Welcome to Danfili Health Center

The other morning work was very quiet, so I decided to take it as an opportunity to snap a few photos to show a little more about my health center where I work. This is just a taste; I plan to talk more about my work in future posts, updating you on all of my projects and ideas for during my service.
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This photo shows what I see when I approach the health center each morning. The staff members are at the water forage, which happens to house a hive of (stingerless) bees. Children who live nearby often treat this area as a playground, as do the chickens and dog, Zombie, who live at the health center. The far wall is patient rooms.

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Here is another view of the water forage. The building behind it has four rooms for center staff to stay in, and also houses the latrines for patients and staff. To the right (far off in the back) there is a pit where we dispose trash after burning it. With no incinerator or waste management system, this is the best option. To the left (not in view) is another building with a kitchen for patients’ families, one for staff, and a chicken storage room. The chickens are let out during the day and roam the health center, or sometimes even hide in the trees.

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Here is one of the patient rooms. Most of the rooms have three or four beds, but there are a few rooms that are private. Patients are in charge of bringing their own bedding, dishes for cooking, supplies for cleaning dishes and bathing, and any other items they may need while sick. As you can see by these two beds, the quality of the mattresses is far from ideal. The director of the health center is hoping to replace each of the mattresses this year. I think we have twenty bedframes, but not all of them even have mattresses. Some times patients or their families sleep on the floor on mats brought from home.

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Our health center does not have electricity, so lab work and other tasks are much easier to accomplish when there is natural lighting. This is a photo of the lab tech’s work area. We are equipped to do basic blood and urine tests. We most often test for Tuberculosis, Typhoid, Malaria, HIV, syphilis, Hepatitis, pregnancy tests, getting blood types for transfusions, and anemia. As our center is small, we refer a lot of people out to the larger hospital in a town nearby for more serious tests and treatment.

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Here is the main meeting room where I conduct a lot of my work. On Tuesdays mothers come in with their babies for vaccinations, and on Thursdays we do malnutrition screenings and distribute a therapeutic food product that is supposed to help get the youngsters into a healthier weight range. I will be writing about these projects in more detail soon, I promise. This photo is from a meeting  I held with the director of the health center to introduce myself to the community council that supports the health center, as well as one of the community groups that I work with, who are referred to as “Les Hommes Dynamiques.” The previous volunteers worked with this group, training them on important health topics and tasking them with speaking to people in the community about the importance of  prenatal consultations, the advantages of family planning, and the importance of vaccinations.

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Here is another photo of a group of the people present during my first community meeting. The woman on the left is Astadicko, my counterpart. I was laughing because they all insisted on smiling for the photo, “like Americans,” because the previous volunteer always insisted.

When life gives you antelope…

Wednesday started out as a pretty slow day. I woke up and made some scrambled eggs, then got water from the well to do dishes. Da Hawa is visiting family in Yaounde so the compound has been quieter than usual. I faced some other chores I had been neglecting and when my house became too hot, I went to the health center to check in. 

At the health center, things were quiet. I usually arrive in the morning, so showing up in the afternoon offered a different perspective of what goes on later in the day. There weren’t many patients and the chief was in Ngaoundal for the day, and the nurses were relaxing in the shade. After talking for an hour or so, I decided to look over one of the health registries to gather some data for my community needs assessment. This CNA has been my primary work project since I arrived in Danfili, and will help inform the projects I do later on.

After some time reviewing the past year’s family planning visits (of which there were 95, and majority opted for injectible contraceptives), I got a call from the director of the Danfili secondary school. On Wednesdays the school day ends at 1pm and he invited me to see the lake in the next town over. Enthused that my day was going to get more interesting, I packed up at the health center and walked over to his house.

I had made plans to stop by another friend’s house after she finished work, and called to say I may be late because I was going to the lake. “Not a problem,” she said in French. When I arrived at the director’s house, I found out she had called him and wanted to go too. The more the merrier! We picked up the school guidance counselor too.

I had been told about this lake by many Danfili residents, and it’s beauty did not disappoint. We got there about an hour and a half before sundown. The sky was hazy and dusty, but the water was clear and a cool breeze rustled the trees. The differences between my life here and in the U.S. are so great that I am not often reminded of home, but then, looking out on the water and  noting its similarities to the lakes in Minneapolis, Madison, and even at Carleton… I felt less far away. I smiled and told my friends that in Minnesota there are over 10,000 lakes, and that this time of year they are all frozen over, which surprised them. 

