rosied by the setting sun and the effects of the light with the airborne sand.
She was face down in the dirt road, convulsing. Her back was wound tight like a sprig, her fingers clutched air and then flicked pebbles, her toes curled and her eyes screaming pain that her bloodied tongue could not muster. I ran to her and froze. Although my thoughts were clear: roll her to her side, clear her mouth of rocks and debris, keep the kids away, call for help, fetch water. These thoughts were being countered by my fear, my self doubt and me knowing that I HAVE NO CLUE. NO FUCKING CLUE. This poor girl is dying and I cannot help her. Jesus Christ.
As I reached out to touch her, thinking human contact may be the way to remove her from her glazed-eye, frozen stare, lifeless trance, her eyes rolled and stared at me with pain, then fear, then nothing. I assumed she was dead but still washed her mouth free of pebbles and dirt and blood and saliva. Her nose was obviously broken, smashed in the headfirst fall, her tongue immoveable and swollen, her saliva thick like whipping cream. I called for help, for a motorcycle to take her to the clinic 6 miles away. Women mocked the noises she was making and the men nearby refused to assist in transporting her – she is poor, Umu. You should know better – was the general response given to my pleas of her immediate removal from my arms, from my sight and hopefully (but unsuccessfully) from my memory.
She stopped moving, stopped breathing, stopped clenching for air and life and breath. The noise of the flies swarming, smelling that she had defecated and seeing that her skirt was soaked in green and brown diarrhea, was all I could hear. Her body was tight, taut, and cold. I reached to splatter water on her, me on my knees and her bloody head in my lap, starring into nothing, everything; a crowd was forming and mixing up the heat and the dust and the filth and the disappointment and I became furious. I screamed in English and in Bambara at the women, old and young, and the children, filthy and heartless, starring and mocking and waving the air in front of their noses at the smell of her. I screamed and cursed and waved an angry hand at them to get away and call Saala, the village Chief’s son and my friend, to come and at least help me carry her out of the road. I was yelling at them but also at myself for being to scared to touch her, to truly help her, to check for a pulse or to do anything constructive. I screamed and people backed away. Then I could hear her, moaning, from deep inside. The moaning that comes when you’re struggling with a fever that is boiling your innards, the moaning that comes when your body is releasing its anguish in the only way it can. I was too scared to check for a pulse. Her nose quit bleeding. Her life, I assumed had slipped away as I sat and scolded myself and this community of people I trusted and now felt disgusted with.
A friend came to help me stand, pull her up and see what her body did on its own weight. The convulsions had stopped at this point, she was completely loose, limp like a noodle and a while we tried walking her a bicycle showed up and to my dislike, strapped her body to the cargo rack and pushed her home.
Although I figured her to be dead no one seemed upset, or scared, or even worried. I asked Saala, who finally showed up, if this had happened before: of course not. As Safiatu helped to dust me off and a stranger in a turban took her weight from me and put it upon his own shoulders, I realized she was now gone, and had rode off into the ever darkening dusk.
Dazed. Discontent. Nauseous.
What just happened? I didn’t and still don’t know. Maybe she pinched a nerve in her neck? Epilepsy? Possessed? At least she wasn’t dead, although I don’t know her status now, 3 hours later.
I mentally rerun my anxiety-build, my disappointment in my trusted friends who acted as if she were a poisoned calf twitching and being taken by Allah and who no one cared or dared to help. My inability to verify her pulse, my cowardice and screams; Cowardice. Their cruelty and my cowardice: Two aspects of the human condition I want little to do with but am finding that I am guilty of both.
Days before this I saw Madou try to save a chick from chocking – touching it with purpose and the sincere desire to save it. It died in his hands and its long neck was limp and its body mangled under its own weight
The chick, the girl, Sira, both helpless in my hands.
I feel sick.
(two days later)
Later I was still asking: how is Sali? The girl who fell in the street?
Every said: fine, she is fine.
I have not seen her yet. But I hope I can learn to trust these people, knowing now that they are normal and that that is disappointing in and of it self. Normal enough to form a crowd, to point and laugh and wave potent air from their noses. Normal enough to run away from the terrified white girl on her knees in the dirt bloodied by someone else’s pain. Normal enough to know their capacity for assistance, their fear of God, their sense of humor.