A hard life

We had a nice local lunch (rice with a tomato-peanut sauce) in another guesthouse. This is the place, I was told, where the very humble and no-fuss American ambassadress likes to stay when she tours the country. My ICRC colleagues have traveled with her (“she is like Condoleeza Rice,” which I took to mean that she is an African American). “She didn’t even want to wait in the VIP room at the airport, and she traveled with us in the UN plane, on a regular seat like everyone!” they exclaimed. This is of course not very African. When one has status one uses it. VIP salons, red carpets, news coverage, first class and front row seats, respect, especially respect, is what one gets when one is at the top.

We are not staying in this lovely guesthouse, a simple mudbrick structure with traditional decorations – so much more tasteful than our guesthouse, because of security concerns according to my ICRC colleague. I was surprised that the American embassy security people did not protest. At any rate, this I have learned in Afghanistan: if people want to blow you or your guesthouse up, no security detail can prevent it. The security at the guesthouse where we are staying didn’t strike me as all that much different or effective. In most countries I travel to, life is simply not safe. Period.

As if to illustrate this, I met a young woman and her grandmother at the rehab center. The girl had come back to try out her prosthetic leg which I had already seen  standing in a corner; a small left leg with a pretty shiny white shoe attached, a shoe with a gold clasp, a party shoe. It stood, somewhat incongruously, in a corner of the ‘walking school’ room, next to a giant leg that must be for a basketball player. The disembodied leg with its party shoe told a tragic story. The girl had been sick and received an injection. I remember from our days in Senegal that people there were great believers in injections and there was even a professional category of ‘injectionist.’  When people have a malaria attack they receive quinine injections twice a day – sometimes administered by people who do not know where the nerves run, or who use dirty needles. The injection can be put in the wrong place and lead to paralysis, irreversible, or cause an infection.

This girl had bad luck. The needle was probably dirty and caused an infection that was not treated. Eventually the entire leg had to be amputated. But it could also have been a traffic accident, or a simple household accident, or simply a small wound that gets infected as the climate is warm and the body is humid and bacteria love this combination. ‘So not necessary,’ I think, ‘so utterly not necessary.’ And yet, it’s what happens daily a thousand times over. And now I am not even talking about the self-inflicted wounds of armed conflict. Those people also show up. But that girl, that leg with the pretty shoe, it’s a haunting image.

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