The walls are cracked. Paint chips are missing everywhere. The bathroom light fixture hangs by 1 screw but the light works because there is electricity, something not available in the bush of Africa. The bed has hand cranks to raise and lower the occupant and is covered with clean but stained sheets. A basic cabinet stands against a wall with a rectangular wooden table beside it. The cabinet is empty. There is nothing on the table. There are no towels or soap. Drinking water in a sealed bottle awaits the thirsty taker.
Large windows are open, facing the Niger River and a breeze is felt wafting in. There are cracks in one window panel and a small hole is visible in the screen. Wonder if any mosquitoes which frequent this country have found the hole. Through the window one can see a beautiful garden filled with lush plants, trees and grass. It is an oasis from the dry, hot, air of the bush. Birds can be heard singing and butterflies flit from flower to flower as the African sun begins to set. Beyond the garden lies an expanse of agricultural fields where vegetables are being grown—cabbage plants can be seen with others in the background. It is a large expanse and one man will spend his day irrigating the plants with 2 hand-watering cans. His source of water is the Niger River which is in its cleanest state during this season but still not drinkable.
This hospital in Niger’s capital city was built by the French in the late 50’s. It is where Dave was brought by the Peace Corps medical officer due to his raging fever, dehydration and gastrointestinal infection. I was allowed to accompany Dave to the hospital although my problem was less severe and easily treated without need for hospitalization.
It was in this stark place that Dave and Judy spent the 2 days prior to and part of Thanksgiving Day, 2010 as Peace Corps volunteers. How did this happen?
Two evenings before, what had been a pleasant evening at a seemingly good restaurant in Niamey, Niger, turned into Dave’s illness and hospitalization because we ordered and ate a salad with our meal. There is no conclusive proof, but since one other person who shared the salad with us also was violently sick and had to go to this hospital, the restaurant’s likelihood of being part of the causative factor is fairl y certain. We miss salads and fruits so much here. When our training group was taken out to dinner and salad appeared on the menu, all knowledge of the risks of eating fresh vegetables escaped our minds and we ordered the forbidden. Firm, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and shredded carrots and cabbage filled a generous salad plate for Dave and me. We shared with our fellow volunteer, not knowing we would also share illness and Thanksgiving in a foreign country’s hospital with her too.
Unfortunately, the 3 of us became ill because we mistakenly assumed that local restaurants who offered salads on their menus also took care to clean the vegetables of the disease-causing organisms so commonly found here. Broad assumptions can prove to be erroneous but this one was definitely wrong. It is a lesson we’ll take to heart. We’ll also share a lifelong bond with Carolyn, the young Peace Corps volunteer with whom we shared our salad and the Thanksgiving hospital stay.
Now on Thanksgiving morning, along with most other Americans, we give thanks --- for family and friends, for each other, for the opportunity to experience life in so many diverse ways. Most especially on this Thanksgiving Day, 2010, we give thanks for excellent medical care first by the Peace Corps medical staff, then by the medical staff at the hospital in Niger’s capital. Though the structure is old and run down, the staff is young, educated, well trained, and highly competent. With their excellent diagnosis and treatment Dave was ready for discharge l within forty- eight hours. It was indeed a Thanksgiving Day to remember.
Irikoy ma saabu tonton (Zarma language). May God increase your thankfulness. Judy and Dave