Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The immunization circus

Vaccination day is always a melange of comedy and chaos.  After another early morning run, Daniel and I set off with our cooler of vaccinations and backpack of syringes for Zaffe, the village 15ish km away towards Glazoue.  Vaccines are given to children at birth, then at intervals of 6, 10, 14 weeks and 9 months of age.  While it is the responsibility of the mother to remember to bring her baby to the follow up appointment, we write the dates of the next vaccine in her medical card book and, since it is a very social event for the women, many don't forget.  

This week we had 17 mothers from Zaffe, Glazoue, and Kabole at the center for vaccinations.  Once we found each child's vaccination chart, we weighed the babies to monitor their growth and completed the charts with the vaccine information and follow up appointment date. As of this month, the Beninese health department is switching from an oral polio immunization to a vaccine for children under 2 years of age.  We explained this to the mothers, who then entertained themselves with song and dance while we attacked the mountain of paperwork for vaccination dispensing.  Because the vaccines are free of charge, the government requires very regimented documentation of dispersal and completion of the required series.

When we finally finished with all the babies, and mothers who needed to finish their vaccinations, and the sobbing ended, Daniel, Richard (the major or the Zaffe Health Center) and I, snacked on some boiled corn in our vaccine pagoda before Daniel and I left for more vaccinations in Kpakpa-Zoume.  We arrived to six women sitting under a big tree at the entrance of the village and quickly conducted the immunization so to all the babies, including an adorable set of twins.  

In Beninese culture, twins are considered extremely sacred. If one twin dies, their mother carries around a wooden replica of the child so that his or her spirit can always be with her.  Since the twins have shared the womb, the remaining twin and the family can never again speak the name of the deceased as it may bring bad luck upon the surviving twin.  There are a couple sets of twins in Adourekoman and all are highly regarded as special to the community. 

After finishing vaccinations, Daniel and I returned to Adourekoman where we spent a couple hours with Sabine and her new baby Osnel, enjoying the shade and trying not to get eaten alive by the moucherones.  Like black fly season in New Hampshire, these little black bugs like to swarm your ankles and it feels like no amount of bug spray will keep them from devouring my legs.  I've resorting to wearing pants and long sleeves despite the heat, but have yet to commit myself to the abomination of socks and chacos :)

Although we worked on Thursday, it was a national and Muslim holiday in Benin called Tabaski.  There is a fairly large Muslim community in Adourekoman made up of the Peuhl ethnic group.  They live about 1 km from the main village and are known as the cattle herders, which means that there is always cheese available in the wet season.  Their dwellings are more basic mud structures in comparison to the cement houses in the village proper, but everything is built around a beautiful Tiffany blue mosque. While I had planned to go and witness their celebrations, I got pulled into a special mass that started behind my house around 8 pm and continued until well after 11, with songs, dancing and music pumped in by a large generator.  I'm not entirely sure why there was a mass of over 300 people behind my house and not at the church, but they have done it for three nights in a row and I enjoy watching the spectacle of the religious ceremonies.  Each time, I am invited over to eat at a neighbors house and always thanked profusely for accepting their invitations.

Friday was a quiet day here.  I spent the morning at the Health center with Daniel then retreated to my house for an afternoon of reading and laundry.  At 6:30 pm, Daniel announced that we were going to Glazoue to meet the major of the Health Center there, so I grabbed my helmet and we rode into town.  After briefly meeting his family, we left for a bar where they bought corn cakes, hard boiled eggs and beer.  Daniel jokes that if I ever want to become like a real Beninese, I need to eat and, more importantly, drink, like a Beninese.  I don't see that happening any time soon.

When we finally returned to Adourekoman at 9, I was told that there was a woman in labor at the Health Center.  I got there just in time to watch her give birth to a beautiful baby girl.  It was an amazing experience, being there in a small room, helping one of our nurses aids by holding our only light source, a small lantern.  Bernadite cleaned the baby and I got to hold it for the first time and share the news of the birth to her anxious father who was waiting outside.  Beninese women are amazing, and not even an hour after delivering, the mother was walking around, helping clean and making her way to a bed for the night.  Her family met her with new clothes, some food (pate is the best food post delivery...) and celebratory pagne.  When I checked on her the next morning, mother and baby we're doing well, the baby was eating and they were excited to head home that afternoon.

After the excitement of Friday night, Saturday was rather mellow.  I decided to go on a bike ride which was short lived due to two flat tires.  Luckily, I paid attention during training and know how to repair the holes-- thanks Papa Velo!  When I finally got back home on my squishy tires, I was greeted by six kids in my front yard.  Despite my better judgement, I invited them in and they watched curiously as I boiled water for coffee and made banana pancakes for breakfast. They were so intrigued that I made over a dozen little pancakes and west in my living room eating them together.  Before leaving, they washed all the dishes and we did temporary tattoos, which they love.

I enjoyed my coffee and decided that it was still cool enough out to start my backyard garden.  Using a small hoe that a child had left, I raked out a patch of dirt, churned the soil and using rows to organize it, planted snap pea, beet and arugula seeds that I brought with me from the U.S.  I'll keep you updated on the progress of my little garden, but seeing as I didn't inherit my grandfather's green thumb, I'm holding my breath.  

With my garden watered, I spent the afternoon with Daniel, seeing patients at the Health Center, before deciding to go visit Amanda in Kpakpa for the evening.  Daniel suggested I spend the night there and sent me with a travel mosquito net.  I arrived in Kpakpa by 6 and Amanda and I went to greet her supervisor, who invited us to his bar for a drink.  While we were sitting there, I heard a loud animal wail and realized that there was a goat in labor right in front of the buvette.  We were mesmerized by the goal, but had to leave before it actually gave birth.  

Amanda and I enjoyed dinner at Vincent's house, where his daughter had prepared pate and soja.  We hung out with him until 11, when we walked back to her house for the night.  I took advantage of her electricity to charge my electronics (the blog calls) which I really appreciated.  While I have no concerns about my own lack of electricity, it is nice to charge my phone and stay in contact with people!

We woke up this morning and wandered over to Vincent's for a breakfast of chai tea and fresh donuts, which Amanda calls yovo-dough-balls.  When warm, they are absolutely delicious, and I'm glad I don't have easy access to them in my village.  Since Amanda and Vincent were heading to church, I packed up my bags and rode back home where Worley was excited to see me.  Sunday is a quiet day here, but the health center has been bustling with cases of malaria- I have my work cut out for me!!

1 comment:

  1. Carly - I love reading your blog! You must be so happy to finally be doing the work you came to Africa to do! Thanks for your amazing detail. I look forward to continuing to follow your journey. Love to you, Donna P