I’d like to dedicate this to my really amazing former boss, Bill Mattera, who played the likes of Brittany Spears and P!nk on endless repeat throughout the work day and who made my days at the office, well, all that much more amusing! It was Bill who introduced me to the song Let’s Have a Kiki by the Scissor Sisters (please excuse me if this is not who this song is written by. I currently live in a world of no internet or Google, and you do). Anyways, the song Let’s Have a Kiki sporadically pops into my mind for no reason here and there. But last Friday, the song came to mind for a reason.
Last Friday the health stagiers got the opportunity to visit a rural community health center in the village of Kiiki, somewhere halfway between Bokito and Bafia. After a French lesson on important medical terminology and after doing protocol (which is basically just standing up for the officials and other Almighty Powers in any given village/town) with Bokito’s gendarmes and Sous-Prefet, with whom Spencer was greatly envious of his Northern boubou, we finally got a mini info session on the structure of community health in Cameroon. After these sessions we packed tightly into our Peace Corps vehicles and sped off down the paved road that ends at the entrance to Bokito.
We arrived in Kiiki, which is much smaller than Bokito. It was quite refreshing to know that us health stagiers weren’t placed in the smallest of the smallest villages! Anyways, we gathered on the veranda of the community health clinic. Kiiki’s community health center serves the local community. It functions somewhat as a hospital but it is woefully understaffed and under-resourced. If someone were to be gravely ill, they would instead go to the much more developed hospital in Bafia. But for those with minor maladies or for those in need of medicines or a place to give birth, Kiiki is their go-to place.
The compound of the health center was actually very nice compared to any that I have seen in Sierra Leone (with the exception of the brand new Gila’s Maternity Hospital I worked at last summer - that was funded by Germans, so that doesn’t count). The entrance to the center is the veranda which is open on two ends, one at the front and a opening towards the back which empties into the courtyard. On the veranda around 10 patients sat waiting to be seen by the one doctor on staff. Unfortunately for them, the next hour he was occupied giving us a tour - I hope none of their maladies were too severe!
To the left of the veranda was the pharmacy, which was recently reinforced with steel bars and reinforced roofing to make it harder for thieves to succeed at taking what they can. There was a fair amount of stock in the pharmacy, but from what I heard from other volunteers later, it was stocked with largely expired medicine. Furthermore, maternal and child (children under 5) healthcare is supposed to be free in Cameroon, but the doctor told us that the government still has not sent the medications it has promised them years earlier; therefore, at Kiiki, mothers and children still have to pay for the supposedly ‘free’ healthcare, and I’m sure Kiiki is not unique in this sense.
We walked through some of the other rooms that extended in a ‘U’ shape around the courtyard. Other rooms included in-patient rooms, equipped with merely a rusty metal bed frame and a mattress that barely deserves to be called a mattress. There was also the laboratory, which was also woefully under-resourced. The doctor claimed it was equipped to do simple tests such as Typhoid, Malaria, HIV, and other common maladies. After passing through more in-patient rooms and their horrid stench, we finally reached the delivery room.
Let me tell you, if any Cameroonian woman/girl were to see this delivery room, I would think it would be the best form of birth control on Earth. Despite the awful stench that permeated the entire hospital, the delivery room included the same rusty metal bed frame and quasi-mattress. Yet the delivery room, unlike the other in-patient rooms, had a touch of interior décor and a splash of color in the form of giant blood splotches (now so old that they faded a dark burgundy) across the wall. I know birthing is a bloody process, but I can’t imagine how blood managed to get all over the wall in this quantity and this high. There was also the seat with the saddles for giving birth and doing gynecological exams. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to touch that with a 10 foot pole either.
|Blood stained walls|
Our group of 19 descended the steps into the airy courtyard and made our way to the back complexes of the compound. On our way to view the latrines and abandoned kitchen, Spencer unknowingly kicked a baby bird, permanently injuring it so it can no longer fly. Despite the fact that we were in a hospital, there was really no hope for this poor bird. Julia cut a large water bottle in half and scooped the bird up, convinced she was going to take it back to Bokito and nurse it back to health. After some convincing, Julia agreed to merely put the bird back on the ground near its family and fill the water bottle with water. Rest in Peace, Bird.
After Spencer’s near accidental murder of the baby bird, our group headed to the patient’s latrines. Latrines are common here (as well as all over the world). Imagine a small shack with a door that will lock only if you are lucky and a nice hole in the middle for you to do all your business. That’s how things are and it’s fine. I’ve grown used to it by now. However, I have never been inside a latrine which had a stench as bad as the Kiiki latrine. Imagine the odor of 100 decaying skunks and 100 other vermin and multiply that by 10 and you still wouldn’t compare to the stench of the Kiiki latrine. If I were a patient at Kiiki, I would much prefer to do my business in a bucket in my room (which several health stagiers have already done in Bokito because they prefer not to walk to their latrine at night - gross).
No tour would be complete without a glimpse of the morgue. After walking through a thicket and being just a tad bit scared that a snack would choose this opportune time to attack my ankles, we finally arrived at the unused morgue. The building was rundown to the say the least, and it has never been used because the refrigeration that is needed has never been installed. I’ve never seen a morgue in the U.S., so I cannot really compare it. I am not sure what I expected, but this morgue looked like the cremation buildings used during the Holocaust. It was definitely an eerie place, made worse by the fact there was a giant wasp buzzing around us, which quickly scared Spencer and many others out of the room. I stayed behind to listen to what the doctor had to say about the morgue, and then we left to return back to the veranda for the doctor’s parting words.
That night, more than ever, we needed some group bonding. After the end of the day sessions back at the training center in Bokito, the usual group of us introduced about 10 others to the novelty that is Baby Bar - aka Texaco. We all grabbed our 33 beers (no antelope tonight!) and gathered around for many games of cards on the patio as Celine Dion and contemporary African hits played loudly on the stereo inside the bar. I think that evening we were all thankful to be healthy, alive, with each other, and thankful that the Cameroonian health system is not our reality for the rest of our lives.
So now, while I cannot say I have had a Kiki, I can at least say I’ve been to Kiiki. Now, go use that fancy thing called Google and search for that song.