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Monday, April 20, 2015

This is Africa

Two patients, back to back.

First a diminutive 1 1/2 year old from Upper Nile, a conflict-torn state in South Sudan. Missionaries had noticed the baby's bulge of brain tissue covered by soft skin between her eyes.  Her dad left to join someone's army, her 18-yr-old mom is dependent on her own mother's garden supporting the nine siblings, so she has not received medical care until now.  Somehow this malnourished toddler and her teenage mom with tribal facial-scar markings braved being put on planes and landed at Kijabe, where a Sudanese nursing student was able to translate for them.  As I was examining her another missionary brought in a chapati, and she was so hungry she wailed until she could eat some of it, tearing off tiny pieces to chew, and then screaming in total terror every time I tried to touch her.  We'll be treating her malnutrition and infections, and the ENT surgeons will fix her face, and her teen mom will just roll with the inexplicable system.  Later I passed her in the hall, and she smiled at me, as I was suddenly more familiar than the rest of her world.  

An hour later, I was in private clinic, seeing a fat smiling 4-month-old.  A mom with stylish clothes and makeup and a diaper bag bigger than the suitcase I just traveled with; a hovering dad who asked questions and looked proud and answered his cell phone.  Cute coordinated baby clothes, layers of blankets, and pampers.  They were convinced their baby had a whole list of problems, but she was perfectly healthy and growing.  I listened to their anxiety, examined and reassured.  This 4 month old was about the same weight as the Sudanese 1 1/2 year old.

This is Africa.  A child of war, hungry, with a life-threatening problem, waiting over a year for help, a teen mom, a disintegrating social system.  A child of prosperity, doting parents, products of education and globalization.  Both are true, both are Africa 2015.  They are as different from each other as either would be from a baby from another continent, yet in many ways they are the same.  Loved.  Desired.  Parents who care, who go to extreme lengths to do their best for their child.  Curious, adaptable, taking the vastness of the world in stride.

The first one fits most stereotypes of Africa in the west, and those generalizations have strong elements of truth.  But she is only one part of the story of this continent, and the second baby is an equally valid representation of things present and things to come.  Both will get the care they need at Kijabe, which makes it a very interesting cross roads.

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