As I wrote about before, I brought 50 treated mosquito nets with me on my trek to the village. I had a plan for how I'd hoped to distribute the nets, and that plan was communicated thoroughly to Dogo, who helped translate my Hausa into the type of Hausa that the rest of the Hausas (who aren't used to funny white-person accents) can understand.
To be honest, I kind of dreaded distribution day. Not that I wasn't really excited about the chance to potentially prevent hundreds of people from contracting malaria (the mom typically sleeps with several of her small kids on one bed), but I was worried it would be a free-for-all, with lots of demands about why this person got a net and not me?! But, as became a theme of my visit, all went much better than expected.
Now, how might all the women of the village come to learn about the pending mosquito net distribution? you ask. Well, through the town crier, of course. I was still nestled in my cocoon of fabric inside my tent (I'd underestimated how chilly the nights would be), when I heard the familiar voice yelling the announcement. "ALL THE WOMEN WHO ARE PREGNANT! AND ALL THE WOMEN WHO HAVE A BABY THAT HASN'T YET REACHED ONE YEAR! BALKISSA WANTS TO TALK TO YOU THIS MORNING! AND BRING YOUR HEALTH CARD!" He'd walk a few yards, take a deep breath, and repeat, until he made a tour of the whole village. So, it was time for me (Balkissa) to get up.
The town crier had omitted the detail that the women were to meet at the chief's hut, and not at my hut, so there was an early flood of visitors who had to be
redirected. I soon joined them in the round meeting hut in the center of town. I've been really thrilled to discover that I haven't forgotten much Hausa. Still, I hadn't quite anticipated giving a speech to nearly 100 spectators. No turning back now! So, I dove in and told them why I brought the nets — that my friends in America heard that their babies suffer from malaria and wanted to help prevent that. And then I explained how to use the nets — let them air out for a day, but not in the sun; use them all the time there are mosquitos, not just during rainy season; if you have an old net, give it to your other kids and not your husband (sorry guys).
Then came distribution time. Dogo forewarned me to check every woman's card carefully, and it was good advice. Although, it seems to transcend all national barriers that doctors have terrible handwriting because it was nearly impossible to decipher the information. That, and a good number of the cards had been partially eaten by termites or stained by who knows what. Nonetheless, I verified that the pregnant women really had gone to the clinic for prenatal checkups. And that all the new moms had taken their babies in for vaccinations and baby weighings. For those who hadn't, I made them wait until the end to see if there were nets left. I explained that I wanted to make sure that those moms who were really motivated to take care of their babies got the nets first (hoping they'd be encouraged to be more proactive with their health care in the future). In the end, everyone who qualified was able to get a net, even if they'd lost their card or it was incomplete. I even fudged and let babies who were 13-15 months slip through. Luckily, I was the only one who could read their real age on the card. There were some sly women who tried to trick me into giving them a net. A few who insisted they were just 2 months pregnant, so I couldn't tell yet. Or those with toddlers running around trying to insist they weren't yet one year old. But, it was easy to laugh and make them fess up. And in the end there wasn't nearly the mass stampede that I'd feared. Quite the opposite.
P.S. I'd love to start posting photos off all this stuff, but the internet connection keeps refusing to let me. So, hopefully before too long I can update the stories with photos to match!
Read and post comments | Send to a friend