Monday, June 15, 2009


Okay, before I get to the toilet/well project, I have something I want to talk about. Last night, Sunday, me, Bobo, Junior and his friend Noel were on our way back from having a beer at a local pub. We were driving, cause a friend of Bobo’s had lent us a car for the day. At the corner of the road was a big crowd, so big that we could hardly make the turn. A rasta friend of Bobo’s stuck his head in the window and told us that a man from the slums had been stabbed. The crowd was standing around him. We got out and walked to where he was lying on the pavement, bleeding as he grabbed at people’s ankles in pain. I was all for loading him into the car and driving to the hospital right away. But my friends said no, we had to go get the police. Apparently we would be in big trouble if the guy died in our car. But besides that, they told me that the hospital would not treat him unless they knew that he was not a criminal, or if they had permission from the police. So we had to drive to the police station and get the police to come and ascertain that he had not broken the law and therefore deserved medical treatment. They were fairly quick, luckily. He was still alive when they got there, but he looked awful – semi conscious and bleeding as they loaded him into the back of their truck to take him to the hospital. I was told they would need to fill out a form in order to give the hospital permission to treat him.
The whole time that we were driving to and from the police station and making our report, I kept myself in control, but after they left with him, I had a complete panic attack. I just couldn’t believe we had to go through that whole stupid process when the guy needed medical attention right now. I kept imagining him dying while the police were deciding whether or not he deserved medical attention. I couldn’t believe that the hospital would refuse to treat him because there was a possibility that he might be a criminal. Bobo and Noel tried to console me by explaining that these were the realities of life here. I’m sure you can imagine that that did not help in the slightest. They seemed totally bewildered that I was so scared and upset. I just hate the powerless feeling of situations like that. It made me wish, not for the first time, that I had some kind of medical training.
It wasn’t until Junior told me that he was keeping in touch with the officer in the truck and that the guy had made it to the hospital and was doing okay that I began to calm down. After my friends stopped making fun of me for panicking, I started to ask them some pointed questions. For example, if the man was from the slums, would his family be able to pay the hospital bill? No universal healthcare here. More importantly, it occurred to me that fifty people had been crowded around the guy for who knows how long before we got there and no one had gone to the police before us. Essentially, they were all standing there watching him die and not doing a f***ing thing. Turns out it’s because they’re afraid of the police. Turns out the police are hardly fair or just or trustworthy here. They’re corrupt and brutal. I guess I knew that. In fact, turns out the only reason they came for that guy is that they wanted to make a good impression for the white tourist. That’s right, that guy would most likely have bled to death with an audience of fifty people if I hadn’t been there. I don’t feel like a hero though. I just feel this despair because I know I’ll never be able to be there every time someone needs the police, and I know that it’s only a matter of time before someone else is stabbed because of some gang thing or petty thievery or mistaken identity or whatever and no one is able to get them proper medical attention.
My friends kept saying I need to learn that this is how it is here. But the truth is that I don’t want to stop caring. I want to think about every unfortunate person who did not have a bribe or a white girl to help them, or at least a witness who was brave enough to drive to the police station. Caring sucks when you’re confronted with such a desperate and insurmountable problem as “corruption”, but I still think I prefer it to apathy. Maybe it will even help somehow, if it motivates me to do something about it, though at this point I can’t think of what I could possibly do to fix a problem like that.

Maybe it’s stupid but a big part of me wishes I could have treated him myself. Then I wouldn’t feel so helpless.

A couple of weeks ago, Bobo and I were in the slums visiting the families of the children we are sponsoring through Nuru. One of the kids had missed school because he’d burned his hand. It was a pretty bad burn. Over a week later, we went to check on him. His hand was still unhealed and he was still in a lot of pain, screaming at the mere hint of someone wanting to look at his hand. I couldn’t believe his mother hadn’t asked for our help. I felt awful that we had waited so long to check on him again. We took him to the clinic, by which I mean his mother dragged him while we followed carrying her other two children, one about 2, one maybe 6 months. The poor mother looks like she’s about 20, looking after three kids under 5… Anyway, we got the kid a tetanus shot and a special ointment prescribed by the doctor. He screamed the whole time, so loudly and so fearfully that it made me shaky listening to it. For a while, I had to hold both the small kids so Bobo and Dre could hold him down for his shot. The baby was weak and small and had some difficulty breathing. After, we asked the mother if he needed a checkup too, but she assured us that he was fine.
After that incident, I started to realize that the mothers we are trying to help are afraid to tell us when their children are sick or otherwise in need of our help. Apparently, this is because they are afraid we’ll think they aren’t good parents. Wow. When I think about it, I have noticed a lot of sick kids down there. Healthy ones too, but here and there is an unhealed cut, a sign of ringworms or malnutrition. And their parents can’t afford a doctor and are afraid to ask for help. I didn’t realize this was such a big problem, but I think this needs to be a priority for us. We won’t have the money this time, but next time I get some fundraising done, I want to get a doctor to check up all the kids in the slums. Maybe the adults too if we can manage. The doctor will probably have to spend a week or so down there, with a couple nurses. Then we’ll need the money to get the proper medication to the people who need it and make sure they of their parents have the proper instructions for using it. It’s going to be pricey, but it seems like the only solution to me. We even have a doctor already who I think will do this for us. What we need is some real funding. Maybe a sponsorship from a pharmacy at home or something…
I wish I had some medical training. Then I’d have a better idea of how to pull off something like that.

So I didn’t get to the toilet story. That will be a novel. I’ll start it tomorrow and it should be up by Wednesday. I just had some other things on my mind, clearly. The toilet is going well though. In fact, it’s a much better story than this rather depressing blog. I’ll try to be more upbeat next time. ;)

Also, some pictures are up on facebook. I will post the link for those who don’t use facebook. I’ll have to look it up though, which I will do in the morning cause it’s late and I’m really tired right now.

Thanks for keeping up with my news, those of you who are. If you have any words of wisdom about my above revelations, please share them. And it’s always nice to know that other people understand my sentiments. Till next time then!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The bystander effect is well known, and certainly not limited to countries with corrupt police. The more people that witness some sort of emergency, the less likely any individual is to help.

Medical training is definitely worth it for dealing with stuff like that. But even the best training doesn't make up for the fact that someone who's been stabbed needs to get to a hospital to be checked for damaged organs and internal bleeding and other such things that can't really be handled at the scene.