The Blessed Helicopter on Thanksgiving Day in Dadaab
Happy Thanksgiving from Dadaab.
Today we were to board the helicopter to go to Hamey, a village that took us about three and half hours to get to. The helicopter was delayed but we were happy to load our gear and ourselves. It was a four passenger chopper in addition to the two pilots and it took off from the Dadaab Airport. The helicopter is provided by a German NGO and would serve World Concern for two weeks before heading to some other humanitarian mission. It could not have come at a better time as the road traveling was difficult and long.
From the helicopter, we could still see areas of brown earth not covered with vegetation. It took us about twenty minutes to arrive at a village which according to the coordinates was supposed to be Hamey but in fact it was Damajale. Droves of villagers, young and old came running to see the big bird. The pilot asked Andrew to go and ask for directions to Hamey but for some reasons he wasn’t able to because he did not speak Somali. We flew around looking for Hamey as we headed towards Liboi. In the end we decided to land at Damajale and run our clinic there. The government clinic again was closed as we arrived. The two community health workers do not seem to open the clinic consistently.
The store and the consultation room that I used last Saturday were filthy. I decided to talk to the community health worker about taking responsibility to clean the room. He gave the excuse that the cleaner was away yesterday but I argued that we were there last Saturday, he should have ample time to clean up. Thereupon he asked me whether we would pay to clean the place. I told him that his community was lucky to have a clinic while Hamey had a tent and Kokar had none. I made it clear to him that neither World Concern nor Medical Teams International was going to pay for the clean-up. This was his space and he should take great pride in keeping it clean for the community. We were told by the staff of WC that previous MTI teams cleaned up the place before starting clinic and soon after they left it reverted to the current condition.
I wiped the table and chairs with alcohol and set up a clean area for my patient, translator and myself as best I could before starting to see the patients. For crowd control, the police stood at either end and we cordoned off the corridor with duct tape only allowing some patients to wait on the benches.
I saw a number of malnourished children, anemia, pica, worm infestation and fungal skin infections seemed quite rampant. I drained a foot abscess of a youngster who fell off a tree and poked his foot with a thorn, cleaned a panga (machete) wound on a hand. A cute baby had a bad case of impetigo but was still smiling despite all that uncomfortable sores. Women young and old complained of chest pain, low back pain, knee pain and poor appetite, many were anemic. I am not sure whether the joint pain has anything to do with the long distances they had to walk to fetch water. By age 20, many of the women already have at least four babies and many looked older than their stated age. The amount of clothes they had on made me feel hot and uncomfortable.
We had a date with the chopper and had to finish clinic on time. Later we learned that the chopper had to travel to Garrisa to refuel and would be delayed. So we waited for an hour and a half with our armed guards and flew home in 15 minutes. What a treat. For the days that we have been running clinic we have had no lunch but snacked on peanuts and an egg that we saved from breakfast, these we had to consume surreptitiously. It would be unseemly to eat in front of hungry children.
And so we spent our Thanksgiving in the bush of Africa thankful that we do not suffer from famine and hunger and we have the good fortune of the arrival of the helicopter to take us quickly to these rural villages at least for the rest of the time we are going to be here.