Sunday, January 6, 2013

Lessons in Health and Aging

            My step dad has a Lincoln navigator that he sent here 5 years ago. It hasn’t run since it left the US (so you know it’s not going anywhere fast). In addition to the fact that it hasn’t run in years, there was a storm 2 years back that cracked the entire back window.  The shipping container we are waiting for has parts to fix it up, but that wont be here until the end of January. In the mean time, my step-dad has been on a mission to get it as cleaned up and road ready as possible.
            Enter Luis the mechanic. Luis and Serita are family friends and I stayed with Serita at her house while my stepdad and Luis went to work on the car. We sat and chatted about Cape Verde, her home county, and Guinea Bissau. Since the war for independences, they are treated as synonymous despite Cape Verde being an Island 350 miles away. I also learned random facts about Bissau, like how Chinese products coming directly from China to Bissau are of poorer quality then Chinese products that are sent to US first and then sold here. Anyways, after several hours of chatting, finally Ramos, my step-dad, and her husband arrived.  Much to my surprise they never got to look at the car. As soon as they left they got a call that Avo Alice was really sick, so they rushed to our house to see her.
            Growing up I didn’t live with my grand-parents, or anyone significantly older.  This is really the first time I’m really experiencing living with an elder. Avo Alice just turned 86 in late December and for being 86 she moves and has the energy of someone 40 years younger. She has been such a blessing because I have learned so much from her and what it means to age.  The combination of her wisdom, senility, and quick, witty tongue is constant entertainment. She has stories and advise that last for hours after meals. I think about how one day I’m going to be like that, and it puts my youth in much needed perspective. You can never start too soon to take care of your body, inevitably we all age and the care we took when we were younger will surely show once we are older.
            Back at Luis’s house, we ate a Cape Verdian dish called Cachupa (its kind of like jumbo, everything is in it and it tastes amazing!) and then finally went home to see Avo Alice.  On the way home Serita says, “ Make sure you eat well here. If you get really, really sick, that’s it.”
            Health care in the United States, despite the politics and corruption, looks like universal free health care here simply because it exists. Here in Bissau there is a free national hospital but, from what I hear, you leave worse then when you entered. There isn’t enough equipment to serve the growing population and the sterilization of medical tools is not always guaranteed. The hospitals are dirty, I’m told, because the government doesn’t pay well, so janitors and other employees do just enough to reflect their pay. (This also gets into the issue of government corruption and the fact that they seldom pay government employees.) There also aren’t enough (good) doctors. This is because most have left and created private clinics where they can charge much more for their services.  This, in turn, marginalizes those who cannot afford to visit their clinics. So not only is the the majority of the country without access to health care, but the access they do have is to below standard quality. 
            There are foreign clinics, but like private Guinean clinics, they are really expensive. If you have money, you skip Guinea Bissau all together and go to Portugual or Senegal.   
            After a good nights rest, Avo  Alice has been showing lots of improvement in her health. She had everyone in for a scare, but she’s already back on her feet and scurrying around the house.  

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