My second day here, I was pushed onto the lap of a woman who sat in the front seat of a neon green ambulance. I watched the bumpy drive through the spiderweb of a cracked window, and the seat vibrated so violently that my ears tickled. We drove for about an hour, and it was clear that none of us had yet been where we were going, what with the u-turns and shrieking. We ended up in this small house inside of an isolated village on the border of the Sahara.
We piled large sacks full of mosquito nets on top of a small foam bed on the floor. I got to keep track of how many we gave out. Here’s the thing. For every mosquito net that is given out, one coupon must be written. The coupons have the logos of several large organizations on it, but it is clear that they are being misused, as the coupons are just ripped out and put in a pile that we end up just throwing back in the back of the ambulance.
Before they gave out a net, they removed the plastic encasing from each one. I tried to ask why, because the covering had all of the instructions on it, but the women I was with only spoke Wolof. I wondered how much was explained, if at all, and I wondered if anyone knew that you were supposed to re-treat the nets in 6 months.
When we finished distributing the “moustiquères,” I counted up how many nets had been given vs. the number of coupons written. The numbers were exactly ten off, and when I showed them to my advisor, she just rewrote the number so it was the same.
I may have distributed 83 nets to an entire village, but I don’t feel reassured, and there was nothing I could do about it without the language under my belt. In fact, I feel as if I made more of a difference whacking mosquitoes in my room with my notebook during the night than I do in my day’s work. I keep seeing the clinic, the mosquito nets, and myself as these three points, and no matter how I connect the dots, I’m just on the outside of a triangle- unable to make my way in.
I sat in the back of the ambulance on the way back, bouncing around with the empty plastic casings. I think to myself that even if I had a voice to speak with, at times it wouldn’t even matter. Woman or toubab, some things here are just bigger than me.