We flew into Niamey, the capitol of Niger on thursday afternoon and stayed at an SIM guesthouse for the night. Yesterday morning we got up early and got on a small six seater plane. Dr Steve once asked what we were most afraid while planning for this trip. I said this plane ride. I was not looking forward to it but it turned out to be amazing. The takeoff was so smooth and to see Niger from the air was beautiful. Dry land, many small villages, small lakes, different types of irrigation for the fields, dirt roads and more dirt roads...
As we landed on the small airstrip in Maradi we passed many farmers tilling their land right next to the runway. When we stopped, people came to watch us. Going into this trip I knew modesty was a must, but almost immediately I felt like I needed to cover my head. I was wearing a long skirt to the ground but I needed to cover my head. I had made us all head coverings from fabric I saw at a VVF dress ceremony on the ship. It's of birds flying out of a cage, symbolic of the freedom these women receive with the new lives they get after they are dry. Long skirts and head wraps will be my clothing for the next two weeks. Within a few moment of landing, a man said he would have no problem finding us all husbands and yet a different man, as we were driving out, asked our driver were he was going with all these brides. We had to laugh.
Driving through Maradi and out to Danja took about fifteen minutes. On that drive we saw real cowboys. Small boys, maybe ten, shepherding their sheep and goats, but also sitting on large, very skinny cows, driving them. The real cowboys of Niger! We drove quickly around the hospital grounds and took a look at the VVF center being built. The walls are going up and it is amazing. I couldn't help but think of the women who will soon be using that center. It's a great gift to the country and such a need. During the flight into Maradi, seeing one, maybe two paved roads that whole time and seeing villages out in the middle of nowhere, it hit me again why VVF occurs and why we are here. The women in these villages, even if they wanted to go to a hospital for delivery, can't. There is no way to get to one. They would be walking for days, weeks. By then the baby would die and they would still end up with fistulas.
Today we got to work. We were told there were already some women here waiting for us by "the tree". They had been screened the last time Dr Steve had a team here and they are ready! My eyes teared up as we walked over to them. About fifteen women sitting on their mats waving as we walked up and smiling. I only know how to say hello in housa and that amused them as we shook their hands. I can not wait to get started! These women are sleeping on their mats under "the tree" just waiting. ..
Lindsay and I set up the ward with Mariama, one of the head nurses here working at the leper mission. We made their beds, cut black plastic garbage bags to use as pads on their beds and hung mosquito nets. Hanging the mosquito nets made me laugh. I never thought I would be here, hanging mosquito nets on beds to do VVF surgeries in Niger. At this moment, I would not want to be anywhere else though.
When we were done in the ward we helped Alainie and Ginger finish setting up the operating room. A few more things to do tomorrow and we will be set and ready for Dr Steve to arrive monday for exams and start surgeries on tuesday!
Here are a few more random stories of the last two days:
Today one of the guys working here took us to town to a "tea house". The tea house turned out to be a tea tent on the corner of a busy street. Maybe the best tea I have had. Spicy, had a good kick to it. The owner came and told us all the states he knew in the US and all the presidents he knew. A TIA moment at its finest (This Is Africa). Great place to sit and watch the city. Cows pulling carts, a man and a boy on a motorcycle carrying hands full of ginny hens? Women in their burkas. Men at prayer in a mosque. Trucks with too many people to count hanging on. Trucks loaded down and overflowing with goods. A gas station where you get gas poured into your gas tank from old glass or plastic bottles via a funnel. Sometime in the next two weeks I hope I make it back there.
After an afternoon out, it was dark as we drove back to the hospital. We were stuck behind a taxi coming up on a checkpoint. The taxi was full of women dressed in their finest. One woman was pretty glittery with all her sequins. We were stopped on the road talking about her sequins when a sheep slowly pops its head up in the back window from behind the back seat, looks around and slowly goes back down. We wondered if the people knew it was even there. It looked like a puppet. We all had a good laugh with that.
I'm trying to upload pictures on here but it's not working. Check back tomorrow and I will keep trying!