Submitted by Matt Porter
On Thursday, after a long absence (about 2months), due to Amina, a key member of the community, travelling up north to see her mother, Matthew and nurse Lydia went back to the Fulani camp to get up to date with life there and see how things were going, mainly for the women and children.
Getting nomads togther in the same space is always a bit of a challenge, so it took about an hour of us arriving for enough women to have wandered over to the tree at Alai and Amina's house for us to start. Our main concerns were whether they had made us of the things that we had taught them up in the previous visits - that is some basic healthcare and sanitation, nutrition of children, and some basic education - the alphabet which we have put up on a board for them to learn with help from a couple of people who know it amongst them.
On most of these counts we were pleased - the children were all looking pretty good - one child in particular that we spotted the last few times who was showing early signs of malnutrition was looking a lot more lively, and walking a bit - previously, she had been breast fed only - almost at the of one it seemed, which nurse Lydia had pointed out was not enough, and had advised that she should be eating some solids foods as well - the mother was very happy to tell us that the child had been eating banku (cassava and maize dough - very tasty, full of fibre and goodness...). Lydia was very happy with this. Previously, Lydia had pointed out that they need more protein in their diets - the Fulanis are not local to this part of West Africa, not only on a political point of view but also from a geological point of view - the food available here is very different to what they are used to in the northern parts of West Africa. Up there, there is a lot more meat, they eat more leaves - down here, the consumption of fish is more common, and the diet consist of a lot of oil, small vegetables and large doses of carbohydrates. So we had noticed that they were having a little trouble mixing up the two diets - something I can understand, coming from a Western background and a diet of bread, potatoes and sugars.
Lydia had suggested adding fish as another source of protein, but we were getting the message that they are not used to fish - one of the guys even put it that some of the older women feel like throwing up at the smell of fish! Lydia always has an answer to these things though - add lime and chili pepper!
We asked if they had been using the first aid box we left there, and Alai pulled it out to show us - they had used a lot of the items for small cuts and bruises, which is very good - and I was assured that not of them had been used on the cows (one of my worries...!)
You may have all seen that our last visit to the Fulanis involved a lot of time taken with introduction to some forms of learning for the children (and adults!) - in the form of the alphabet, and charts of body parts. I had made a couple of small follow up visits since then, and despite designating a young man called Ilias (about 14years old) who has received some schooling to keep taking through the alphabet with people, he had not been making the effort - so the children are straight back to running around receiving absolutely zilch in stimulation, education or exposure. This is very sad, but not that surprising - we have about three or four generations living in this camp of illiterate people. They want to learn, but don't seem to have the techniques of learning - if that makes sense. It's like sitting down and learning things is very very foreign to them. But we had some ideas, and, this shows the desire to be educated, the guys have come up with wanting to put up a small shack - sticks and roofing sheets - for the children (and adults!) to learn in. We think this is a great idea - it fixes the idea of learning in a particular spot (in a clearing that is central to the community), and away from "under a tree, next to a kraal and house" - this should give it some discipline.
SO! A lot to catch up on - for the ladies, children, and some of the guys - and Lydia and myself! The conclusion of this trip though has been - EDUCATION!!! This is the priority now. This is where they are suffering the most. Unfortunately, we also believe that unless someone from outside the community is going there on a bi/tri-weekly basis, it is not going to be kept up at the moment. Secondly. more work on nutrition. Lydia, to dispel the fish myths, wants to come and show them how to make fish that not make them want to vomit! She will also watch how they, in turn, prepare some of their dishes, to learn as well as get a better understanding of the diet. The first aid side of things is okay for now - after covering some more pressing issues, we will come back of explore these further.