The fascination of this place
is not about what there is
but about what is missing.

This is not a cliché.

November 2014

25 November 2014

In Africa with the Costa Family Foundation

Two years have passed since my visit to Togo and the thought to return is getting stronger and stronger. I miss the smiling faces, for here at home I see so few. I get upset when people turn any little inconvenience into a big problem. I cannot really put up with such. I would like to send them to Africa so they learn what is what ... and the ticket I get them would probably be of a one way variety!
Lomé. Togo. Africa. A day like many others. One of the children in the community has an allergic reaction to the antibiotics.
She is screaming due to the pain and the constant itching which is breaking up her skin. We need to help and get help quickly. The nurse says that if she cannot get hold of the right equipment to take the blood for testing she cannot do anything! I look at Maristella and see she is down and perplexed. She tells me to stay with the little one whilst she goes to the chemists. I do so and the young child continues to cry. We sit down on a wooden bench and I watch the to and fro of sick people who crowd in the emergency treatment area looking for help. Only who has paid for the visit will be seen. To be seen by the nurse you also need to take sterilized gloves as otherwise you will not be received. After half an hour Maristella comes back with all that is needed for the blood test: cotton, gloves, disinfectant, and needle. We go in to the testing area: a narrow dark room with a tight-lipped nurse. The young child is exhausted through crying and suffering so much pain. And then comes the unwelcome surprise: it is necessary to do a gastroscopy: We will need to go to another part of the hospital to look for the right ward and not even the nurse knows exactly where it is. Maristella puts the child on her shoulder and off we go. Part of the hospital area extends outside and an open area is full of relatives of the sick, they not being able to return the long way home and forced to sleep here with little more than a blanket, a pillow and a cooking pan for company. The patients lucky enough to be seen do not receive a complete treatment but only the strictly necessary medical care and it is up to the relatives to take care of feeding and hygiene considerations. After a long search we find the doctor we are looking for and the child is laid down on a bed. and it is then when the dramatic part of the story begins. She does not want to swallow that long tube which is really necessary for her wellbeing, in that it will help indicate the right medicine which she will need to take. She screams and shouts in desperation for she thinks she will be suffocated.  Every attempt is made to convince her to cooperate, even promising that as soon as the thing is done we will take her for her favourite “fufú” food  and together with roasted corn on the cob. The screaming does not die down and I feel as if I am going to faint. I go outside along the corridor and in the torrid heat I see I am shaking  - shaking because of the heat, because I am so upset, because I have seen the little girl in such a terrible state. I burst out crying and at the same moment the thought that I should never return here flashes through my mind. Maybe I am too fragile and that Africa is not the place for me in that I am unable to face up to the reality which is before me. Thirty minutes later Maristella appears. They succeeded in getting the tube down the child’s throat and even she does not know how it was done!. In the car we get and the little girl falls asleep on the back seat. We do stop to get the “fufú” and the roasted corn on the cob. The delightful smells awake her  and at least we are able to get some food down the little girl. Before getting back to the community base we stop off to deliver some spectacles to a lady. They had come from Italy as part of an assignment and now they are with the grateful lady as without them she had been virtually unable to see anything. We also stop at the chemists to pick up the antibiotics for the child and then finally we are back ‘home’. It is now dark but the volunteers at the base have waited for us so we can eat together. Tired out I sit a the table with them and I realise that it is not true that Africa is not for me. I will never be able to forget the great emotion I felt as the children along the street smiled their huge smiles at me, nor will I ever forget the warm and friendly smiles of the mothers I met in the pediatric department and their expression of thanks to the many volunteers who assist them in so many respects. My fragile state has been put aside and replaced by a new awareness: I am certain I will return.

Lisa Campagnolo