Monday, April 2, 2012

Au Travail

I spent my Friday morning/afternoon helping the ladies at the PMI (Protection Maternelle-Infantile). To be honest when I showed up I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d be doing. At first I sat off to the side in order to observe, but I was quickly called over to help take infant/toddler measurements. Here’s how it works: the Minister of Health gives out little “carnets” (notebooks), which are essentially the patient’s medical record. The mamans bring the babies’ carnets and put them in an enormous pile and you just go through one bye one calling out names and weighing/measuring the babies. After measurements there is a group education session, a little cornmeal porridge snack for the 4 months+ babies, and vaccinations. The scale for infants is your standard tabletop scale and you just lay the baby in it and take cranial, thoracic, and height measurements. For the toddlers however, there is a scale hung from the door and then you put the little one in a sling and hang them on the scale like a little monkey. It’s pretty adorable/terrifying because I kept thinking they would fall out!


A quick note on linguistics:

First of all, having to call out names I am most certainly mispronouncing in front of an enormous crowd is not exactly a dream of mine. There was many an awkward silence after I would say a name because people clearly had NO idea what I was saying. A lot of names start with Nd or Nb or something along those lines and those sounds are so unfamiliar to an English speaker. Added to this is the confusion over first and last name, or name and family name. Basically, just a lot of opportunity to mess up. At the same time, it takes a lot longer to introduce myself to people here, whether I’m meeting an African or a European. When I studied abroad in Paris I always introduced myself as “Moe-li” because that’s how a French speaker would say it. To be honest though, I detest that pronunciation. So this time I attempted to introduce myself the way I and other Americans (particularly from the Midwest) say my name: “Ma-li.” This could not have proved more confusing for people. Nearly everyone thinks I’m saying Marley! It’s actually kind of fascinating because I have no idea where they are getting this phantom “r” from! Then I say no “Ma-Li” like the country and it normally works out.


But back to the PMI…..the day was really great because I learned a lot both by observation and from hands on work. It really was a very organized and well-coordinated system. I’m hoping this is just the first of many PMI days! I also plan to do some health promotion projects with them, but I need to see how it all operates first. I can’t go adding projects until I experience their current workload first hand.

Thankfully most of the babies were very happy and healthy little ones, but there were a handful of malnourished babies that appeared to be mostly with teen moms. I’m thinking of doing a breastfeeding/infant nutrition project because there are a lot of misconceptions about formula feeding (a lot of moms over-dilute so it’s basically just water) and I’m not sure clinically how much support women have for breastfeeding (i.e. do midwives/doctors explain the mechanics of breastfeeding and what to do when problems occur?). However, culturally there is definitely support for breastfeeding. In the states people cringe when a mom breastfeeds in public but there is certainly no bodily shame or discomfort here surrounding breastfeeding.


I’ll leave you with one last visual from my PMI day:

A maman brought in her 13 month old for his check-up and he was being a little fussy. With difficulty, she was trying to wrangle him into the sling so he could be weighed. I leaned over to ooooo and ahhhh to see if I could calm him down and as I go to lightly stroke his arm he turns to look at me finally and FREAKS OUT. I will never forget the utter terror in this child’s eyes. If I may, he went bat-shit crazy. Why? Because he had clearly never seen a white person before. He looked at me like I was the devil incarnate. So here I am in a room full of Gabonese mamans and the ones closest to me burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of this situation. I seriously had to distance myself from the child because he was completely inconsolable. Evidently this has also happened to my med student roommate who is Pakistani and works in pediatrics. Mispronouncing names I can work on, but this one is beyond me.

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