Chad: The first time

On a new assignment with MSF / Doctors without Borders, there are always a lot of 'firsts'. Liza shares a few of hers from Chad...

Today, for the first time, I saw a malnourished new-born baby. A few days old and he can’t breastfeed. I tried to help the mum but no results. So I decided to get him to the hospital. In the beginning she agreed and then when she understood that – for logistics and security reasons – I wasn’t allowed to take more than one person, she did not want to leave her daughter, who could have been anywhere between 14 and 20 years old.

I started to get angry, inside

I insisted and insisted, the woman's daughter is old enough to take care of herself and they don’t live far, what’s the problem? The baby was gonna die for sure if we didn’t take him. I started to get angry, inside. Her baby was going to die! Then, after many arguments (my team was translating), she confirmed that her daughter was more than 18 and let me take the baby with her daughter. It was only once we were in the car that I thought, of course, if she doesn’t want to let her daughter by herself, it’s likely that it’s because her daughter isn’t safe at home, alone.

Nobody should die from malaria in 2017

Today, for the first time, I saw a child die. Malaria. Coma, septic shock. Nobody should die from malaria in 2017. Nobody. I arrived with my team and he was already gasping (the gasp is like the end-of-life breathing). Apparently he had been like that for two days, but the parents only took him to the health centre that day. We only had time to put him in the truck and then he died. His mother put some water on his face, said a prayer and that was it. I didn’t cry, yet. Too soon.

Today, for the first time, a woman asked me, laughing, if I wanted to take her baby and raise it myself. She saw an affectionate gaze from me towards the little human in her arms and handed it to me. She was serious.

 A woman asked me, laughing, if I wanted to take her baby and raise it myself

That first time, I barely remember it now, because that scene has happened so many times since, dozens of times. They’re always serious.

Today, for the first time, I realised how extensive the poverty of the population we’re trying to treat is. How extensive poverty is in this country. It’s so huge, screaming in our faces, it’s impossible to describe. 186 out of 188. 186 on the poverty scale. Out of 188. I’m wondering which are the two last countries. No, actually, I don’t want to know. Maybe later.

She was watching him with love 

Today for the first time I saw a women’s sex organ that had been cut. The head of the clitoris wasn’t there. Immediately I thought of all the images in school textbooks (very few science textbooks show an accurate diagram of the vulva in France and Canada), all those images that show us vulvas without the external part of the clitoris, that show us not the truth. I realized the violence of this education, of this lie. And here, it’s truth. No pleasure for women, after all they only need to bear children, pleasure isn’t important. How deeply sad I felt.

Today, for the first time at the clinic, I saw a woman be affectionate toward her child. She was giving him the nutritional supplement and was watching him with love while caressing his head. At the same time, it was the first time I saw a child laugh since I've been here. He was playing with the scales used to weigh the children, pushing it to make it move, and it was making him laugh. It was beautiful. For now, that's all it is, a first and last time. For now.