Sunday, March 19, 2017
Mercy Ship Expedition - Stop in Ouidah - One Nurse's Story
My friend Marilyn is off on another
Mercy Ship adventure in Africa. Those
who followed her story before on the
Africa Mercy know that Marilyn is a
volunteer nurse on a hospital ship that
sails the African coast in search of patients.
She emails me and I share her post with you.
I hope you enjoy!
March 18, 2017
Ouidah was a major departure point for the slave trade--several million
slaves were shipped out of here during those years. The Portuguese had a
big compound, a fort, with a moat filled with crocodiles, and gun
turrets on the four corners. Slaves were kept in the courtyard in the
back, thousands at a time, with no shelter and only a bit of bread to
eat. Many were chained, and many died. From the fort, they were taken
to "cha cha square" where they were sold and branded, then to "the dark
house", another very cramped, airless, sunless place used to "acclimate"
them to life on the ship, which was more of the same. Many died there,
too, of course. None of this was new information, really, but it was
sad to see the actual places where it took place.
Another fact that I've known, but it got more vivid today, is that the
Europeans didn't really go "slave-hunting." The Africans did that.
Instead of killing their enemies from other tribes, they conquered and
sold them to the Europeans. The African kings got quite rich off the
slave trade, so they encouraged it. Plenty of heartlessness all around,
it seems to me.
The trip to and from Ouidah was interesting in itself. It was a good
divided double-lane highway between the cities of Contonou and Ouidah,
about an hour's drive each way. It might have been two lanes, but there
were often three lanes of traffic weaving in and out, not to mention the
swarms of motorbikes. I'd guess there were ten times as many motorbikes
as cars, and a fair number of large trucks also rumbling along. I
figured out that honking the horn was a polite way of saying "I'm coming
up behind you and I plan to pass you, so don't do anything stupid like
swerving into my intended path." There was a lot of horn-blowing...
Buying gas was interesting. There are petrol stations somewhere, I
guess, but gas is cheaper if you buy it from vendors along the roadside,
who sell it in big jugs. Our van just pulled up onto the sidewalk, and
the guy poured about ten gallons of gas into the tank from his jug.
Sometimes they water it down, of course, but quality control isn't high
on the list of requirements. Avoiding the tax at petrol stations is.
There were eleven of us from Mercy Ships on this expedition, and we had
a hired guide who explained things to us in English as we went along.
He had a lot to say about the country, its history, and its politics.
After about 30 years of revolutions, with some presidents lasting only a
day or a week, it finally settled down to presidents lasting for five
year terms, and even getting re-elected. There are about 200 political
parties, the guide said. They aren't really representative of the
people. They are established by rich businessmen, who then use their
influence and their wealth to control elections. The current president
is the richest man in the country and owns the cotton industry. The
second richest man helped him to get elected a year ago, but they have
since had a falling out, so that may be where the next challenge comes
from. Since the richest man controls the port, and since a container of
gold and money "disappeared" from the port before the election, rumor
has it that perhaps that's how the election was purchased... That's the
perspective of our guide, anyway. But maybe it just makes a good story
for the tourists...
Next week we plan to do cataract surgery on children. Kids get
cataracts for a number of reasons: genetic is a big one, but trauma can
cause it, or rubella during pregnancy, or malnutrition. When we do
children, we do both eyes, because if you don't do both together, the
non-operative eye nerve pathways don't develop properly, so the eye goes
blind even if you remove the cataract later. Children also need to be
done under general anesthesia, so they are admitted to the ward the
night before, a whole different process. I've never been here for
children's cataracts before, so I'm in for new experiences the next two
weeks. Looking forward to it. I'll probably have more to say about
that next time.
Meanwhile, blessings to you all