Snapshots from Africa

We are awakened again by the call to prayer from the mosque…at 4 am. The loudspeaker on the Christian church soon crackles to life for the preacher to deliver his sermon in competition. A confused rooster crows somewhere on the compound, and I sigh, roll over and hope for a few more hours of sleep.

The thin golden light of morning is streaming through our window, making the dust motes of harmattan glow in the air. The cow is wandering in the yard, red flowers are waving gently in the morning breeze, and I can hear the sounds of a city awakening. I want to sing praises for this glorious morning. The red dirt and green leaves of trees foreign to me look new in the fresh light. The air is not yet tinged with smoke, and I inhale before I flip-flop my way out the door in search of warm water.

I am sitting in a small blue room. One small desk, 2 chairs and an ancient stretcher are all that furnish this meager space. A father carries his daughter into the room, and I immediately notice her lovely dress and beautiful dark skin. Something is odd though…and it strikes me that she is too old to be carried. The two of them sit, and I smile at the little girl. She looks at me, but does not smile in return. I am shocked by the pain in her eyes. A story begins to pour out of her desparate father. She is 5 years old, and has been having rashes for 2 years. They are getting worse, but nothing is helping. He reaches down and raises the hem of the girl’s long skirt, and I almost gasp at the angry red, crusting, oozing lesions covering her lower legs and ankles. Dad sets his daughter on the floor. She wobbles, and takes 2 staggering steps before reaching to be picked up because the pain from her lesions is too much. She falls asleep in her father’s lap, and he tells us that she sleeps now because she itches too much at night for any sleep to come. She has not been to school in 6 months. We admit her to the ward for wound care and cultures. Her rash looks like psoriasis…a common skin condition that is now horrendously infected. They leave the room, but her eyes continue to haunt my memory.

It is dinner time, and our group approaches the buffet table, curious about what is in the dishes. Often we need some explanation from Rochele or Brenda (the MCC rep in Nigeria). We are unsure of what to think when Brenda announces that tonight’s meal will be “interesting”. She goes on to say that our cook, Caleb, has gone to some effort to prepare “bush meat” for us tonight. It might be porcupine, but she’s not sure. Hmmm…Dinner in Nigeria is always an experience!

I turn on the bathroom light, sit down, and see a flash of movement in my peripheral vision. I turn and see a small gecko. How cute, I think. He races around our water bucket, speeds past my toes and races out into the bedroom. Huh. He suddenly doesn’t seem so cute when I think about him crawling over my face during the night.

Laura Puopolo

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