Isa – 7/6/2009

Evening in Kambia
Evening in Kambia

Jonah: A boy who lives across from the AMNet office has been preparing to take his Form 3 (equivalent of 10-11 grade), Basic Education Certification Examination (BECE) exam. Problem is, he may not be able to; his right index finger is three times as big as his others and has literally burst from the pressure. Isa is right-handed. The images of him sitting apart from the other boys during the long afternoons suddenly started to make sense. Isa and his friends accept his infected finger with a matter-of-fact bluntness. “It gets swollen every year for several months,” one friend said. “It is very inconvenient for him,” chimed another. It was difficult to retain composure when I first took a look at the finger: everything imaginable that could be wrong with flesh and bone, was, unleashed in a few terrible square inches. My heart was aghast; I attempted to look calm. When we asked what the doctors had said, Isa managed a grin and replied, “They didn’t know. And, I don’t have money for medicine.” Black goop surrounded the wound, traditional medicine. Doctors who don’t know. No money. No work. Anywhere. Familiar refrains we’re becoming accustomed to here in Kambia. I snapped a few photos of his finger, sent them off to my brother in weak hopes that an ER doc thousands of miles away could provide some helpful direction. Already knowing what he’d say. Meanwhile, we weakly applied some Neosporin and a guaze wrap.
Earlier yesterday Ashley and I got motorcycle taxis to the International Market to stock up for the week. In addition to sending and receiving goods from far away as Mali, the market is a well-known center for cross-border human trafficking from Guinea – as well as a hub for inter-country trafficking for child labor and prostitution.
We wanted some fresh fruit and fuel for the generator. The market was packed. “Apato!” or “person of a white race” rang out from a thousand nooks and crannies. Being that we were in a hurry I didn’t have time to tell them that no, I was a Norwegian/Swedish-American. Some people.
In our efforts to find avocados, we sidestepped obstacles: a kid with one shoe wielding a mallet taller than himself. Baby chickens. Babies…just sitting there. A pregnant lady breastfeeding in the dirt. Massive black trucks with torn tarps and goats on top clammering for fresh air. The market ground was soupy due to last night’s rain and I grimaced a few times when some mud got on my sandaled feet. Ashley got smeared in it as well. Just before hopping on some motorbikes for the return trip, a withered lady tapped Ashley on the shoulder, and handed her a bucket of water while pointing at Ashley’s dirty feet. Our awkwardness and humility was complete: the barefooted, ancient lady stood and watched with a magnetic concern.
Back in Kambia, we started the generator and I checked my email: “Finger looks chronically infected. I’ll bet there’s something inside there…. A piece of wood or other foreign body. The bone is probably infected, too. Needs to get the whole thing removed….. Probably the only option there.”
Late last night, on the house verandah opposite from the office, 4 boys crowded around a ragged textbook, studying fervently for their BECE tomorrow. Through our window, their solitary candle sputtered. Meanwhile, our generator pounded away, giving us a warm glow and our immediate link to the anyplace in the world. A shape disengaged from the group and bounced across the dirt path to the office. A few knocks on the door. It was Isa. I went outside to greet him. Under the almost-full moon, his face was a warm mixture of shyness, pride, and gratitude. Beaming, he produced a dilapidated cell phone and charger and beamed, “My father bought it as a gift for me in Conakry (capital of Guinea). Can you charge it for me?” “No problem.” “Thank you, sir.” “How does your finger feel?” “I am suffering.” “I’m sorry, Isa. Will you be able to take the exam tomorrow?” “I’ll manage, sir.” We stood for several moments in the moon-drenched road. Two goats trotted by. An imam’s prayer threaded between the branches overhead. “Excuse me, sir. I have to continue my studies. Thank you.” We shook hands, me with my right, he with his left, and Isa turned back to the house. The moon lit the palms of his outstretched hands, swinging arcs of soft white.

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2 Comments

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  1. I knew that you and Ashley would befriend Isa, it makes me cry to think of his ‘infected’ limb/body!!!! You write beautifully, both of you, and I continnue to be moved! I love you, Mom

  2. Hey there Ashley, I had no idea you had such a talent for writing. Sorry to hear about the boy with the bad finger. I never know what to do with stuff like that. I’ve always just stuck to dealing with stuff in my backyard and never got too involved in the somebody elses stuff. Thanks for providing a peak into that world.

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