Playing Pharmacy Boss

Alec Yeh - Senegal


March 3, 2010

Today was a big leap at the Poste. I don’t think I have been that productive since the beginning of my experience at the Poste. I was running the pharmacy like a pro today! Not really. I was a pretty big n00b but still. I thought I was rockin’ it. I was never flying solo, but when somebody handed me their prescription, I knew exactly what to do. I was even able to read most of the handwriting. Unless Sakho was the person doing the consultation. He seriously needs to go to a calligraphy class or something. And for the most part, I got all the prices right. There were a few mess-ups here and there, but nothing bad. I always had Madame Salle or Candi there, watching over me. No pressure or anything. Both of them thought the entire thing was pretty funny. You know, a toubab running the pharmacy at a Senegalese Poste de Santé.

What I also discovered was that most people who come to the Poste don’t use French. They only speak Wolof. Some of them can speak French, but with the combination of my horrible accent and my limited vocabulary, French clearly wasn’t the right language to use. Not only did I sell the medicine, but I also had to tell each patient how to take each medicine. The directions on the package are always in either French or English. And that’s when there are packages. We sell most of the drugs by parts. A box of ibuprofen has 50 tablets, organized in 10 tablets per a sheet of those plastic and foil pop-out wrappers. So we sell each sheet separately. Thus, no written directions. So what I had to do was learn how to give the directions in Wolof. Wow did everybody find that hilarious. Every time I told a patient the directions, they’d start laughing. Nobody could take me seriously. I mean, I can understand. It’s like when a white person speaks Mandarin. That stuff is funny. And Madame Salle and Candi were another story. Every time I said things correctly, they’d celebrate and give me high-fives. The thing with Wolof for me is that the sounds that the language uses are sounds that I’ve never produced. I mean, throughout my life, I have spoken English and Mandarin. I’ve learned Spanish for god knows how long (through a pretty lousy Spanish department). And I’ve recently been learning French. Yet with the four languages that I’m familiar with, Wolof still uses sounds I’ve never used. And if you guys don’t know, I’m really bad with accents.

But I did eventually learn how to give the directions in Wolof. So if you ever need me to tell you the directions for ibuprofen in Wolof, I’m your guy.

The only thing I didn’t learn was Nystatin though. Madame Salle goes, “So how about Nystatin? Aren’t you going to ask about that one?”

“Oh no. I think I’m okay.”

She laughs, but continues, “Do you even know what it is?”

I look into her devious eyes and I say, “Yes. I do.”

“What is it for then?”

I say, “Uh, well, it’s for…,” I stutter a moment, and say softly, “vaginal infections.” I said “vaginal” like it was a swear. I have no problem saying vagina in English, but for some reason, when saying penis or vagina in a foreign language, it feels wrong. It feels like I’m swearing. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because vagina in French is spelled the same way, but just pronounced differently. It reminds me of “Orangina,” oddly enough

But to continue, Madame Salle asks, “So how do you take it?”

I, obviously not wanting to say this, said, “You push it up your…vagina…with a little water.”

“You’re afraid to say that to the woman, aren’t you?” she says mockingly. Well Madame Salle, I don’t really think I need to learn how to tell people in Wolof how to put things up their vaginas. Don’t see that coming in handy really. Just a hunch. Also, I don’t think I should be telling woman how to get things up there. I wouldn’t really be a credible source now, would I?

“Yes Madame. That’s it. I’m afraid.”

Alec Yeh