Ward round and portraiture

Tuesday December 2nd

Early morning start. Alison and I swot up on our Swahili in the general seating area while the women patients giggle at our efforts. Then, the ward round. The women are watchful, patient, sitting on their beds in serried ranks. I find the briskness of the procedure and the obvious burying of emotions on the part of each woman – or girl – as she is discussed within the parameters of her notes, quite difficult, especially as my repertoire of empathetic facial expressions and body language was being stretched to its limit.

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Folding surgical swabs

After the first ward I want to begin drawing, I offer portraits and the women seem fascinated. They want to sit and I oblige, but they are fidgety sitters, they want to see what I am doing.

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Lunch. We queue for a long time in a crazy, chaotic outside area where food and flies compete. Rice and beans are on offer along with various varieties of meat. I manage to stay away from the latter and we eat our meal under the trees.

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The crochet class

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Each post -op patient has her own bowl that holds the bag attached to the catheter she will wear for two weeks.

After lunch I return to the ward and continue the portraits.  A young Masai woman shyly poses for me while sitting on the side of her bed swinging her legs like the girl she is. She is young but there is an old soul behind her eyes. She ended up with a vesico vaginal fistula after spending nearly three days in labour with her first child. She was made to wait two days in her village in labour before it became obvious there was a problem and she was taken to the local clinic. There she laboured for another thirteen hours without aid or relief untill she finally delivered a still born baby.

Today is a clinic day and there are two new girls, just admitted, who sit at the end of the ward. Their blue gowns are already soaked with urine and their plastic washing up bowls are at their feet. They both look terrified as they sit huddled together while nurses and other patients pass by them. I smile, but they seem to find it difficult to meet my gaze and they lower their eyes very quickly. I feel very, very uncomfortable and I am relieved when a doctor comes to fill out the history forms and the girls finally receive some time with a kindly professional, and some recognition.

At the end of the day we catch the bjaji home and then out again to stroll to a supermarket in a ‘posh’ area of town to pick up some food for supper. The streets are dusty and manic with people, traffic, vendors and tradespeople. The supermarket is the same as every other supermarket in every other city and is full of imported familiar brands names. They are playing Christmas hymns. It feels so…’wrong’ somehow… and strangely sad. On the way home the crowds thicken, I feel claustrophobic and slightly panicky as I always do when I feel as if too many people are around me. We find a Mexican restaurant that we promise ourselves we will go to for dinner tomorrow. It is airy and cool, the menu looks good and a little piece of familiarity settles me. Next door, outside the grocers we went to on the first day here, a smiling local is pushing sugar cane through a machine that strips and crushes it into a thick sweet juice.

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