A letter from Chad
by Joyce Lombardi (Chad 1993–95)
Want to know more about Chad?
Dear Mom and Dad:

     Your PopTart package almost made me cry. I had just ridden my bike home from visiting in a neighboring village — and crying for four hours over God knows what — when the chef du canton handed me a box and packet of letters. You and Fitzcarl and the Maryland Board of Elections made me weep anew.
     I’m close to quitting Africa, at least in my thoughts. I have reached a stage of frustration and idleness I’ve never experienced in all my years of social do-goodism and activism. I am burnt out, tired of creating something from nothing: a working health committee from random, hungry people. A women’s health team for malnourished, overworked midwives. I am tired of vaccinating all the mothers and babies each Saturday while my clinic colleague runs off to drink manioc moonshine. I am tired of not being able to do a goddamn thing about: the allegation that our village doctor sexually molests women behind closed doors; the fact there are no medicines here; the fact most of my neighbors are starving; the fact that 14 people died of malaria last week alone; the fact that I am nothing — not a doctor, lawyer, oceanographer or journalist. I am just an energetic woman spinning her wheels.
     A young man came to my door recently. I was hiding inside on a Sunday morning trying to study for the GREs. He asked for money. His wife, he said, had a dead baby stuck inside her. Could he get money to go to the hospital in the next town? It could have been a scam. Such things are possible here. He was calm, polite, unhurried. I said, "Go to Tournesol [the village doctor]. Then come back and I’ll help you."
He never came back and I ran through the village looking for him. I spent the rest of the day wondering if I had killed the woman with my skepticism.
     No, it turns out. He went to the mission instead, and found a pastor to drive him to the hospital in Koumra. They couldn’t help him there, so they drove straight to the big mission hospital run by Italians in a town about 100 km away. I’ve told you what the roads are like. The dust, the ruts, the wandering goats.
     His wife is alive. He came to see me afterwards, because he heard I had been looking for him. It was their second stillborn since January. The midwife had yanked the arm and severed it. The baby had died the night before. The husband didn’t try to get help until 10 am the next day (I was his first stop). He didn’t go to Tournesol until noon. Why? He had no money.
     So I’m washing my hair with St. Ives papaya shampoo while some woman is lying in a mud hut with a mutilated dead baby hanging out of her. Her womb is a tomb and no one in the village can help her. The little corpse is swelling and she is dying along with it. A walking grave.
I ran through the village wondering why I didn’t just give him the money. It was about $2. Because, I told myself, he had to go to the village doctor first. Because she could have died anyway.
There is nothing I can do.
     Wash your hands. Boil your water. Use a condom. Peel your vegetables. Drink lots of water. Crap in a hole.
     What the hell is that? Are those pat messages all I have to offer anybody? I can’t educate people who have been living this way for centuries. It’s ridiculous. Racist. Wrong.
     Screw the flipcharts. I’m over group sessions. Empty words in a circle. At least vaccinating fills a need. A need to do something. The needle pierces skin, I push the barrel, the child will not get measles. And farming. It’s so direct. Our soybean crop is growing. My chickens are growing. I need to see what I’m doing. My neighbors admire my fat chickens, ripe tomatoes, tall banana trees. I give credit, tiny loans, to people with good ideas for tiny enterprises. Money. Economics. I need to do something tangible.
     I need your help. Not just your support (thank you), PopTarts and love. I want you to try to help me get Depo-Provera into this country. People have asked for it. Women don’t want to have as many kids as they have but they can’t refuse a husband "his right." The condoms I give out, ultimately, are men’s choice to use or not to use. The pharmacy in the city used to have DepoProvera but no longer stocks it. Family planning is forbidden here, but it is hidden. No one mentions it when the men are around.
     So. All I want for Christmas is aid for Bessada. No more PopTarts. For my midwife committee, I want:

Since 1948, Direct Relief International, a non-profit medical assistance organization, has sent medical supplies and equipment worldwide to help victims of civil unrest, natural disasters and chronic poverty.

About Depo-Provera

  • DepoProvera (injectible 6-month contraceptive, not pills unless you send 1000s and not diaphragms because they’re not discreet or clean.)
  • Guaze bandages
  • Antiseptic solution
  • Latex gloves
  • Bandage tape

Yes, this is bad development. No, I am not helping people sustain themselves. Yes, I am fostering dependency on hand-outs. Yes, I know better.
     But I am burnt out. I only have a year and I can’t build a grass-roots family planning women’s collective in one year. I don’t have the energy. ACORN, SOS, AANNY, SafeSpace — all my other activist/organizing/public health jobs be damned. I’m tired. I’m tired, I need a break.
     But please, I can’t have another dead baby come to my door. Women here don’t want to be as pregnant as they are. If you’d rather not jump into this, okay. It isn’t a parent/daughter thing. That’s PopTarts and face soap. This is a first world/third world thing. If you feel like you can do old-style charity work, great. If not, and people ask about me over the holidays, tell them to send condoms, or anything named above. Call it the safe motherhood in action compaign.


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