After walking around a little bit, we decided to try and find a second lake reportedly nearby. We drove back to the main road and asked some kids to help us. Our attempts to see the water were thwarted by marshy grasses, which led to some to attempt tree climbing for a better view. We ultimately decided to return another day to try again. The kids led the way, all the while talking about me in Fulfulde (in Fulfulde, “nassara” means white person or foreigner, and I hear it a lot). I almost didn’t mind because I could understand some of what they were saying.

On the way back to Danfili we stopped to say hi to some of the town’s teachers who were gathered outside, and the director was given a large sack he put in the trunk. It wasn’t until we were back at his house, on our way to leave, that I realized he had bought bush meat. Despite my hesitation, he gave me a  chunk of the antelope and sent me on my way. 

I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, but managed to cut the slab of meat into chunks and cooked it with garlic, onions, and some spices in my house. The end result was edible, and actually quite good. I’m not sure when I’ll next cook bush meat, but I’m willing to try if it is handed to me! (Gulp).

Did I wake up thinking I would go to a lake? Or that I would find myself staying up late to cook meat for the first time, without running water (thankfully the electricity was working)? No, not in the slightest. These are the things that make each day stand out for a Peace Corps Volunteer, and encourage me to view each moment as an adventure, and an opportunity to learn something new. When life gives you lemons, or antelope, it’s up to you to make something of it. 

Confessions of a Cameroonian Cat Owner

My family is full of cat owners. I’ve grown up with cats around basically my whole life. In college I would call my dad to talk about school, and he would update me on what kind of cat food they had recently switched to. When I was nine or ten, my grandpa invited us over for a birthday party for one of his kitties. We wrapped a cat toy sprinkled with catnip in tissue paper for her to “open” the present. One day when my sister was at work a coworker mentioned that her friend found an abandoned kitten that weekend, and that they didn’t know what to do because their apartment didn’t allow cats. Without hesitation, my sister offered to take in the cat. When I visit my mom, there are always stories about her cats’ shenanigans since I last visited.

Despite my family’s affection for cats, I have to admit that my relationship with felines is at best lukewarm. In high school, I mastered the best strategies to evade litter box duty. I kept a lint roller in my room to collect hair left on my bed and clothes, and took special joy in removing the evidence of cats. If you ask around, I’m sure you could collect stories of when a friend’s cat has walked into my lap and I’ve half-heartedly pet it then subtly set it down next to me. I’ve always thought cat videos were funny, so I’ll give them that. They can be pretty cute, I guess.

Its not like cats really like me either. My family’s cats and I have a general understanding. They keep their paws off my things, and I keep my hands off their fur. We sort of coexist without really acknowledging each other. Sort of like some of the roommate situations I advised as a Resident Assistant in college.

It was not until coming to Cameroon that I ever considered owning a cat, and even then, I was apprehensive. I decided that I would move to post, and if a cat happened to appear, I would consider taking it in. Before I came to Cameroon, I read a blog post about a volunteer who had casually mentioned to a community member that she wanted a cat, and the next day there was a kitten at her doorstep. If I really wanted a cat, I could get one easily.

The previous volunteer left Cameroon a little prematurely due to a family emergency, and in the process of departing, she forgot to mention that she had owned a cat at post (I forgive you!). When I arrived to Danfili that first day, I was informed of this fact, and had no real idea what to do. Where do you find cat food when your town doesn’t even have a regular supply of produce? Does the cat need a litter box? Where is the nearest veterinarian if there is an emergency? I texted a nearby volunteer and figured out some options for feeding my new little feline roommate, and we made our introductions.

Meet Peanut
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Its hard to say which came first, the name or the obsession, but Peanut goes crazy over peanuts. You can get them easily in my village, and one day I accidentally spilled a little bag, and before I could pick them up, she swept in and stole the packet. She dragged it under the bed and ate the whole thing. Is this normal? Whose to say?

While its true that I’m not a huge fan of cats, I am happy to have Peanut’s company. She is very loyal, and in my first month, produced several peace offerings in the form of mice to try and gain my respect. Maybe this is TMI, but the first mouse was dissected into body, guts, and brain. I didn’t even know cats could do that…separate a brain from a body without thumbs!? The second was hidden under my living room furniture, which I found only after it became ripe, and the third consisted of a head. Only a head. Da Hawa helped me clean up these little “gifts” and we laughed about it together.

When I’m home, Peanut curls up on my living room furniture and is pretty darn cute. Whenever I begin cooking, she hops down and circles my ankles until I acknowledge her presence with a snack. When I wake up, she is often mewing at my front door, asking to be let in. While reading, she likes to sit in my lap, and I don’t mind petting her and making her purr. Who knows, maybe by the time I come back to the U.S.A. I will be a…cat person!? Eh… I don’t think I’m there yet, but I think Peanut is scheming ways to further win me over.

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