Monday, March 26, 2012


Since I’ve been here I’ve been amazed at how many babies there just are.  I'm also amazed how quiet and still they are.  They are always in their mothers papoose from the time they are born until about age 2 or 3.  If twins, the mother carries one in front and one in back.   Babies are either in the papoose or breastfeeding.  These papooses look terribly uncomfortable to me, but the babies appear very peaceful and content.   Are they?   I talked to some people along the way about why the babies are so quiet.  Here….it's rare that you hear a baby cry, and they are usually sleeping or just quietly looking around.  One Health Peace Corps Volunteer gave me her opinion.  She said she thought that an awful lot of them are sick, and that’s why they are so quiet and sleeping all the time.  She also told me she had heard that they give babies Sodebe (the local liquor).  I wonder?  They are wrapped up like cozy cocoons for the first two years.  They remind me of baby kangaroos, with just their little heads popping up, looking all around.  My favorite scene is to see a woman approaching me and I can see two tiny feet sticking out in front.  I see that all the time….two little feet at a woman’s waist.  You would have no idea walking towards a woman that she is carrying a baby, except for the feet.

I wonder and worry everytime I see a woman strapping the baby on her back….or readjusting it, as they often do throughout the day.  They untie the pagne they have wrapped around their waist…hoist the baby to their back…pull the pagne under her little bottom, and tie a knot in the front.  Architecturally once the pagne is tied, she’s secure….but getting the baby in place always makes me cringe.  No one else has any worries about it.   I don’t know how that baby keeps from falling off.  Especially with the little girls who carry babies around.  All the time!  I’ve seen some of the tiniest little girls, carrying a baby in a papoose; probably a sister, or a neighbor.   They have the process down pat…it’s like innate.

There is one tiny problem with the papooses…aside from the fact that we have no idea how many babies do perilously slip out.  The other problem is that almost all of the children are bow-legged.  Just as bow-legged as the most bow-legged cowboy you can think of.  Well of course they are.  From the day they were born, their legs have been stretched to fit around their mothers waist.  So there’s all these little kids running around as bow-legged as can be.  But alas!!!  I’ve also purposely observed that the vast majority of the teens and adults are not bow-legged, so somewhere along the line that problem must work itself out.

I’ve often thought of Hillary Clintons book, It Takes a Village.   I understand how that concept works here.  Everyone seems to take care of everyone else, young and old.   Old women will take a fussy baby away from a mother with ease, and strap the baby on her own back.   I know that mothers breasts and  milk is shared easily and often.  They think nothing of offering their breast to another woman’s child. 

I rarely hear a baby cry.   And there’s a lot of babies!!  All these babies…so many… too many, but that’s another story.  This story is just about the phenomena of the quiet babies.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On the Brighter Side...

Mahsoblee and her Gramma, waiting to be seen at the clinic.
Always connected.

I haven’t had any updates on Mahsoblee lately.  She’s been very gradually getting better and better.  I’ve almost not wanted to say anything.  Superstition I think.  Cautious.  When she comes over, I always touch her forehead to see if she's warm, and I try to take a peek at her tummy, and always look at her eyes for signs of yellow, for potential liver problems.  The whites of her eyes have been noticeably yellow since we started this process…..and NOW they are clear.  They are white!!  I think it’s a big accomplishment.  To me, it means that her liver is healing.  Even her tummy is less distended.  It’s now less distended than most the kids around here.  Could this medicine and regime of medical care be working??  I can hardly believe it! 

Mahsoblee comes over every day.  More often than not her BFF Regina is by her side.  They come by early evening when the sun is just going down, but it's still light enough to see.  We sit on the front porch where there is usually a little breeze.  They just act silly most of the time.  Teasing me, and running around.  They always ask to do bubbles, and when we do, five or ten more children show up out of nowhere.  I’ve taught MB and Regina to count to ten in English.  They want to recite it each time they visit.  I can’t help but marvel that Mahsoblee, today, appears to be healthy and happy.  Going to school, playing with the other kids, often the leader.  She’s sumpthin else.

