Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Hospital in Koulikoro

The last week has been a blur, but every now and then a fragment of an experience drifts to the surface of my consciousness. I relish these little gifts. They are, to steal a phrase from Hildegard of Bingen, like feathers on the breath of God.

A friend of Sidy's was in the hospital and when we were in Koulikoro we stopped by to say hello. We pulled our green bus over to the side of the road and entered through a rusty gate. We walked into the main building and someone pointed us towards the back. The building was concrete that was painted a bright shade of yellow. Over the years, the color had faded and the dust from the Sahel, which coats everything during dry season, had muted the yellow even more.

We took a wrong turn at the back of the building and wound up in an abandoned part of the property. Then we retraced our steps to a sort of open courtyard. The hospital wing was built around it, with all the rooms facing into the garden. There was a low wall of pierced concrete forms that separated a covered walkway from the garden itself. We circumnavigated the square garden and found Sidy's friend sitting on a lawn chair in the walkway outside his room. The rest of his family were sitting on a low bench against the half wall. They were making him tea.

They invited us to sit. We were concerned that there were so many of us, but Sidy's friend seemed in good spirits and happy to see us. A young child in his mother's arms became alarmed by Noah's white skin and started to cry. His hysteria mounted, despite our smiles and reassurances, until finally his mother had to take him into the room and out of sight of us.

I remember the smell. Mali tea, the earth from the garden, and a slight antiseptic smell from the cleaning solution.

A nurse came to check on the patient. She wore a well worn pink apron and a pink nurses cap over her Malian clothing. She smiled because he seemed to be doing well.

Once I read an essay by Junichiro Tanizaki about hospitals in Japan. Instead of bright white porcelain and steel, they are dark wood and tatami mats. They are places of warmth and rest and recovery. Places which feel at home for the average patient.

The hospital in Koulikoro was like that, too. A little shabby and worn. The garden slightly overgrown and tangled. The corridors a little worse for wear. But welcoming to the family. A place where you can rest in the shade of the covered walk on a warm day and let your body heal.

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