“Giggles and Grins: Keneya Sugu, the Health Market”
Last night we left the city and traveled three hours east to the rural areas of Segou and Niono. I was looking forward to leaving the city because when I travel I always seem to be drawn towards the smaller communities. We stayed in Segou and traveled a farther two hours to Niono. I loved Niono. The first site we went to was organized chaos. Mothers had been lining up since dawn and the crowd seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. Babies were crying and the little ones were walking around carrying their nets on top of their tiny heads.
The routine was that the children would receive their measles vaccination last since it involved a needle. They would first be given the Vitamin A supplement with the deworming tablet, and then the oral polio vaccination. Finally you could see the fear in their eyes when they spotted the needle. I felt for them because even though I’m full-grown I still hate getting needles. I cry and I’m talking about big crocodile tears. Finally the mothers were given the nets and the Red Cross volunteer marked each child with an edible marker on their fingernail to keep track of those who had already accessed the services.
In order to videotape the amount of people at this particular site, I had to climb onto a nearby wall just to get the full scope of the crowd. Getting up the wall was a piece of cake but when it was time to get down, I became chicken and one of the elders at the site had to practically carry me down. I think I broke his back.
The next site we went to was about a 10-minute drive away. When the little ones saw my camera, they surrounded me with ‘Ca va’ and ‘Bonjour’. I flipped the viewfinder of my video camera around so that they could see themselves and they lost it. Their faces broke out into big big big smiles as they yelled for their friends to come see. I was smiling so hard that my cheeks started to hurt. It didn’t take very much to make their day and in those moments I was filled with intense happiness.
After that we went to a few more sites and at our last stop, we met up with some of the Red Cross volunteers who distributed the nets on their scooters and bikes. For the families that lived further than 10-15km from a fixed site such as a health centre, the volunteers would take the vaccinations and nets to them. To me, this showed how much thought had taken place to ensure that no one was left out. It would have been so easy to place the responsibility on the mothers to travel to the nearest site but all things considered to stand in line in the blazing sun with sometimes two crying babies was already challenging enough.
The final site we went to was in a nearby village in Segou but it was across the river. How great was it that we actually took a canoe across to deliver the nets and vaccinations? And I’m not talking about a titanium canoe or what canoes are made of in North America. This was a canoe that was hand curved, made by hand and could hold 6-7 grown folk in it. When we docked at the village, I was taken aback that there weren’t more than 50 people in the community.
We made our way to the Chief of the village to introduce ourselves and he welcomed us warmly. His house was framed by a slew of mango trees. Noora, the IFRC delegate from Dakar and I joked about how great it would be to have mangos at our front door. I would probably overdose on them.
The women in the village were all dressed in beautiful fabrics and their hair was immaculately plaited. The Chief’s wife, I’m assuming, laughed from her belly when I showed her the picture I had taken of her. She was one of the many women preparing a delicious smelling meal of fish. As the vaccinations were drawing to a close, a young boy with a mischievous grin told us to come with him to ‘mangez’. Wendell, the CRC photographer and I followed him with rumbling bellies but when we showed up with our cameras, the women dashed into their homes. Wendell joked that they were practicing for the 50 metre dash.
When we got back into the canoes it seemed as if all of the kids from the village were there to see as leave. After a few more pictures, some more giggles and high-fives, we waved goodbye and started our journey back to the city.