I don’t tend to get out much these days. The days run from 730 in the morning to 730 in the evening, and combined with the intense heat this regime leaves me with little energy to do anything but eat and read. Sunday is our day off; occasionally I go in to the hospital if we have any patients in a particularly fragile state; but otherwise I spend the day pottering around, preparing the weekly team lunch, examining the cat for worms and pretending to learn the local language.
From time to time I do cycle out of town though, and briefly I reconnect with a life and a society outside of the hospital. Without these brief moments of respite, I would know Nigeriens only as patients or nurses. These trips allow me a glimpse of the lives of people in their villages – the women working, the men mending their bicycles, and the children climbing the baobab trees. It’s immediately noticeable just how many children there are relative to the number of adults. The moment I enter a village I am surrounded by at least 40 children, smiling and snotty and (generally) not at all malnourished. I guess it’s not the hunger season yet, but all the same it’s reassuring to remember that malnutrition is not the default state here – it is still an aberration, and something we need not accept.
Quantity is undeniably important when it comes to children. My colleague Abdi plans to have 20 – mercifully for his current wife, he plans to have the second 10 with a second wife. When I ask him if he will be able to remember all their names he says that generally speaking the father doesn’t have that much contact with the children in his culture. 20 is a good number because some will die but he will still be left with a generous handful. I ask him how he would pay for their education and health care, but from his perspective this is a ungenerously pragmatic question – one does not deny life to a child for fear of not having enough cash.
Moments like this bring my own risk-averse attitude into context – I am terrified by the idea of having a mass of children that I can’t afford. Yet when I perceive the pleasure with which A talks about his future flock, I am left with the overwhelming urge to procreate, in abundance!