Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Emergency Situations

                      “Where do people go in the event of emergency medical situations?!” 

This question has plagued my mind recently because I’ve encountered several of them in the past 2 weeks. Now I can’t help but ask everyone I know what they do and where they go in the event that they are sick or have a medical emergency. I’ve been asking out of anthropological curiosity, but also out of hope that if I ever have an emergency health situation I’ll know where to go!

I’m going to share 3 separate health situations that occurred recently to really emphasize how dire the access to decent health care is in Guinea-Bissau.  

Situation Number 1:

            My family and I were eating dinner at the restaurant Papaloca and out of nowhere there was a lot of yelling and screaming happening outside the restaurant. Next thing I knew my step dad moving his car out of its parking spot in front of the restaurant and into the middle of the road.
Artemisia Medical Clinic
            I ran outside and saw that someone had been hit by a car and my step-dad had put his car in the road to stop any oncoming traffic from hitting him (Just days before my neighbors uncle had been hit by a car and ran over repeatedly by other cars. No one stopped driving over him until a passerby pulled out his gun and started shooting it in the air to get the attention of the drivers. The lack of (street) lights at night could have something to do with this). The car that had hit this guy took off and left him lying in the street. He was unconscious and blood was coming out of his ears and mouth, his limbs were bent awkwardly at his side. 
            A crowd began to surround him as folks came to see what happened and tried to decide what to do. The sad reality is that calling the police or an ambulance would be a waste of time. The usual response is that they cannot come because there is no gas in the ambulance to get there.
            Fortunately someone volunteered their car and took him to the hospital. We all wondered if he would make it. The next day on the radio we heard that guy had died. They were looking for someone to come and identify his body.

Situation Number 2:

            A week after getting back from Buba we found out that Abdon, whose restaurant we had stayed at in Buba, had a stroke. He had to drive the 3-4 hours from Buba to get to the military hospital here in Bissau.
            Once in Bissau he spent almost a week in the hospital (just) taking asprin (but apparently that’s what your usually prescribed when you have a stroke).  He had lost sensation in and the ability to control the left side of his body.
            The hospital is a hard place to be because it is everyone’s last resort. When you don’t know what else to do, you go to the hospital.  Lots of beds surrounding Abdon were filled with old sick people who were surrounded by family members either seated on the bed with them or lying on the floor.
Inside the clinic
            At the Hospital they do not provide you with food or water.  Your family or who ever is taking care of you is responsible for brining you food and other things you might need.  So it’s literally like taking care of someone from home, except your at the hospital and not at home.
            When we came to visit Abdon one day we found him trying to cut an onion with his one working arm, the onion being held by his girlfriend. I imagined he wanted to prepare his own food. He is a chief after all.
            There was another day we brought a friend of Abdon’s to come and see him. This guy is a millionaire, so we drove up to the hospital in a very nice SUV. It was early evening and as we drove up we noticed that there were no lights on in the hospital. “There’s no lights at the hospital?! “ I exclaimed. But as we drove through the entrance and found a place to park the entire building became illuminated.
  “Hey! The lights came!” I said in innocent excitement. My sister looked at me and said, “No, we came. ” 
            “What do you mean we came? They only put the lights on because we are here??” I simply could not rap my mind around the fact that all the people in the hospital were lying there in the dark.  
            “Yes,” she said, “They don’t know who we are, but they saw a really expensive car come through the front gates. We could be a minister or someone with influence, so they turned the lights on.”
            When we left all I wondered was if the lights at the hospital left with us. It’s possible the generator is on a timer and we just happened to arrive when the generator was set to turn on. I desperately hope that is the case.
Naveed, my co-worker and his foot
            Anyways, Abdon’s cousin was able to organize enough money to get him to Zigguinchor, Senegal where they have better medical treatment. But the best medical care is in Dakar, so he had to figures out how he would get from Zigguinchor to Dakar. An ambulance ride was 5,000 USD!! An SOS airplane ride was 10,000 USD!!! There is a boat that could take him for 60 bucks, but they wouldn’t let him on the boat in the condition he was in.
            He eventually made it to Dakar and is still there. Its possible he will go to Europe to received further treatment (being part of an international organization, Slow Food, may have saved his life. Not everyone has the luxury of being relocated to a better medical facility).

