Volunteer Abroad - Benin, Volunteer Abroad Programs

In Benin, You Can Call Me “Doctor”

by Morgann Lyles, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Participant in Benin

Bonsoir! First let me start by promising that, Lord willing, when I return home, I will create a magnificent site where you can view the hundreds of photos and videos that I have generated here in Benin. Since the Internet connection is so slow, my pictures simply will not upload to the Internet. But I will try to continue writing in a colorful and illustrative way.

Monday was the most medically significant day so far. I conducted consultations with Dr. Glitho at the hospital. At least 20 people filed in and poured out their hearts to him in search of relief. It is not normal for someone to go to the doctor annually here, so most folks just show up when the going gets tough. Since I was sitting behind the desk with the doctor wearing blue scrubs like other hospital personnel, the patients often relayed their concerns to me as well as to the doctor. Most of them were old, which means that they switched to Fon after basic greetings in French. I nodded and smiled along as I tried to pick up a few words. There are lots of sound effects in Fon, such as “ka ka ka ka ka!” which can be used to describe a heart beat or a knock at the door.

I was amazed to watch Dr. Glitho go through a step-by-step process with each of the many patients in order to find a solution. He somehow knew exactly what questions to ask. For example, when a woman presented with high blood pressure, he asked about her home life. She burst into tears as she described how her husband had become paralyzed a few years ago, leaving her to provide for their 4 or 5 children on her own. Even though we worked straight through lunch, I enjoyed my time in Dr. Glitho’s office because he really wanted to make sure I understood what was going on at every step. He even let me palpate an old woman’s stomach so I could find the abnormality, which ended up being a splenomegaly.

The most exciting part, though, came around 3:30 or 4 p.m. when the stack of charts was almost finished. A nurse came in (which was nothing new because people had been interrupting the patient visits all day long) and said that Dr. Glitho was needed immediately because a man had overdosed in an attempt to commit suicide and needed immediate attention. We finished up with the current patient, and left his (air-conditioned) office. The man in question was out cold. Dr. Glitho and Dr. Hounnou carried out a process called “lavage” or “washing” with the assistance of the nurses and me. I basically helped hold back the man’s arms and legs as he came back to life wildly thrashing. It was a crazy process, and I kept hoping the patient didn’t die due to a lack of preparation on the part of the hospital staff. They kept having to search for materials mid-operation!?! But in the end he was okay, and I left at 5:00 p.m. after a full day of work.

Remember that rich guy who took me to his house after we met at a restaurant? Well, he kept his promise to take me out to dinner with his wife. They picked me up from my house and drove me to a quiet spot on the other side of town. It was kind of like an interview because they were extremely curious about every aspect of American life, from the road conditions to Obama’s performance thus far. I enjoyed my time with them because it reminded me of talking with grandparents, and all of my grandparents are deceased. So that was nice.

Unfortunately, Tuesday was not so nice. I got my first taste of that illness common to oh-so-many travellers to developing countries. I will spare you the details. My host sister told me in Fon that she was praying for my healing. I felt better after sleeping for a while, but I still didn’t want to go the the hospital and be around all those germs. So I made other plans. I rode a “zem” to the post office to mail the rest of my postcards, which hopefully will make it to the U.S. before I do! In Cotonou, there had been several different slots for the mail with labels that corresponded to the part of the world where the mail was supposed to go. At this Abomey office though, I only saw one slot that read “lettres.” I asked the clerk if I could mail my postcards from here, which brought about a series of questions about where I was from and what I was doing in Abomey. I politely and discreetly replied.

ruins of a royal palace in Abomey, photo courtesy of Agongointo

I was pretty hungry at that point and needed to find an upstanding restaurant that would be gentle on my stomach. When I asked his advice, he told me to wait a few minutes. To my surprise, he helped the remaining customers in line and closed the post office a few minutes early for the daily lunch break that all major establishments take around here. He personally escorted me to the place where Uncle Virgile had taken me for lunch. Again, I was interviewed about my life and told what I needed to do while in Benin. Job, the guy from the Baptist Church, picked me up and took me to the market where I searched in vain for souvenirs. They mostly just had food and clothes here in Abomey. He did show me some more palaces that were tucked away in the middle of nowhere. I thought it was really cool that he could tell me how an ancient king brought his family to Abomey in the 1800’s. I wish we had storytellers (griots) in America that could reveal my family history to me!

About Greenheart Travel

CCI Greenheart Travel is personally invested in providing cultural immersion programs that change lives, advance careers and create leaders. We achieve this by partnering with organizations and governments overseas that empower their local communities through experiential learning and practical development. We provide others with the same positive travel experiences in which we ourselves engage. Through travel and cultural exchange, we help individuals reach their full potential, leading to a more tolerant, peaceful and environmentally sustainable world.

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