Friday, May 18, 2012


Imagine with me. A young girl just barely in her teens is starting to dream. However, her future is already planned out before she knows the possibilities. Her mother takes her to see the Sowei in the village. She goes through a painful procedure that makes her less of a female in the eyes of the world. Her tribe calls it tradition, we call it mutilation. Just about the time her body starts to change, those awkward years known as puberty, she is given in marriage. Her father finds a man her senior that is willing to pay the bridal price of 20 liters of palm oil, 40 kola nuts and Le 40,000- about ten dollars.

Soon after the arranged marriage she gets pregnant. She wasn’t even done growing herself, now she has to endure nine months of her belly growing bigger. She continues to cook, clean, and live along with other wives and children of her husband. Still she has no family until she has her own child. The labor pains come at night and she is alone. She is scared, no one has told her it would hurt like this. Terrified, she tries to breath through the contractions, the pressure is felt below, but nothing comes. Hours turn into days, and she eventually passes out from exhaustion. Finally she ends up at a hospital for a caesarean section- the cost to save her life, but it is usually too late for the baby. The next day, she is required to leave the hospital. She gets up from her bed, but something is wrong. There is fluid running down her leg and there is no way to stop it. The fluid is foul smelling and it follows her all the way home, the flies follow as well.  

The young woman arrives in her town with no one to celebrate what is meant to be a joyous occasion. She buries her stillborn baby and returns home to a husband that most likely will leave her in the coming days. She sits on a bench and realizes the puddle beneath her is not water, but urine. She lies on the floor instead of the bed, afraid of ruining the sheets. She does not eat, drink, or even move her body- anything to prevent her from leaking. Hiding from the judgment, shame keeps her inside and away from people. She rather die, than be like this. However, someone finds her- a mother, a sister, a friend or even a stranger- someone that knows she can get help.

She arrives at the centre. Her eyes downcast, but taking in all the sights- women making crafts, weaving each others hair, even singing and dancing. The common stench that has followed her all these days, months, and years- is here too. No one seems to notice that she smells like everyone else. A nurse holds her hand as she asks questions about the baby she lost. A doctor tells her there is a hole between her bladder and birth canal that can be fixed. The fistula will be closed and she will no longer leak urine. There is hope for the first time. It is hard for her to imagine…

There is no need to imagine because for each lady that walks through the gates at Aberdeen Women’s Centre suffering from a vesico-vaginal fistula this is reality. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Going Home

For the past three months, I would walk through the wards and sitting patiently on her bed, Korea, would wait for me to hold the wheelchair steady as she placed her lappa on the seat and crawled into it. The wheelchair has no working breaks and flat tires, so Korea needed help to get past the heavy brown doors of orange ward every morning. My morning routine will change because Korea is going home. I will miss my little pady, but am happy to see that she is finally dry and no longer leaking urine or feces. Korea has been through so much as she waited for expert surgeons, endured a major surgery and long recovery. She has been faithful in doing her own exercises and now her contracted legs are almost straight. For now, she is going home with her Aunty, but I pray that we will continue to see her as she comes back for physical therapy and follow-up in the coming months.  

Fatmata & her mother at Gladi gladi. 
Fatmata, another pady of mine, took over my Temne lessons after my first teacher, Mariatu, went home. Everyday during camp, I would move the ladies that were scheduled for surgery; from the classroom to one of the main wards. Fatmata would wait for me to call her name, but I never did because she was on the schedule for post-camp. It was hard to explain to her in Temne, why I did not call her name. I would say “soon soon” and she would smile and give me a hug and say “Tanto Cooloo”, thanks to God. The first day I had in the OR was the day Fatmata had her surgery. I held her hand as she sat still for the spinal and within an hour, I was taking care of her in recovery.  Two weeks later, we celebrated with singing and dancing, that Fatmata was dry and going home. 

Sallay, Mamie, Mabinty, Isatu and Kauta.
This past Saturday, my friends and I made a trip to town to eat at Crown Bakery and do some shopping. There were four of us waiting for a ride at Aberdeen when a poda poda pulls up and we decide this was the best option to get to our meeting point. We squeeze into the van with about 20 other people trying to get to Freetown. Sitting on one of the metal benches, I arrange my bag on my lap, and I hear “Allis Allis” coming from another passenger. I look up and in front of me, is Kauta, in her gladi gladi dress. Smiles breakout on both of our faces as we recognize each other and realize the milestone for her. I can’t explain the joy I felt- she probably has not been able to use public transport since the fistula formed two years ago. In Krio, I asked her “Use part you da go?” She responds, “Kingtom, going home.”


The views expressed here are solely mine and are not the opinion of AWC/Mercy Ships.