Situation Number 3:

            When my co-workers from Pakistan got here, one of them had a little cut on his foot. Unfortunately the change in elevation from the plane ride made is foot swell and caused the cut to expand and become irritated. He spent 3 months hopping around from clinic to clinic because his foot would not heal. The humidity in the air was causing some of the problem, but he had also received a prescription for medication that was causing the infection on his food to spread. Finally one day one of my co-workers came to me and said we needed to find another clinic because his foot was getting really bad. What was once a quarter sized infection grew into something the size of a softball. 

            I kept hearing about an Italian Clinic that was supposed to be really expensive, but also really good. The medics are all foreigners, some from Cuba, others from France, some from Italy.  It was a very reassuring site to see.
            They had to call several medics in to look at his foots because they were completely perplexed by what they saw. They called in a dermatologist (who only happens to be in Bissau because her husband is in the Guinean government) to see if she could figure out what was going on. The dermatologist spoke French to another doctor who translated to me in Portuguese what I needed to translate to my co-worker in English so he could translate to my other co-worker with the infected foot in Urdu, one of the many languages in Pakistan.  It was quite a process, but eventually all relevant information was shared.
            Thankfully the treatment the dermatologist gave him completely cleared his foot of the fungus and infection.


            So I started to wonder, in the case of an emergency, what would I do? I have maybe enough money saved to catch a flight to Dakar, but not enough to pay for medical fees in Dakar. This Italian clinic is the closest I’ve seen to anything in the United States.  But there is a catch, the director of this Italian clinic is a registered nurse, not a doctor. Not to knock the qualifications of nurses, but I was recently told she has been prone to making mistakes and incorrect diagnoses.
            It’s kind of scary if you think about it too much. Anything can happen and it’s difficult to know where you will find quality and qualified medics. And there is also no system in place nor equipment available to deal with urgent medical emergencies. You almost have to find a doctor that you have come to trust and consider qualified and create a personal relationship with them so that you can call them whenever you might need. Surprisingly this is what many people ( who can afford it) do.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Black Magic

