The Trifecta: Vaccinations, Milk, and Poop

Family Photo at One Encampment

Housseini and I recently finished our 3 day polio vaccination campaign en brousse. Given the plethora of polio cases up in the Extreme North, and the 3 cases we diagnosed in Ngatt itself, a nationwide polio campaign was launched…yet again. As I’ve previously mentioned, the experience was disappointing in the fact that it reaffirmed my opinions of the broken/outdated development system, but it was at least fun to see nearby encampments and villages and bond with some people far out en brousse, as well as amusing to see their faces when I start having a conversation with them in Fulfulde!

I’ve always criticized going on these campaigns as a volunteer - it isn’t necessary for us to tag along, since the health center staff is trained to do these campaigns themselves, but it was a great free trip to see Ngatt’s surroundings and to talk with villagers about health, my work, and America, as well as to promote my weekly group meetings in Ngatt.

The first day of the vaccination campaign took us to a Mbororo encampment and the villages of Mbizor, Wandjock and Ngaoumere. On our way to Mbizor, we stopped at a small encampment to vaccinate the 12 kids living there. Despite our stop at this encampment, I noticed that Housseini opted to skip a handful of other encampments, where I’m sure there are children (which is clearly one of the flaws of these campaigns). In addition to the polio vaccine, which is just 3 drops of liquid into a child’s mouth, we also gave out single doses of Vermox and Vitamin A tablets, which children weren’t supposed to eat the encasement, but Housseini insisted that it does no harm…I sure hope so!

After the quick encampment stop, we headed to Mbizor. Mbizor is a cute and quaint small village, but still decently large enough. Mbizor is located on Lake Mbakaou, and Housseini and I walked down to the lake to watch as fishermen made their way back to shore with their catch. We then went to the village center to wait for the children to come for their vaccinations.

After the quick campaign in Mbizor, we headed to Wandjock, a village where I had previously done a sensitization on the Oral-Fecal route, and where I had also had a great talk on behavior change. In Wandjock we handed off the vaccines and pills to the DC/relais communautiare, Amamdou, who then was going to do the vaccinations the following day.

Fishermen Arriving to Mbizor
After Wandjock we headed to another small village along Lake Mbakaou, Ngaoumere. We stopped at a small school where Amadou teaches and vaccinated the children there. Amadou too demanded the Vermox pills, which instead of swallowing, they all chew, which results in everyone's mouths being covered in a white chalky substance. It looks like a 'Got Milk?' add gone ary. 

For being so far en brousse, the youth here speak better French than anyone I encounter in Ngatt! It's refreshing to see that where there is no formal education system, there are motivated people such as Amadou, who spend their days teaching children for the betterment of their community. Amadou doesn't see any renumberation for his work, he merely does it as a service to his community. It's small stories like that which give me hope for Cameroon. 

As we approached the center of Ngaoumere, the wife of the village chief stopped us to show me the crocodile she caught in the morning and is attempting to sell. She led us to the lake to show us, and I think she was under the impression that I was in the market to buy a crocodile...which I wasn't. After asking her the price, asking when she caught it, I then told her that I couldn't possibly bring a crocodile with me the rest of the day on our campaign. She shrugged and put it back into the water. Never fear, Mr. Croc has since ended up as a pet to someone in Ngatt. Sheesh. After a short visit by the Lake, we continued to the town center, vaccinated, and headed back to Ngatt, but not before receiving some smoked fish from the chief’s wife. As a side note, the fireplace used to smoke the fish would make an awesome hearth to cook pizzas in. If only!

On our way back to Ngatt, I asked Housseini why so many villages in the Adamawa start with the prefix ‘Ngaou’. Apparently in the Mboum language, Ngaou means mountain. So all these villages that start with Ngaou, were initially settled by Mboum and usually have a hill or mountain nearby. However, I didn’t see a mountain near Ngaoumere…only lots and lots of water.

The Crock!
Day two was spent going to four Mbororo encampments located passed Ngatt’s cellphone tower. The path was very rock and bumpy, and the encampments were far! As we continued on the moto, we approached a pretty heavily forested area and a nice little steam. The first encampment met us here at the stream for the vaccinations because their village is inaccessible by road. I gave my little presentation on the importance of vaccinating for polio and used my poster I created for visuals. The women loved it, and it prompted a lively discussion for a good 10 minutes.

When we finished with them, we made our way to the other nearby encampments, whose names are too long for me to remember. The next encampment was super clean and pristine. We entered through the cattle herding pen and waited with the chief and one of his eldest wives as the children filtered in from the fields. As we packed up to leave, the old woman grabbed my arm and linked it within hers and led me deeper into the encampment, signaling me to film their land. She asked me to take a family photo with her and her grandchildren, and then the chief made me take a family photo of him with his family in front of his house. The buildings in these encampments are so clean and organized, despite being mud and clay. They are also gorgeously painted, often with artistic colorful designs on the exterior. Most encampments practice beekeeping in addition to cattle herding, so there are always a plethora of traditional cylindrical hives lying about.

The next village proceeded in a similar fashion as all the others, but before we left, Housseini and I were fed fresh beef and milk. I was never a milk drinker in the states. I think the last sip of plain milk I ever had was in my childhood, and I’ve consumed soy milk and almond milk for at least the past 5 years. Needless to say, I was worried when I was handed the hot milk - not only was I worried the taste would be awful, but I also had no idea what fresh milk would do to my stomach. Thankfully, the hot milk wasn’t all that bad taste-wise, and I didn’t get sick afterward! It most definitely had a very ‘fresh’ taste. As for the beef, it was the freshest, most tender beef I’ve ever tasted! So delicious!

The next encampment proceeded as usual once again but as I was sitting waiting to give my sensitization schpeel I noticed one of the chief’s wives turn sideways and I saw a huge thing protruding from her chest…kind of like a unicorn horn, or a protruding 3rd nipple. As she approached, I realized, it wasn’t a unicorn horn, but rather a huge cow horn. As I tried not to stare, I wondered if she had been impaled by a cow from behind, and how much that must’ve hurt! But as I kept taking quick glances at her, I realized that that couldn’t have been an accident. Sure enough, I asked Housseini later what that was, and he explained she inserted that in her because of its power and beauty. That day was Halloween and she by far got the most perplexing and slightly terrifying costume award, in my opinion!

CAR Refugees
Day 3 was quick - we merely vaccinated the few villages that are along the main road close to Ngatt. After leaving the Mbororo encampment of Mayo Sola II, we encountered a huge group of fleeing CAR refugees with their cattle, belongings, and donkeys. Nearly every day now there are large groups that flee through Ngatt, a sign that the crisis is not winding down in the CAR. As we made it back to the main road, all the refugees’ cows poop was littered across the paved road. As I stood giving my presentation to the group, a car flew past us through the poop, and sent that manure flying - Housseini and I were drenched in cow dung. It was on our clothes, in our hair, and in Housseini’s case, on his face! We noticed rain approaching, so the chief’s wife took me in (the chief took Housseini to his hut) and we washed the cow dung off us, ate some rice in manioc leaf sauce and waited 2 hours for the storm to pass.

While I feel like the vaccination campaign is somewhat of a farce - we miss so many encampments and so many kids - it was at least a memorable trip to various encampments. I’ll always remember that trip as the one where I had my first sips of raw milk, saw a cow horn implanted in a woman’s chest, and where I took a dung bath. You never know what to expect when you live in Cameroon!


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