From Philip to Djackone …
Jandie Albrecht has experienced the medical field through college classes, and she has experienced it through every-day life in the villages of Africa. Albrecht still wants a nursing career.
She originally started at Sioux Falls Augustana College to be a medical technician, but felt that that was too much lab work and not enough dealing with patients. She earlier graduated from Philip High School in 2000. Adding to her education, she has now learned about the people and the health problems of the village of Djackone, northern Cameroon.
The villages of Cameroon, Africa, are a long way away from South Dakota, and in many different ways than just in distance. Albrecht experienced this first-hand when she joined a group of two men and five other women on a mission trip.
The mission trip began with the team’s plane flying to the major port city of Douala. From there they went to the capital city of Younde. Their local air flight (nicknamed “air-maybe” because it could go three days without a flight) did not work out. The following 15-hour bus trip did not have air conditioning and was on paved roads only five hours. Finally they arrived in Ngobia, population 100,000.
How such a thing is measured is unclear, but the city is ranked the third most corrupt in the world. Pickpockets, thieves, highwaymen, and crooked marketmen are everywhere. “Anybody in uniform will take advantage of people and situations,” said Albrecht. “Being a group of white people, six women and two men, was actually a benefit. Everybody was staring at us. Would you rob someone with everybody else staring at them?” The mission group had to pay extra for their luggage handling, though that was not the case with locals. They were obviously overcharged at the marketplaces. “That was fine,” Albrecht said. “It supported the local economy.”
Days later, the group finally arrived at their destination of Djackone to help put a roof on the mission building. With no roof for shade, the masonry walls erected eight years ago by earlier mission projects only increased the inner heat. The two men, including Darrel Johnson, the veteran group leader, helped direct the local workmen in the roofing project. Women were discouraged from doing such manual labor, so the six females acted as nurses for the children and women of the area. They were greeted exceptionally well.
Albrecht said that children were easy to distinguish because they wore the same set of clothes each day ... their only clothes. There were many, many children. Women begin having babies at age 15 or 16, and men have many wives in order to have many children. The chief, one of the “big” people, had 28 children.
That custom not withstanding, the practice of men not being allowed at the birth is changing. The area’s pastor, who now has four children by his only wife, was allowed to be at his last child’s birth. The American mission women gave out birthing kits: small towels, soap, a tiny baby shirt, and a razor to cut the cord.
The children are not necessarily starving; they get enough to eat, but they lack the vitamins to stay healthy. Their diet is mostly starch through rice, terra root, peanuts and corn. “Couth-couth is a gritty corn blob that is a common food there,” said Albrecht. “You don’t get meat.
“They just do not have health care. Some kids’ bellies are full of worms. People look older because of it; one man looked 80 when he might have been 45.” Albrecht continued, “The bush hospital is run by a male nurse. It is a room with a table for examinations and it has some medications – mostly antibiotics and anti-venoms. Everything is covered in dirt. Malaria and tuberculosis are common.
“Families supply and cook the patients’ food and bring any bedding. There are four patients to a room and each room’s only door is to the outside,” Albrecht said.
Albrecht tells of one 12-month-old sick baby that was finally brought in. It was dehydrated and had not kept any real amount of food down for two months. Everything attempted by the nurses, including administering a water-salt-sugar solution, was not enough. The baby died. The cause of death could have been attributed to many things, AIDS not the least likely.
With this still fresh in her memory, Albrecht still wants to stay in nursing. “There is always stress in nursing. You accept people for who they are and you deal with the situation as it is.” She paused, then continued, “Mission work is something that I always wanted to do. It is not an opportunity that you’ll get very many times, maybe once in a lifetime. If I passed it up, I might never have gotten another chance.
“If I learn French in the next few years, then I might go back.” Knowing French would be one less translation needed from English to French to the local Fufulde.
“The country of Chad is starting to pipe oil through Cameroon to the sea ports. That might mean hospitals and paved roads will be put in someday,” she concluded.
Albrecht does not really want to go back to the larger cities. She would like to revisit the villages and their people who are so giving and seem so happy even though they have so little.