Now as I was experiencing the story I’m about to tell you, I’m not even sure I truly believe it. Part of me is skeptical if ‘Black Magic’ actually exists; the other part of me couldn’t help but be a afraid to know it was happening so close to me. Let me give you some background information.
            It all started when I met Fatima. In all honesty, I don’t even know where she came from, or how I even got introduced to her, but she somehow ended up in the circle of people I know. She came around every once in a while and so I was polite and said hi and so forth.
            But over time I started to get a bad feeling about her.  She was trying to seduce my step-dad, I could feel it in her presence.  He would say she just needed help, but something really didn’t feel right to me about her. She would never look me in the eye, and to me that was a big indicator of someone whom had something to hid. I told him he needed be careful with her and that I didn’t like her. But I rarely saw her, so it wasn’t a big deal.  
            Fast forward to the beginning of August. My sister Cecilia and her family were here and my step-dad decided we needed someone to clean the house. This was how Fatima got her in.  
            I was pissed! I asked why out of everyone we knew it had to be her, the one person I didn’t have a good feeling about. I made a scene, which is something I don’t usually do.  But after I calmed down and did some reflecting I decided I was probably over reacting. She had never actually done anything to me, so the least I could do is give her the benefit of the doubt.
            Ha, I learned I need to trust my gut feeling about people. By the 3rd day on the job she was taking a nap in my step-dad’s bed. By the next week she was helping herself to our food and using my body care products and towel.  I would hear all these stories about what she was doing, but by the time I left for work she hadn’t arrived yet, and when I came home she was already gone.  This was not going to work.
            I made it very clear to my step-dad that I was unhappy about the situation and Fatima had picked up on it. She told Cecila that something was wrong with me and that I was crazy. As the tension increased my step-dad finally told her she needed to leave. My step-dad found someone else to clean the house named Maria.
            So what happened? Fatima kept showing up anyways! But she did well to make sure to not to cross my path.  But since we had arranged for a new maid Fatima started telling the new maid what to do as if she was owner of the house. She would sit and order Maria around and tell her what needed to be cleaned and how things should be done. But Fatima made sure that only she was doing the cooking, she made her specialty of rice with spam.
            Lots of Ramos’s things were also going missing like clothes and shoes. She was caught wearing his ring and she stole his iphone. She was still making her self at home with my things. I asked Cecilia why she was allowing Fatima to hang around. Her response was that she was trying! Of course there was a language barrier, but Fatima also used the excuse that she was waiting for my step-dad, so she’d spend the day at the house waiting for him.
            As I was getting ready for work one morning Maria pulled me aside to ask if I had been Fatima’s food.
            I told her I had only eaten her food the first day she was here.  That was the day I learned she was Muslims. Why does that matter? Muslims, specifically from the Fula ethnicity, are known to play to black magic. Call it paranoia, but I figured it was better to be safe then sorry, so I stopped eating whatever she made after that 1st day. But aside from black magic, it just didn’t seem right on my part to eat the food of someone I didn’t like and who also knew I didn’t like them.
            Maria went on to tell me that Fatima had put “medicine” in the food for me so that I would like her.  I was surprised to actually her this, but was skeptical and  asked her how she knew.  She said that Fatima had her plan all layed out: Fatima knew I didn’t like her so she was doing voodoo on the food in hopes that we would be friends and I would want her to stay.  Fatima said explicity told Maria, “ I know Kumba (me) wants me to leave, but she can’t make me go anywhere.”   
            I laughed! This was too crazy to be true. And it was so strang because she had met my mom when she came 2 years ago and told Fatima how much they had liked each other. I told my step-dad what had happened. He was surprised and disappointed to hear it, but continued to eat her food anyways in the following days!!
            That same day Cecila had noticed Fatima go home with daughter Emma’s bracelet. She came back with it the next day and she gave it to Maria to give back to Cecila. When Cecil touched the bracelet she felt a shock in her hand that went all the way up her arm. She took it to her husband Remy and he immediately dropped it when Cecila put it in his hand.
            Remy is a healer/medium and is very sensitive to energies and supernatural activities. With my food situation and the strange sensations he was picking up from the bracelet, he knew there was some black magic at play.  He immediately did something to put protection over the house and us.  As he was protecting the house he said he felt the heavy presence of animals, specifically a snake. He deduced that she must be using animal magic.
            There was also 3 consecutive days when the kitchen was filled with bees, wasps, and flies. We walked into the kitchen and herd really loud buzzing we assumed they were up in the rafters.
            Remy’s mom is also a healer and he called her to look a little deeper into what was going on and to give us some extra protection. The next day she called to tell Remy’s that Fatima had done a lot of black magic against my step-dad.  (It made sense now why he kept brining her around.)  Remy’s mom said Fatima had even done some black magic against Remy!  She sad he had also done some black magic against Remy because she could sence that he was protecting everyone with counter magic.
            While all of this was going on Ramos kept trying to defend her. The situation got to the point where we literally had to pull an intervention!! And he didn’t listen to us still!!
            But after an hour and an half session with Remy to get rid of all the black magic on him in addition to the neighbors counseling him to get rid of her, he finally gave her the boot. But he said it had to be slow and seemingly natural so she wouldn’t retaliate. Our neighbors, on the other hand, threatened her and told her if anything happened to me and my step-dad they knew it was her who did it.
            I later came to find out that while all of this was going on, there was some black magic going on with my step-dad’s truck! He didn’t tell me until weeks after my sister had gone back to France.  He said that all the helpers on his truck were friends of Fatima’s.  There was a specific incident in which his truck unexpectedly stopped working in Buba on the way back from a route.   A friend of his named Edi went with him to see what the problem was. Edi searched the truck and found tucked in between the seat and in the seams of fabric little strange trinkets made from animal teeth and skin.   Edi broke the trinkets (and almost broke the drivers nose!) and strangely enough, the truck started to work normally.
            His driver had been hopping that in using black magic my step-dad would get tired of the truck and give it to him! I don’t know if Fatima’s work is behind this, but the timing is too paralleled with what happened at our house to be coincidental.
            Anyways I haven’t seen or heard new about Fatima in a while and im really hoping it stays that way.

