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Baboons, Peppers, and the Hokey-Pokey

January 25, 2011

Blog Entry by Paulette Grey


“What is your age?”

Blank stare.

“Madame, what is your age?”

Slight shrug of the shoulders.

“Ok, how many children do you have?”


“How old is your first child?”


“Do you still have menstruation?”


“Ok, she must be at least thirty years old.”

The sage-femmes indicated during our training session that eliciting a patient’s exact age might be an elusive pursuit. At the time, I was dumbfounded at the idea.  Today, I witnessed it firsthand. Our first patient for cervical cancer screening had no idea of her age. Since we’re screening women age 30-50, age is a critical factor. Once again, all I could do was shake my head in awe at the amount that can be accomplished with so many challenges… The health workers here seem to be unaffected by small speed bumps in the training. They’re rolling right along with effortless ease. They’ve mastered so much in such a short time. After only one week, each of them seem to be VIA experts now.

And the day only became more interesting. Let’s just say that it involved baboons, peppers, and eventually, the hokey-pokey.

The baboons were the surprise of our 1-hour road trip from Saraya to Nafadji. We saw an entire family of them right at the edge of the woods. The rumbling of the truck scared them away, but not before we all caught a full view. Amazing!

And then came the peppers. We were leading a discussion on diarrhea and its prevention with the Nafadji villagers. Nora pulled out two jabanero peppers and called forth a volunteer. She squeezed the pepper’s juice all over the woman’s hand, then asked her to touch her eye. The woman laughed out with incredulity, refusing to touch her eye. Everyone in the crowd laughed along. Next, Nora asked the woman to rinse her hand in water then touch her eye. Again, the same reaction.  The crowd was in stitches. Finally, someone brought forth soap to add to the hand washing, and our spirited volunteer then had no trouble touching her eye.

The question posed to the crowed: “Can you see the pepper juice?”


“But can it hurt you?”

The crowd in agreement: “Yes! Of course! Don’t let it touch your eye!”

We then made the parallel between the invisibility of microbes and their ability to cause harm to the body (diarrhea) if the hands are not washed properly. All of this was proceeded by a Q&A about diarrhea and its prevention, but the demonstration seemed to especially delight the crowd and (hopefully) cement the purpose of the talk.

Now, how did the hokey-pokey enter the mix? Well, let’s just say that we all had such a great time, and goodbyes led to songs, and songs led to dances, and before we knew it…

The women from the village danced in a circle and sang a beautiful song. We danced right along, having no clue what lie immediately ahead. After a few minutes of singing and dancing, someone asked us to show them an “American” dance. Nora broke out in the classic “hammer” dance. Then Karen suggested the hokey-pokey, both song and dance.

And that’s how it happened. We put our right feet in, then put our right feet out…

We had all the kids (and many of the women) “shaking it all about” as we left. It was hilarious and embarrassing—and truly priceless.

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