The small village health centers we support have been exceedingly generous in their parting gifts, and every time our mobile team goes to drop off a final donation of drugs and supplies, we come back loaded with produce.
The cars roll into base bulging with live goats and chickens, bricks of foufou wrapped in leaves, buckets of oranges and papayas, giant banana bunches, huge bags of peanuts and vats of palm wine.
The chickens seem to travel pretty well, trussed up in woven grass carriers. The goats make more reluctant passengers, and have a distinctive smell that quickly saturates the vehicle.
But nothing could really equal the odour of the parting gift offered by the town of Vindza. A porcupine! What a delight. This animal is considered a rare and precious delicacy all over the continent.
Apparently the hunters of Vindza had been saving this one for a while, and by the time it got back to Kindamba, it was obviously overripe. I came outside to greet the returning mobile team and the smell of the porcupine smacked me hard in the face.
Inside a cloud of flies I could see Antoine carving up the animal and placing portions into the eager, outstretched hands of our staff. Dr. Ahmed was running around the compound spraying clouds of air freshener, which proved no match for the stench of rotting meat.
Dominique had been awarded the porcupine’s reeking, whiskered little head “You’re going to eat that?” I asked him. He certainly was. I was sure they would all end up in the hospital.
After a few days passed and nobody died, I asked Dr. Ahmed for an explanation. He talked about adaptation to the environment and local herbs neutralizing the toxins, but seemed a bit surprised himself.
I was happy to have stayed home from Vindza, but I made a mistake in not joining the last trip to Loukouo. That day the cars got back late, all the passengers tipsy from palm wine and singing and laughing uproariously. Apparently the villagers had thrown an epic bash, with a drumming group, singers, a theater performance and a big feast.
Victor, the head of the mobile clinic team, was glowing (and wobbling slightly). “You really missed a party in Loukouo!” he kept telling me. By the third time it was kind of annoying.