Yesterday, my friends at the Health Center were busy trimming bushes, sweeping the dirt, mopping the clinic floor and making it look very nice. This morning I found them ironing their white lab coats/dresses and stocking the medicine in the pharmacy. Everything was looking very organized and professional. The Health Center usually does a good job at this but not to the extent that was happening all at once. I also noticed that all our beds were full. There were so many patients. I didn't think too much of it until a white couple came in the door. I immediately recognized their accents and went to greet them. It turns out they were a nice couple from Nebraska who might be interested in funding parts of the clinic. The woman is a midwife and the man is an engineer. It also turns out they have a daughter in the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa. It really is a small world.
The woman had many questions for Dr. Charles and the rest of the staff. There were times when I had to turn away with my smile and not laugh because of the lies or truths that were being stretched. Martha, the American woman, looked at our supply of medications and asked if we had coartum to treat patients who have malaria. Of course we did today! But I must admit that we rarely have coartum on hand and usually prescribe quinine. At another time Martha asked if children came in every 6 months for check-ups and deworming. There was great assurance that this was a common practice. I almost chocked on my laugh. Parents don't send their children for check-ups! Sometimes schools will have physical exams but never parents bringing their children in unless it's for immunizations or they are sick.
The thing that made me laugh the hardest was when I told the lab technicial it was good there were so many patients today because it made it look like we were busy and really need more funding. She laughed and told me they had been telling patients all week to come back today to fill the beds! They told patients white people were coming to give money but only if the clinic looked like it was busy. We were joking that if the patients hadn't shown up we would have had to go to another clinic and drag them to ours.
Since this couple has a daughter in Peace Corps I assume they know that they are getting the sunny story and that reality is a bit different. Martha stayed at the clinic for the morning and participated in prenatal exams and other patient interviews. All the nurses and the doctor made comments afterward about how thorough and competent she was. They were very impressed and kept making comments such as, "Those ones there really know what to ask. That's why you are developed."
While it was a stressful day for my friends working at the Health Center it surely was an amusing day for me. I also find it a bit amusing that I am so used to these stretching of the truths that I don't really mind them so much. I just hope those who hear these falsehoods can distinguish them enough to know how to really help or not.