April 2009 Neema is Swahili for “Grace”. This week I had several hospital staff coming to me to see if I could assist a patient named Grace. This is not so common because every day most of the people in the hospital need much, and I have made it clear that I cannot help everyone (one gets hard in Africa).
Grace’s story goes like this. She is 21 and lives in a mining area very near Dar es Salaam on the coast. She had given birth to her first child and then found out her husband planned to take the infant and sell her. Body parts are sometimes used in something like witchcraft ceremonies to bring about good luck and in this case to lead miners to the ore or gems they are looking for. I knew that albinos here especially have suffered from this belief, but apparently also a newborn will do. When Neema learned of her husband’s plan, she escaped with the newborn and not much else and headed up country to Arusha to find an aunt to stay with. After much searching was unable to find any relations. She started traveling somewhere else but was quite ill and was brought to our hospital by a good Samaritan who found her and her child just wrapped in a cloth and sleeping beside the road.
Grace was very ill with Malaria, (Malaria Falciparum with more than 20 parasites per hpf including ring forms for you medical folks out there). She was treated and as the staff realized she had nothing with her at all the call went out for assistance. I was able to find some bits of baby clothes and blankets and hats that visitors have dropped off. I think it was not just that she was so very poor and sick (a common thing here) but that she had no family or extended family here to assist her that really affected the hospital staff.
Well, Grace is doing better health wise as you can see from the picture (she is up and about washing clothes outside the hospital). She was so sweet and appreciative and curtsied to me when I greeted her before asking to take her picture. What happens now? Well, we are not sure. It turns out there is some sort of social services agency as part of our district government and I guess we start there. Our hope is that economics do not force her back to husband. Happy endings are far from a sure thing here in Africa.