Donkeys in the Courtyard
from the GAIA Vaccine Foundation blog
Originally published 12/30/2007; ©2007 GAIA Vaccine Foundation
GAIA Vaccine Foundation
Children of Bamako
There was a donkey in the courtyard that night. The donkey stood, calmly chewing its cud, in the corner. I could see him behind the chief, out of the corner of my eye, behind the two counselors sitting with the chief on his purple plastic prayer mat. I sat listening to what they had to say, listening to the back and forth of French and Bambara. The donkey chewed quietly. The sky was full of dust. The courtyard was full of straw and dirt. The children were clustered at the chief's feet, listening to us speak. There was a French to Bambara, Bambara to French rhythm that sounded like prayers.
We were talking about what Brown University students found when they came to work in the clinic in Sikoro, this summer. Besides the women who were too poor to pay the five dollars to deliver their babies in the clinic, besides the children taking care of children, and besides the lack of clean water and food, the students found that the women of Sikoroni wanted desperately to learn. To know more. To find out about HIV. To talk about it. And they made songs that they sang and the students captured those songs on film. They sang about the children begging on the sidewalks, about the poverty bringing HIV to Sikoroni. One of the women named Bintou made a song about what she learned. She sang about the girls "walking alongside the road" and the HIV that they bring home. That's the song that I played to the chief from my shiny metal laptop with the large screen. I played Bintou's song.
GAIA Vaccine Foundation
Mother and child
The chief thanked us (GAIA) and I thanked him, and he said, if he had a horse he still couldn't catch up to all of the good things that we were doing for Sikoro. What could I say to that? - and I know this sounds trite - but it is true - I said that if by luck of birth he were to be born in Providence and I was born here, he would do the same thing, if he knew he could help in some way then he would come too. That is what we are doing here.
And yet there was more. There was a tree planting in the courtyard of the clinic, the day of our departure. This is a true sign that we will come back. We left our roots in Bamako, and our tender shoots, for the clinic to nurture. The students - Rebecca, Erica, Caitlin and Ally were introduced (and their African names were remembered). On that occasion, we passed the GAIA students on to the village. They will have the pleasure of getting to know the women of Sikoroni and learning about HIV, and will do their best to stop AIDS in that small corner of the world.
The chief came to the tree planting to thank us for our work and to accept the GAIA students into his village. We talked about the long cycle of planting - planting young trees that need nurturing, that need our care, but that will, when their time has come, bear leaves, give us shade from the hot sun, and bear fruit for us in recompense. And although I don't say it often and I didn't say it then, I am also planting future generations of doctors who will return, as I do, who will not be able to turn their backs on Africa, having been there once before.
This article on the GAIA blog