Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dr. Fatoumata Cisse - or so they say!

One of my very first blog posts was about garibouts and their plight here and how I hate it. I’ll often get into heated arguments with Malians about garibouts because the situation is just something I don’t believe in. Send your child to Koranic school, not to live as a beggar on the streets with a “teacher” who – based on the following story – doesn’t give a damn.

As PC Baba’s is in the center of town, and because he’s very gracious with garibouts, dozens pass by each day. Whether it’s just to ask for a sip of water or ask for some money or greet, they’re always around. I’ve befriended quite a group because I’m never too shy to say hello to them and ask how they are. I don’t give money – because that goes directly to the marabout - , I occasionally give food, but it’s important for me to at least say hi. They’re just kids. Anyway, about two or three months back at Baba’s, I saw one garibout who looked really sick. Very skeletal and just his gait showed that things could have been better. I didn’t give him anything bit I continued to see him around. I would greet him and he would sadly reply that he was fine – this is very Malian, you always say that all is well – in a very low voice. With being really busy the last month or so, I haven’t seen him around. Last Thursday, all of that changed. I was standing at my friend the leather worker’s boutique and I saw him. It’s not uncommon for the garibouts to wear tattered clothes and be dirty, but what I saw went beyond any of this. He stood there looking at me with his mouth hanging open like he was too weak to keep it closed; his clothes were filthy and ripped; his arms and legs had lesions all over them, some of them infected. His general state of hygiene was terrible. I immediately demanded where he lived and who his marabout was because I needed to talk to him about the health of this child. The people standing near me said that they didn’t know but that they would find out for me, even possibly talk to the marabout, and let me know. That night I got a call saying that the marabout had been located and told that I wanted to help this little boy. The marabout refused my help for no good reason. I didn’t know what to do at that point. It didn’t think it was culturally appropriate to just take this boy to the clinic myself and I didn’t want to rub anyone – let alone a religious figure – the wrong way. The next day I was at Baba’s and this boy came by. I immediately told Baba the story of what had happened and he said, “Okay, no problem, we’ll take care of it.” We called Sacko – someone who works with us at Farafina Tigne – over and we talked to the boy. His friend was standing next to him and we found that he had a very infected sore on his neck – like he was hit was something. Sacko and I took both of these little boys to the hospital next to Baba’s – which I didn’t know existed until that day – and they had consultations and I was given the prescriptions that they needed. They waited at the hospital while I went to the pharmacy to pick up the medicine. For the first garibout, we were given a couple of different oral medications along with a powder that needed to be mixed with water for bathing. The second was a pill along with some betadine and bandages. Okay, problem solved. We took care of both of them, bathed them and got them going. It was easy. We told them to come back twice a day – in the morning and evening – to get their medicine and like that, all would be well. This shouldn’t have been a problem considering they’re told to go out in the morning and evening to beg for food. Well, for the next few days it was hit or miss – sometimes they came in the morning and not the evening, sometimes only one of them came, sometimes neither of them came. It gets better. The first day that we went to the hospital I bought real good and hot food for them. They all sat around and ate until their stomachs were full. However, while we were in the process of getting the food the second boy said, “I’m not hungry, give me money instead.” Talk about frustrating! The good news is that even today, though the medicine isn’t finished, both of them are looking healthier. The first boy’s lesions have started to heal and he’s walking around with more confidence. The second’s infection is going away and I even played doctor and changed the dressings yesterday myself.

Now, I’m not looking for a pat on the back for this. It was my humanitarian duty to take care of a child who – I honestly thought by looking at him – was going to die. Even though these kinds of acts of kindness aren’t sustainable, sustainability and kindness don’t always have to go hand in hand. Well, now that I’ve given the heartwrenching and endearing side of the story, here’s the part where I get pissed. And here’s the big question – why can’t these marabouts take care of the children they’re “given?” I understand that they can’t be given the most expensive foods or bought expensive things. And somewhere in the back of my heart, I understand the reasoning for sending these kids to beg and have to endure the hardship of those less fortunate. What I don’t understand is how these children are huddled together sleeping on the ground – a mat if they’re lucky, not bathed, not given water or soap for bathing, don’t have their clothes washed, often have clothes with gaping holes in them, don’t wear shoes, are given a certain amount of money they have to come home with on a daily basis or their beaten, and how if they don’t find food by begging the don’t eat. The most glaring thing for me is to see a child who is so obviously sick and you don’t do anything about it. Again, I’m not asking that each kid takes his daily Flinstone’s vitamin, but what I am asking for is some compassion. Where’s the problem with someone wanting to give you the medicine for one of your sick kids? How are you going to dismiss that and say, “No thanks?” My mind is spinning so quickly because I can’t understand any of this. We were forced to keep the medicine and bandages at Farafina Tigne in case the marabout wouldn’t administer them to the two ailing kids. Is that normal? Someone gives you medicine for free and you’re going to throw it away and not help a child? I’m baffled. And for this, I’ve been a little more than negative about the plight of humanity. These people are supposed to be here for a higher religious purpose and yet you beat your children if they don’t bring home money and you can’t take care of their basic necessities in life? What is happening to us?