THE BALIGHAM HEALTH FAIR, NW CAMEROON

The Baligham village health fair

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Friday the 13th, a cloudy June afternoon the year 2014. Four volunteers and the head of
the project left our base in Akum village. We have a long journey ahead and the weather
is showing signs of rain. Our small Mazda has to make it there before it rains, otherwise
we are going to be in trouble. Baligham village is around three hours drive through the
north west of Cameroonian hilly countryside. The rainy season is over 6 months long and
we are almost in the middle of it.

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I am sitting in the front seat as I am the tallest, Triona, Alexia, Joel and Margaret are
squeezed into the back. Triona is our head nurse, Alexia and I are in charge of
photography, Joel is assisting with the project and Margaret is the project founder. We are
a great team, little united nations, Czech, German, Irish , USA and Canada, always making
jokes and playing games.

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Our work for the next two days will take place at Baligham village for its residents and
others from surrounding villages. We will be carrying out basic health checks together with
Doctor Kume and a catholic sister and nurse from Nigeria Mrs Dorothy. Doctor Kume is an
experienced private doctor from Douala, Cameroon. He has worked for Doctors without
borders and today he came all the way from Douala to volunteer with us on this project.
Douala, the centre of economy and business is the largest city in Cameroon. It takes over
seven hours drive to reach our place. Margaret, our auntie as we call her, is Cameroonian
born but living in California. She has established a program which is helping people with
different types of disabilities and people from remote villages where access to health
clinics is difficult.

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Our journey is smooth so far, the rain has not yet fallen and we are almost at the village.
Its slowly getting dark, we are almost on the equator where days are short throughout the
year. Some parts of the way we have to drive very slowly as the hills are steep and you
have to go around pieces of rocks and sharp stones. The valleys are green with different
types of trees, long grass, rivers and fields with corn and banana trees. The road is red in
colour and the air is fresh. We are in Cameroonian highlands where it gets cold at night.
We meet a little shower of rain on the way which makes one hill impassable. Friendly
locals are jumping in to help us and we manage to push our car to the top of the hill.

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When we finally reach the village Joel and the girls are happy to get of the car and do
some proper stretching. Our work place is a hall where people gather for different
occasions. It will have to do for our night too. It is an empty space only with some plastic
chairs and we are setting up our beds made out of our clothes on a cold concrete ground.
It is still early in the evening, so we decide to go to a local bar and have some cold local
Castel beer. The young generation of local residents quickly gather around us and we are
spreading the word about tomorrow’s health fair. Soon we go back to the hall and prepare
for the night. Its cold, the uncomfortable hard ground did not allow us to have much
sleep, but the morning quickly comes and the thought of a nice breakfast and a hot cup of
coffee in the Baligham chief’s palace cheers us up. His Royal Highness E.S. Gahyam 11, the fon, traditional ruler and chief of Baligham is welcoming and invites us to have breakfast
with him. His two wives are making egg omelettes, goat meat and bread baguettes with
butter and honey.

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A fon is a chieftain or king of a region of Cameroon, especially among the Widikum, Tikar
and Bamileke peoples of the Bamenda grass fields. Though once independent rulers, most
fons were brought under the German rule during the colonial period. Following the defeat
of the Germans in WWI, the fons came under British or French Cameroon. However, they
maintain semi-autonomous union councils and jurisdiction over their hereditary land.

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As early as six, village residents are gathering in front of our set up clinic. We are waiting
for doctor Kume and Sr Dorothy and preparing tables and chairs in the hall. All our
medicine supplies are ready at the room arranged for the doctor and our home made
educational posters are up in the hall. We are ready and letting our first patients in. Joel
and Alexia are doing the paperwork, writing details in their medical cards, Triona is
checking their blood pressure and together with Sr Dorothy answering their questions.
When they find high blood pressure and other serious health issues, they forward them to
doctor Kume’s office and he does further treatment. Our first patient has already seriously
high blood pressure over 200 and we are surprised he is still standing. Our medicine for
hypertension is prepared and antibiotics for those with infections too. Our hall is full of
people and there is an even bigger bunch outside. Most people are complaining about back
problems as they work hard every day on their fields. Many are having stomach problems
and very high blood pressure.

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People are patiently queuing and jumping from chair to
chair. Each patient gets a sweet to cheer them up. Triona and Sr Dorothy are hardly having
any break and Joel, Alexia, Margaret and I are happy to take few minutes each for a quick
lunch. The house has no toilet so we all have to go outside to a nearby bush. TIA as we say,
This Is Africa! As it gets later on in the afternoon, the crowds of people does not seem to
be lessening. We have to rush a little faster and there is tension building. Blood pressure
meter is a miracle in such a remote village, that everybody who came is waiting eagerly to
be measured. Towards the evening people starts arguing and jumping the queue and we
are shocked by their behaviour. Elderly patients, young patients, there is no difference,
everybody is now trying to get the first place in the queue, even if it takes bruises, its
worth the fight. We are trying to calm down the situation and Joel is bringing the second
blood pressure meter and quickly learning how to use it to satisfy our last patients. At the
end of the day, at least we made everybody happy and did not find any serious cases in
the last group of villagers.

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We are leaving the village exhausted, but with a great feeling that we helped over two hundred people in one long day.

A well deserved cold Castle is making up for it and a warm dinner is waiting for us at home.

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