A couple months ago, I thought I had a really good idea. At the maternity ward, I was watching the sage femme, Mariama, work hours after everyone had gone home to copy in the patient log-in information by hand into three giant USAID booklets. I asked her if she had to do it every year, but she shook her head and pointed at some red dots on a calendar – once a month.
Responding to my gaping mouth, she continued to tell me that the clinic couldn’t afford a computer, and even if they did? She didn’t know how to use one. I decided that maybe if I made a presentation to the village municipal, I might convince them to fund a computer for the clinic before they finalized their budget for the year. I could mimic the programs that the larger hospitals use and create a software program based off of the charts she was used to. One week later and Mariama and I sat as we had been, this time staring at a brand new desktop.
Perfect, I thought. The community government was taking responsibility for the efficiency of its health care without any outside dependency. No, I did not forget that Mariama could not use a computer; I had divided some clinic hours into a structured teaching schedule so that I could show her the basics myself.
A computer. Simple. I never would have considered it any other way if I hadn’t failed to realize the difficulty of teaching a thing I don’t remember learning. For the first hour and a half, I sat with her straining to explain how the movement of the mouse corresponded to the arrow on the screen. Move it to the right on the table, and the arrow flies to the right. Finally, when I compared it to a shadow, she got it. Our celebratory Senegalese dance break was stunted by my realization that I had no idea where I was supposed to go from there.
Mariama decided to go, well, somewhere else. I found out weeks later that she had moved to Saint Louis to work in the larger hospital where they were in need of doctors with advanced degrees. For all I know, the computer is still locked in her office, slowly being consumed by a virus called Neglect.
I saw Mariama again for the first time last week, and she looked…happy! I cringed in memory of my first developmental failure as she tried to explain to me why she had abandoned our dream of making the clinic interdependent, but I quickly realized that she hadn’t viewed it as a failure at all. I had brought something else out, morphed an idea into being. She told me this:
“Je suis une petite souris. J’avais oublié que quand je bouge, tu peux me voir sur grand écran.”
(I am a little mouse. I had forgotten that when I move, you can see me on the big screen.)
Leaning on a closed door, I saw her against an open window.