Check out her pose
Today we went to Kouve for her monthly check up, and to refill  her medication.  When I was in Lome last week I bought her two little sundresses.  Other than the Christmas dress I bought her (which is already too small) She has only two raggedy dresses that she wears every day.  She doesn’t seem to mind, always showing up at my door with a kind of radiant self confidence.  However….she’s a girl, and most girls have a gene that makes them love to look glamorous, and feel glamorous, at least once in awhile.   Culturally I’ve seen that around the world.  Mahsoblee is no different.  This morning she showed up in one of her new sundresses.  It was the first time she’d worn it.  She had a smile a mile wide, and her eyes were full of fun.  I told her I wanted to take her photo, which she always loves.  And I swear to goodness, Mahsoblee assumed this pose all on her own.  Ha…that girl knows  that she is sumpthin else!!

Mahsoblee takes charge!
She also carried a little pink furry purse.  We keep all of her records in that purse, and Mahsoblee is the one who carries them and gives them to the woman in admitting at the Kouve Hospital.  She takes responsibility for her health and treatment.  We had great news today.  As I suspected, she is doing better than ever.  The doctor said, at this time the only medicine she needs to take is iron for her blood, and he noted how clear her eyes were.

Kim is a Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in Kouve.  She has come to visit Mahsoblee in the hospital and she’s also helped me out from time to time.   She has gotten to know Mahsoblee.  I called her when we reached the hospital and told her we were there.  She rode her bike over.  Mahsoblee saw her in the distance and ran out to greet her. They were happy to see each other. Kim went in the doctors office with us, and got to hear the good news.  I thought that was nice, that she was there.  It was a sweet moment.  We were all happy.  Ama, Mahsoblee, me and Kim.

For more on Mahsoblee visit:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Between the Hands of God

Agbessi and Ama

I went to a meeting at David’s house yesterday morning.   I was in a good mood.  One of those days or hours that all seemed right with the world.  After my meeting with David I decided to go see Honou Koffi.  Honou lives a short distance from David.  As I walked to Honou’s house a woman stopped me.  I had never seen her before.  She told me her name was Ama.   Ama told me her child was sick, and she pleaded with me to come and see her.  I did.  Her little girl, Agbessi,  is five years old.  She was laying on the hard floor of the hut motionless with only a piece of fabric under her little body.  She looked very sick.  Very sick.   The little girl was barely conscious, and she groaned in pain when Ama pulled her up on her lap.  Ama’s husband was sitting on a log in the compound.  He looked desolate.  There was something else in his eyes…. I thought that maybe he just felt bad because he didn’t know how to help.  He looked ashamed.  He looked worried.   I asked Ama if she had taken Agbessi to the clinic.  Ama replied that they didn’t have any money.   I sensed this was very serious.  

I called Mathew the clinic director and told him I was sending a little girl to be examined, and that I would pay for whatever they needed.   Mathew has the most difficult job in Tchekpo.  He has to turn people away every single day because they don’t have money.  He has no choice.  He see’s people die who shouldn’t die.  He sees people suffer who shouldn’t have to suffer.  Literally a few dollars would prevent death and suffering in so many cases.  Mathew is a quiet, humble man.  He’s a good man.  He rarely smiles.   He looks deep into your eyes.  He speaks with a very soft voice.  He makes no excuses.  I can feel the wieght of the burden he bears every time I see him.

Ama  took the child to the clinic right away.  I had a meeting to go to, but I asked David if he would check on them later in the day.  David called me that night and told me that Agbessi was much better.  He said that Mathew had given her an injection.  He didn’t know what was wrong with her.   I guessed it was malaria.  It usually is.  I was feeling happy that I had helped.

I was going to go see Mathew this evening to find out what had been wrong with Agbessi, to thank him, and to pay him.  The fee was equivalent to two American dollars.  But first,  this morning I walked over to  Agbessi’s house to see how she was doing.  She looked much better.  She was standing, and she didn’t have a fever.   Ama thanked me.  Both of them seemed so sad though.  I sat with them for awhile, and tried to cheer them up.  I took their photo and showed it to them.  I think what I took for sadness was the look of pure hopelessness.  They both knew what I didn’t know.  That this was something they’d been dealing with for some time. Ama and Agbessi both looked like pictures I’ve seen of holocaust victims.  Blank stares.  Dead but alive.  Hopeless.

Mathew told me the bad news.  Agbessi has AID’s and so does her mother and her father. 

I see a lot of sick people here, too many sick children.  I’ve seen a child die right before my eyes because her parents didn’t have enough money to buy four dollars worth of medicine.  I know that Mahsoblee would have died without our intervention.   Death hangs over the people of my village like a dark cloud. 

Ama and Agbessie know there is no hope.  They know it’s just a matter of time.  They suffer.  I have no answers.

Agbessi's name means Between the hands of God.