Saturday, January 28

Gasoline and nurses

At this point on the map, south of southern Niger, the topic of conversation from June to September is the hunger. EITHER food and its lack, If they want. If there were bars, the parishioners would comment elbows on the bar. But here the debate moves to a mat on the floor, if there is still strength left to speak.

Waiting on these mats are the mothers and grandmothers of the boys and girls to whom hunger has almost defeated; those who are enrolled in this acute malnutrition center (CRENI, in its acronym in French) of Aguié. They speak little, actually, but the subject covers everything like the awning that protects them from the inclement sun of the African summer. They know what is coming without reading the figures that estimate that the number of people who will go hungry this year in Niger will be more than double what they did last year.

“What we are seeing is before the worst happens”, says Ibrahim Seydou, a nurse and head of the center. The worst is expected in a month, when the barns are empty of reserves and there is still a long way to go to harvest the fruits of the new harvest, each year less abundant -climate change through-. “We urgently need two things: gasoline and nurses. Gasoline for ambulances, because the price of fuel has skyrocketed. In this planting season that is beginning, either we are going to look for the malnourished children wherever they are, or the mothers will not be able to bring them. Many will die on her back as they plant the seeds.” She says it calmly, because it’s been a long time since her first time.

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For me, this is the first time I have seen hunger face to face. Not our appetite between meals, our little rumbling in the stomach. Hunger with a capital letter, the hunger that there is nothing to quench; the hunger that is too late to satisfy, even if you want to. I enter the room where the more serious boys and girls. They barely move; they just watch. They stare at me. I only manage to hold on to the bed frame, so that it holds me up. How difficult to hold their gaze. How ashamed I feel of not being able to put an end to that fragility, with a stroke of the pen, how helpless that we are not able to change everything that makes hunger have those eyes.

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8 out of 10 children who arrive here recover. 8 out of 10, I repeat. 8 out of 10. You have to stay with that, to move forward, to believe. But the two that are missing, are missing. And when I think about them, I have to keep holding on to the bed.

There is a supermarket under my house. I see it every day when I go to work; I visit him two or three days a week. But here, the expression “shopping” simply doesn’t make sense; it does not exist as a concept. There are only two options here: the self-sufficiency or humanitarian aid. When droughts are repeated and lengthened, only the second remains. That’s what we’re at, that’s what we focus on save the children. That is what we will reply to Seydou: “There you have it, Seydou: gasoline and nurses”.

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