Friday, August 2, 2013


Most of the best places to visit in Bissau are found via word-of-mouth. That’s how I’ve discovered some of the best restaurants, hang out spots, and vacation spots. There is almost no tourism industry here, so its easy to come to the conclusion that the country has very little to offer. But I’m learning that there are plenty of little gems throughout the country just waiting to be discovered. Finding these hot-spots has become a
Remy, my sister's partner, and Augustino at the River
            I have a friend who lived in Buba for almost a year named Rui. He recently moved to the capital Bissau (which is where I met him) and every chance he gets he makes sure to mention how much he misses Buba.
            Buba is a small town 3 or 4 hours south of the capital that lies at the head of the Rio Grande de Buba (river). After hearing Rui rave about how amazing Buba is, I decided I had to go, and my sister being in town was a great reason to escape the city to check it out.
            While Rui lived in Buba he stayed at a hotel called “  “. This hotel is owned by Abdon Dalga who just so happens to be the West African Regional Director of SlowFood International.  In1992 he opened his hotel and restaurant right along the Buba river. This was exactly where we were going.
            My stepdad was soooo incredibly skeptical about where we were going!! He kept saying things like, “ If we get there and there is no hotel, I don’t know where you guys are going to sleep.” And “we drove all this way I really hope there is something there” or “ Did you call the owner? Does he know we are coming?”. He brought his nephew with us as, in retrospect, his “security blanket. ” He said he would be sleeping at his house in Buba and not the hotel.
Our santuary when it rained and restuanrant when it was grub time
            I sat quietly and listened to him express his concerns. He had no idea where we were going and his anxiety was showing. But all his comments and concerns made the expression on his face once we arrived all the more priceless.
            Buba it’s a very small town. You can probably walk around the whole city in 2 hours.  There is only one paved road and it’s the same paved road we used to Buba  from Bissau. The road cuts all the way through Buba until you reach the river. Other then that, all roads are dirt and houses are layed out sporadically along side the main road.
            The hotel is at the edge of a mini-peninsula. There are 10-12 individual rooms and a sort of living room/dining bungalow area in the center.  Next door is another also very nice hotel called Bela Vista. It might even be a little nicer than the one we stayed at, but they didn’t have nearly as good as a chief.

