It must have seemed pretty strange to see us with all our HD camera gear in the primitive places we went to. Despite the traffic hazards, everyone carries goods for sale on their heads, balancing buckets, platters, etc . while dodging traffic. Cars seem to have the right of way over pedestrians, they have to weave and dodge to get out of the way and don’t seem to mind it. The drivers are really crazy; it’s incredibly stressful to be constantly in a free for all and continually playing chicken on the road. Horns are beeping non-stop everywhere and the traffic is terrible.
The pediatric ward at the Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda was heartbreaking. A scene taken out of the pages of time. Noise fills the air, hitting your eardrums. Sounds of crying, moaning, the sound of mothers’ voices trying to comfort their sick and dying children. Row after row of IV’s and beds filled with malaria’s latest victim – babies and children. Children lying listlessly in cribs, staring at nothing.
Mothers in traditional colorful African clothing sitting on the floor, holding their babies and trying to ease away their pain. Parents begging relatives for money so they can buy the medicine to make their child well again. A handful of worn out nurses do their best to administer to the sick. They try to relieve the pain of the children and reassure the parents. The lone pediatrician, having worked all week, is there on her day off to check on her patients, trying to make a difference, trying to save lives. Despite these lifesaving efforts, children die a painful death, all from a single bite of a mosquito.
Somehow we think that when an African child dies the parents don’t suffer as much as we would over the loss of our own child. We saw firsthand that African parents feel the same pain, suffer the same grief as any parent would; their pain and anguish is no less real because they happen to live in Africa. One sick young girl did sleep under a treated net at home, but spent one night at her cousin’s home without a net and contracted malaria. The disease moved so quickly that by the time she got to the hospital she was alive, but had suffered severe brain damage for which there is no cure.
Parents will do anything to save the life of their child, but education about malaria prevention has not reached everyone. There are many old wives tales about mosquito nets causing malaria that must be dismissed through education. And even with education, finances play a key part. Struggling parents have to choose between feeding the family or spending a month’s wages on a $10 mosquito net. Thanks to the NetMark program, voucher coupons are now available to reduce the cost of the nets and this is helping millions of Africans.
Imagine after having a child recover from malaria and having to choose between using your money for a taxi to get their child back home from the hospital or buy the medicine to make them well or buy a treated mosquito net so their child won’t get malaria again.
A totally cash economy, there are no credit cards accepted anywhere, plenty of ATM machines but none of them work. The banks are surrounded by walls with barbed wire or shards of glass embedded along the top. Security guards with AK47’s eyeball everyone who comes near. The main door of the bank is engineered so that only one person can enter at a time; any personal belongings are temporarily locked up in a nearby cupboard.
A cash economy means that you pay cash for everything, often in advance. Hotel rooms, drivers, etc. all want their money in advance of your reservation. Even though we booked the drivers for a week, they expected to be paid at the end of every day. No one trusts anyone over money.
Nigeria’s cash economy couldn’t be more evident than at the airport. We were in line at the airport ticket counter waiting to pay for our excess baggage. The line moved very slowly so we were able to observe all types of people buying plane tickets – all in cash. Businessmen were pulling out wads of cash from their briefcases, students from their backpacks and pockets; women from their purses, one guy even had money tucked into the soles of his shoes. All people do all day is worry about carrying so much cash around and having it get stolen. A lot of stress there. And at each counter every airline rep had a cash counting machine counting bills so all you heard was the constant sound of the whir, whir, whir of the counting machines. We didn’t lose any gear on any of our 11 flights through Africa and stayed healthy 99% of the trip.
In the countryside, Each little community is ruled by a “head man” who is the elder. He makes all the rules and decisions about what happens within those walls, who comes in, who is allowed out, etc. A grouping of thatched huts are protected by straw poles lashed together to form walls. Every pole has a sharp end on top, meant to keep other people out. In the cities they put in sharp pieces of glass, some have barbed wire, and in the rural areas they make do with the sharp poles. Children are responsible for bringing water to their families, and the poorer communities rely on the children to bring the water in from afar. The wealthier communities have a well inside the compound for water making the job a little easier.
In the cities people buy water along the sides of the road. The young and old make money by selling water in yellow or black gas cans, as water is not readily available in every community. The water comes from a nearby river or spring and there is no purification so it’s not really clean at all.
To get around people use taxis and motor bikes. The taxis are all vans authorized to carry 14 passengers so everyone crams in and they often drive with the side sliding door open to get some air as it is very hot here – 90-100 degrees all of the time – and an open door creates a slight breeze. The taxis all have specific routes and don’t leave one stop for another until the van is full, so the people are all crammed together waiting while the sun beats down on the van.
The motor bikes all carry a padded cushion behind the driver which can take 1 to 2 passengers riding on the back of the bike. There are also regular bicycles with padded cushions, too. The cost of the van, motor bike or regular bike depends on the traffic, which is horrendous. If there is severe congestion, the motor bikes can swerve in and out between cars and zoom ahead so it costs more to take a motor bike when there’s traffic.
The electricity works about 10 hours a day and almost every business has a portable generator. In Kano, Nigeria we stayed in a beautiful hotel with lush gardens(surrounded by high barbed wired walls and the main gate guarded by a couple of security guards with AK’s) where all night long all we heard was the battery charger beeping on and off, on and off, as the power came and went. For us the hotel was an oasis amidst the chaos of the city.
Our hotel in Lagos, Nigeria was nicknamed by the production crew “Faulty Towers” for we experienced so many weird and odd occurrences that now we can only now laugh about them. Every time the electricity went off and in Nigeria it goes off often, a huge emergency light turned on in our room making sleeping impossible. We had been warned not to leave the gear alone for too long in the hotel as thieves are rampant in Lagos and nothing is safe. So when the banging on our hotel room door and yelling in the hallway started at 3am, we were immediately suspicious. Who didn’t know that the front desk was just trying to deliver our bill for the night? (which had been pre-paid in full, as per normal in Nigeria.) And that washing the corridors of the hallway was normal at 3am? And “oh, yes, we have an elevator” but neglect to say it’s not working and your room and all the gear has to be hauled up to the 4th floor. Hotel staff: “Did we mention there are no porters?”