There is only one road and the houses line both sides of it so, in principle, it is a pretty simple exercise. After a short sensitization session by our Community Health Educator, we walked from one end of the village to the other stopping at each house, meeting the owner, counting the number of actual beds and handing out a corresponding number of mosquito nets.
I would walk up to the next house, throwing out a happy “Jambo” (...hello in Swahili and one of the very few words I’ve learned) and tickling the toes of the ever-present child that always seems to be tied to Mom’s back. Stooping low, I would peer inside another tiny mud-walled hut that is their home. It is always pitch dark and, after a few seconds for my eyes to adjust, I could complete my assessment.
In one corner, a fire would be smoldering and the smoke would sting my eyes a bit. The roof and walls would be totally black and sticky with soot. Beside the fire, there might be a bit of plastic for sitting or maybe a bamboo mat, an outdated calendar hanging on the wall, maybe a pot or two. A blanket if they were lucky. On the opposite side, there would be a slightly raised bamboo shelf where the parents would sleep. That’s it.
…and just exactly how do you define a bed in this environment? Does a bamboo mat count? What about a piece of plastic where the children sleep? What if the family is away working in their fields and have (naturally!) taken their beds with them? The danger is then that you discriminate against those who can only afford a piece of plastic and a blanket for their children to sleep on.
You have 4 children? Ok, you can have 2 mosquito nets. Although I cannot imagine how all 6 of you will sleep there tonight, it is enough to cover the entire floor so I’m sure you’ll manage. Phew! On to the next house…
Home Sweet Home
Back in the MSF compound, my Tukul suddenly seems huge and somewhat extravagant. Concrete floors, brick walls, a wooden door, windows. Tall enough for me to actually stand up in. A set of shelves full of clothing, books, toiletries and a few treats. A small table and chair for letter writing. A picture of my fiancé and family in simple wooden frames. A space large enough for an entire family just for me. My own bed with a pillow, mattress, sheets and, of course, a mosquito net.
At least tonight, as I crawl into my bed exhausted from a day of fieldwork, I know that there are a few more families who will also be happily installed under their new mosquito nets. It was a good day!