            The fact that it rained almost every day was unfortunate, but we made the most of every second that the sun came out. In the mornings after breakfast we went with Abdon when he went to get fish for lunch. We watched the fisher men come back from their morning fish and saw the women at the waters edge just waiting to get their hands on the fresh catch. Before coming to shore, the fishermen arranged the fish to avoid the commotion they knew would ensue once they docked.
            The afternoons we spent swimming in the river, and if it was raining we sat and talked with Abdon, Augustino ( my step-dad’s nephew) or any of Abdon’s friends that had stopped by.
My sister Cecelia enjoying some time at the river
            We learned alot about Abdon’s role in Slowfood International and a lot about  the history of Buba thanks to Augustino. On one night we had asked why we saw so many check-points along the way to Buba. He shared that child trafficking is very common once you get out of the capital and into the south of the country and so the check points are to try and catch child traffickers. He said its common for a child or two to go missing from some of the villages. Child traffickers  go to isolated village’s and kidnapped youngsters to sell them in Senegal. I thought they were sold for slave labor, as if that isn’t bad enough, but the reality is they are being sold for their organs.. I was so surprised by this! The amount of human rights abuses are incredible in this country.
            However, all of the new learning and engaging conversation was just supplementary to the amazing food we ate. So when I say we were sitting and talking, we were actually just passing time while waiting for Abdon to finish cooking lunch or dinner.
            The food was absolutely amazing! In one meal we had gazelle, in another grilled barracuda. For dinner one night we had an appetizer soup and bread sticks followed by a main course of quiche, goat, salad, rice, and french-fries and desert was some pastry that
            It was a feast for royalty! And everything was made from scratch! Every time we had French fries I for some reason kept assuming they were frozen, because in the US more often then not they are. It wasn’t until I saw him slicing and frying the potato’s that I realized they were fresh. Then I felt silly, because I knew very well that there is no electricity in Buba!
            My sister and her husband couldn’t get over the fact that we were having five star meals at a small hotel that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Jokingly they would say that they were going to stay in Buba until it was time to go back to France. They were very under-impressed with what Bissau had to offer.  
            I was a little bit concerned about the damage this trip would put on my wallet. But 100 dollars covered my own room for 3 nights, breakfast, lunch and dinner for 3 days with all drinks between and during meals included!
            I would absolutely recommend this spot for any visitor in Bissau. In the end, my step dad wanted to make plans to go back when my mom comes in December!  The drive is 3-4 hours long, but if you can stay out of trouble, unlike us, the drive is smooth sailing.
Lunch: and this is nothing compared to other meals
            On the way home, we stopped for gas and took a bathroom break. Of course there was no bathroom so my sister walked around trying to find the next best thing. She found an abandoned looking building and handled her business there. When I asked where she went , she pointed to a cement wall that was just in front of two doors entering the building. I was surprised because it was obviously the entrance of a building, but everyone else followed suit: her husband, my nephew, my stepdad, and just before we left, I decided to go too. I was curious to know what else was in the area, so I peeked around the other side of the building. I saw there was a house with some folks sitting in the front and then went back to the front of the building to relieve my self. Less then 5 seconds into my pee I hear someone yell in creole, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!” I look up and 2 women standing in front of me.

“Im peeing!” I responded, half surprised to see anyone and half annoyed that they had interrupted me. 

“Oh my god, oh my god, I’m so mad. This is a disgrace!! I can’t believe you are doing this.”  She continued.

I wondered to my self why they were freaking out. When I walk to work I see on average 3 men stop and pee, sometimes less then 2 or 3 feet away from me.  Sometimes the guy in front of me will suddenly veer 2 steps the right and pee.   Just because I’m a girl they are going to freak out?! I finished peeing and pulled up my pants ready to rebuttal whatever their reason was for disapproving.

Gravity gas pumps
“ What is wrong with you? This is so disrespectful! You think you can just come here and pee where ever you want? This is a church! “

“Oooooooh shit,” I thought, but said instead,” This isn’t a church.”  She told me to come around to the front of the building and low and behold “ House of God” written in Portuguese was written across the top.  I apologized and repeated that I didn’t know, but she kept insisting that I had done it on purpose, as if I purposely wanted to pee on gods house, and as if it was obvious it was a church.  
            There was nothing I could do at this point, the deed was done. But she kept yelling as if to make a scene. I didn’t understand why she was making such a show out of this.  I again apologized and said God is merciful and would forgive me and walked away. She didn’t like that and went to find my dad.  She said she was obligated to tell whom I had come with what I had done.
            This ground my gears. I felt like a child and she was running to tell my dad on me.  She approached him and not even 30 seconds in to her grievances he handed her a dollars worth of change. She stopped, looked at the change, and almost as if to show she wasn’t going to stop just because he gave her money, she finished her sentence before walking away.
            I got in the car and when my sister asked what happen. As I told the story her eyes widened as she realized the mistake we made, then quickly transformed to a grimace for how the women was making a scene to make a dollar. Her only verbal response was , “If its god’s house why is it so ugly? It’s not our fault we confused. Look at it! “