Field Notes

On Positivity

I’ve always wanted to be a hero. 

The thrill. The adrenaline. I think the motorcycle was going to my head.

It had transformed the environment to streaks of steel blue, bright green, and rust red as we speed up to outrun the storm.

Finally, after three days, we were flying to save her.

You’re getting carried away. Are you sure this is even the right thing to do?

A fever for 9 months, loss of appetite, loss of menstruation.

“With AIDS wasting, systemic shock (co-morbid with infections) can develop in a matter of days or weeks, once that happens, they don’t have the capability here to overcome.”

It was a lost cause–there was really nothing we could do for her–all that was left was to test her in order to confirm her status and hopefully, use that to convince her family to be tested too.

But her husband had asked, begged. He said he had money, but could not take the time off from work to accompany and stay with her at the hospital. So I offered to keep an eye on her and cook her meals. He agreed to send her as soon as possible.

And so we waited.

“Do you think she’ll come?” I asked the first day.

“We’ll see,” was the response.

“It’s AIDS, isn’t it?” I asked the second day.

“That’s what I believe, but we would need to test her to know for sure.”

“Can we get her?”

“We need to wait for the moto and hope that is does not rain.”

Of course the moto was late and a deluge poured.

“We’ll go tomorrow.”

The next day.

“We’ll go this afternoon.”

“There’s a storm coming.”

I told him the wind would blow the storm past us. (Note: This was a mix of bullshitting and wistful thinking.)

“Okay. Let us ask the chef du centre.”

Protocol accomplished, Dandjoma announced that Djika would take me as opposed to him. Looking at the dark clouds, I took that as a subtle hint that no one would be going today. I went home to make tea.

“Jess! Jess! Are you ready?”

Oh this is actually happening. “Coming!”

I gathered my backpack and we were off. Flying through the brush.

Exhilaration tethered by doubt.

Is it best to move her with her immune system so far compromised? Is it best to take her away from her family so late in the illness? What will I feed her? I don’t know how to make couscous.  

A flash of Lake Mbakaou and a turn into the trees, we were almost to Ngaoumere.

We stop outside his compound. The small crowd of people disperses. Djika explains that we are here for his wife.

But we are too late.

The man explains she passed away the evening before.

“Ma foi!” exclaims Djika.

“La fille blanche est gentille. Ma femme l’a attendue.”

I should have gotten here sooner. I could’ve hired a moto. But then she would’ve died away from her family. But I could’ve done more. I need to test the rest of the family.

Logic takes over. I give the man my condolences for his loss.

“Je suis maintenant seul.”

At least there are no kids. But can I convince him to get tested?

Trying to dance around the reality of the situation and the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS I explain that I am worried that he might have also gotten sick as his wife had been sick for such a long time. I told him I would try and come back with a test and that I wanted him to also be tested.

And then we leave. Flying still, maybe even faster than before.

The tea was still warm when I got back.

<<  >>

Unfortunately, the woman’s death is not uncommon. In fact, death here is so much more accepted, that a common consolation I have received here is, “Chez nous, les africains, nous mourons. C’est difficle.” (Rough translation: Over here in our country, Africa, we die. It is difficult.) Which the American in me finds extremely frustrating. I want to tell them it doesn’t have to be like this, but then I remember I grew in a place that has the technology to permit a completely opposite view of death. Americans like to delude themselves from the fact that they too will eventually die–the natural progression of life–it is a delusion that has grown so much that we can and we will plug people into walls and machines, which perform the bodily functions necessary for life, in order to keep them alive past their expiration date. But I digress.

HIV/AIDS is an important issue in my village and my health area. The prevalence rate in Ngatt is 10-12% as the previous volunteer discovered during her testing campaign last year. To put this in perspective, the national rate of prevalence in Cameroon is 4.5% and the rate in the  Adamawa region is 6.9%. Why is Ngatt twice as high? The answer lies in the location of Ngatt, which is close to Lake Mabakou, a fishing hub, which means fishermen. Since the volunteer before me wrote a great informative blog post about this subject, I am not going to waste words repeating what she has already so wonderfully said.

This brings me to my next point: as a volunteer, I am working towards improving community health. It is impossible for me to help everyone on an individual level and if I want anything that I do to be sustainable, it needs to be a community act and investment. Thus, helping that woman was not in my job description; however, planning another testing campaign and educating others is. So here’s to accomplishing that.




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