Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Search For Aisha Kelly

The story began long before I arrived. A young couple looked at their premature newborn, 28 weeks of gestational age (way too early). The village elders, several old Fulani men, came and told the doctor, Dr Kelly, that they were just going to take the baby home. They had no hope for it. Against all cultural norms, she stood against them. She told them that no, they weren’t going to take the baby girl out of the hospital. She would not relent. Cultures collided – Muslim Fulanis and the Christian medical doctor were at odds. The doctor won, believing that there was hope for the small, frail life.

The child was eventually discharged from the hospital, healthy and normal. And she bore the name Aisha Kelly, the latter obviously in honor of the pediatrician who cared for her. Relationships were not only restored, but flourished. The whole village came to know of the tiny baby, and the strong-willed doctor.

Now, a year later, Dr Kelly was going to the village to see the child. This seems like a simple concept, but the practicalities were more involved. It is best to travel with a second person, especially as a single woman in the developing world. So, she needed somebody to accompany her. I didn’t know the language, or the location, but I was somebody. So, the plan was made, and off we went.

We walked half an hour to the edge of the nearest town. Two motos (mopeds) were arranged as she bargained on the price. The ideal moto driver is a bit older and a bit fatter, as this generally indicates a lower testosterone level and safer ride. The last key is to pick one with a helmet on, since at least he appears to have some concern for safety. Mine had no helmet, was young, and skinny. But, such it was, so I just prayed as I put on the helmet I had brought and jumped on. As light raindrops fell, we were off. Further and further from town, down dusty dirt roads, out into the bush we went. Dust particles covered us, even grinding between my teeth.

The cell phone for the family we were visiting wasn’t working, nor had we actual directions to where they lived, and lastly, the family name couldn’t be recalled. We only knew the name of the nearest village. But we were determined. The family is from a aforementioned tribe called the Fulani, cow herders who previously were completely nomadic. The group that we were going to see has two camps, hours apart. We were hoping that they would be at the one near the village that we were heading toward.

We arrived at the village market. Most of the villagers didn’t speak French, so we wandered around until we found a man who did. Then the three of us wandered around more, initially in what appeared to be an aimless fashion. Within an hour, though, we had found an elder from the Fulani tribe, who spoke neither French, nor the predominant local language. He was one of the men who had come to the hospital, demanding the child a year ago. Immediately upon seeing Dr Kelly, he smiled and laughed as he rushed to greet her. She had won his respect over the intervening time. There were four languages that were being translated amidst all the people in order to figure out where to go to find the husband, wife, and little girl. Finally, after much ado and the formation of an entourage of translators mixed with moto drivers, we were again off.

A few miles down the road, and off the path, to where the path narrowed. I could tell we were getting close. There were several women bearing large loads atop their heads, with fewer clothes, more skin, and dense brightly colored beads. The decorations seemed to grow heavier and heavier with each subsequent woman, signs of beauty and prosperity, shiny glimmers covering necks, chests, ears, wrists, and ankles. Their appearance showed that they were obviously Fulani. Finally, the motos stopped, though there was no trail, or obvious camp. We began walking through the bush until we saw the small domed houses, covered in plastic tarping. These structures even have the appearance of the nomadic, temporal lifestyle, easily picked up and carried off to whatever place is next necessary for the grazing of the cattle.

Finally, we had found them. The grandmother came out, with little Aisha Kelly wrapped on her back. Another family’s child also peered out at us, obviously stricken with some condition limiting his mobility, nearly crippling him. Then came the young father and mother. I watched the mutual delight of Dr Kelly and the family. The little girl locked my eyes, at first scared of the white skin, but intrigued as well. Again translation ensued through many people, the long task of communication.

It turned out that the wife was pregnant again, which allowed for encouraging her to come to the clinic for care. Any woman who has had a prior preterm baby is at risk for having a similar outcome, and needs to be watched carefully and given some special medicines to try to prevent a repeat of the prior early delivery. So, Dr Kelly pushed me forward, indicating that I was the mom-baby doctor, and she needed to see me. I was glad that I was there, as she would be much more likely to actually come for and accept care within an established relationship.

We enjoyed the time, took some photos, and eventually said goodbye, mounting the motos again and heading back out the path to eat more dust. Furthering relationships here almost always requires a bit of adventure, stepping out into the unknown, risking something. But I suppose that life worth living requires those things. Life lived today. 
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A typical fulani house

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They are taught not to smile in pictures, it isn't that they were scared to death of Kelly
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Mom and little Kelly

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