As I stepped onto the plane, I knew that I would not come back the same. I was on my way to Mali, Africa to visit my Aunt and Uncle. I would be staying with my Aunt and Uncle and their three kids for a month. My Aunt and Uncle were missionaries who worked in a hospital for women. As we landed in Bamako, Mali, I gazed out the window at the dark landscape. Small fires dotted the darkness and I was informed that these were cooking fires. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world and most of the people still lived in little villages or towns and cooked on fires. After getting my bags checked at the small, busy airport, I was met by my relatives and we headed to Koutiala, a small town about 4 hours away from Bamako, the capital.
Koutiala was made up of two main dirt roads running through a gathering of little shops, and markets. The hospital was about a mile away from my relatives’ house. The first time I went there, I was amazed. It was made up of two adobe looking buildings which were surrounded by people, mostly women and children, standing, sitting, squatting, pacing, and laying around it. As I walked into the buildings I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. There were about 10 nurses and doctors who worked there. They included Americans and Malians in training to work there. All of the staff were very friendly and greeted me warmly.
Throughout the next month I spent most of my time at the hospital. I got to know the nurses and some of the patients, and loved seeing their dark faces light up at the sight of me. Malians are generally very polite and friendly and I greatly enjoyed interacting with them. The main things I did at the hospital were help the nurses with their rounds, and help with deliveries. There were constantly women in labor, and always new mothers to take care of. In the morning, when I first got there, I would check to see if there was anyone in labor. In most cases there was, and I would visit patients, sort gloves, and do random tasks until the woman was ready to deliver.
Then, if it was not an AIDS patient, I would put on scrubs and gloves and wait for the baby to come. Once the baby was out, I would cut the umbilical cord, tie it off, and take care of the baby. Taking care of the baby was my favorite part. I would rub it vigorously until it started crying and turned a nice reddish color. Then onto the scale it would go, to be weighed, then medicine was put in its eyes, and it was dressed in clothes donated from churches all over America. However, if it was an AIDS patient, which happened quite often, I was usually only allowed to stay back and watch, so that there was no chance of getting infected.
Unfortunately, deliveries were not always happy times. Sometimes a baby would be born very premature. A few times the baby would only be a couple months old. In these cases the baby was not fully developed, and because of the lack of equipment available there was nothing to be done for it. There were usually so many patients to be taken care of, so the tiny child was set on a table until it died. In these cases I would wrap the baby in a wash cloth and hold it until it died. It was hard for me to grasp the fact that there was absolutely nothing to be done.
Besides working at the hospital I helped my little cousins with their school work, and wandered around Kutiala. On market days I went my aunt to the market. It was a loud, extremely crowded place. One day my aunt bought a huge clay pot that the Malians used to grind corn and grain in. She was only planning to use it as decoration and the Malians knew it. As we passed, struggling with the pot, they laughed at us, thinking it hilarious that the white woman was buying one of the pots. We saw the humor in it too and laughed along.
I have many, many stories to tell about my visit to Mali and had one of the best times of my life there. The thing which struck me the most was the genuine friendliness of the people there. Despite the fact that they had almost nothing, they were so kind, and always made time to stop and talk to people. When I got back to America I missed constantly greeting people as I passed them, and resolved to try to be more kind to people, and be content with what I have.
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