Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Backlog 7/15: Thoughts

My host mom and I were chatting over dinner tonight. It was a pretty somber conversation. A friend of the family’s died today in a car accident and a number of his friends were injured. Transportation is probably the most dangerous part of living in Mauritania. There are two highways in the country, and by “highway” I mean an unlined, unlit, pockmarked strip of pavement winding through desert. Each highway links the capital with one of two cities: Rosso and some other city who’s name I can’t remember. To get around the rest of the country, people drive on dirt roads which I’m not even sure can accurately be called “roads”, since there’s not much to distinguish them from the rest of the desert floor. Anyway, I’m rambling now, but you get the picture.

So I’m chatting with my mom about this whole incident, and Muslim funerals, and rising food prices (she was shocked to hear that the Post ran a story on the food crisis in Mauritania), and somehow we ended up on the subject of Meme (my grandmother) being sick. I explain to her that my grandparents have been living in a community exclusively for senior citizens, but now Meme has been placed in a home so she can be taken care of. All that sounds bizarre enough, I’m sure, to someone who’s extended family mostly lives within a five minute walking radius of her house, but then she asks me how my grandparents are paying for it. In my broken French, I try to explain the concept of health insurance, which inevitably leads me to comment on how big a problem insurance is in the States. And then I realize, this woman could very well have never seen a certified doctor, never filled a prescription, never seen the inside of a hospital, and I’m trying to tell her that Americans being uninsured or paying too much for health insurance is a big problem. I was completely humbled by that experience.

The other day I gave her some Neosporin for an infected sore behind my brother’s ear that had refused to heal. It was better in two days. All she needed was Neosporin.

I’ve had two reactions to this: overwhelming appreciation for the life available to me as an American and incredulity at the staggeringly low standard of living here. Americans definitely have our issues, and I’m not saying that the U.S. is the best thing the world’s got going, but it’s exponentially better than a lot of what else is out here. I can drive down the street to the CVS for some Neosporin if my weird skin infections don’t go away. In Mauritania, Neosporin is practically a miracle drug.

Ok, that definitely wasn’t a post about how great Mauritania is, but it does make you realize how badly this country and others like it need attention from the rest of the world. It’s good to know I’m doing something right just by being here.

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