Leprosy Bacteria In The Wind
The capital of Mali, West Africa is Bamako*. In 1980 it was built of mud-brick buildings, some of which were faced with cheap crumbling concrete. There were some sewers running along streets in better neighborhoods, they were open drainage ditches of unspeakable filth. The country of Mali had a couple of little "medical" facilities but they would not even qualify as community prompt care units in first world countries. They were primarily a room with a first aid kit and a "doctor" or "nurse". It is my understanding that little has changed.**
Where there is no infrastructure to hold back disease, it runs rampant. More is the pity. I did not understand the circumstances in Mali when I accepted my assignment there as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer. Young, strong people do not understand that disease will take whomever it will, and I was just as naive and vulnerable as the Malian standing next to me.
I was standing on the corner of a primary intersection downtown Bamako waiting for a break in the helter-skelter of the rattletrap vehicles and old and overloaded mopeds barreling over the dirt roads. I was probably on some administrative errand for the startup of my in-country assignment. I felt a tall, thin Malian man glide up to stand very close next to me. His face was swathed in the flowing folds of his turban. He caught my eye, smiled with dreamlike evil, and loosed his face covering to the wind. It fluttered and flapped away from his face. I saw that leprosy*** had left a huge, grotesque, festering pit of mottled flesh in the center of his face, he had been robbed of his nose, his cheeks, his lips...all too horrible to look at. He glimpsed my shock with satisfaction then quickly rewrapped himself with a swirl of filthy fabric and strode away.
And that is the most horrible sadness of the situation for unfortunates born in Mali.
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* "Bamako is the capital and largest city of Mali, with a population of 2,009,109. In 2006, it was estimated to be the fastest-growing city in Africa and sixth-fastest in the world. The name Bamako (Bàmakɔ̌ in Bambara) comes from the Bambara word meaning "crocodile tail." Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamako
** Mali's reported GDP in 1980 was 1.8 billion USD; in 2018 Mali's reported GDP was 17.41 billion USD.
US GDP in 2018 was $20.89 trillion USD.
*** "Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease (HD), is a long-term infection by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae or Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Initially, infections are without symptoms and typically remain this way for 5 to 20 years. Symptoms that develop include granulomas of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes..." Leprosy is transmitted through airborne exposure. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leprosy
Is this ghastly neurological disease the cause of the strange and severe pain throughout my body, and my undiagnosed, debilitating breathing difficulties? I am not a medical professional, and I have no special medical training, in fact, when the United States Peace Corps induction agent asked me if I would be willing to go to "a leper colony" I had immediately said no. I wanted to work to make the world better, not sacrifice myself to its misery. He ignored my wishes and sent me to disease-riddled Mali without telling me what he had done to me. The United States Peace Corps squandered my good will and strong wish to help others by assigning me to the medical disaster zone which was and is Mali, West Africa.
I had innocently said, "Send me where I can do the most good." and Peace Corps had wasted me on a hopeless assignment to Mali where I promptly almost lost my life, and after which I endured lifelong physical ill consequences.
I served my country as a United States Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, West Africa in 1979 and 1980, until medevaced into a series of medical operations.
Caption: Leprosy Bacteria In The Wind
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2019
Caption: Annmarie Throckmorton's passport photo 1979
(Mother did her usual trick of sticking my image with pinpricks.
Sometimes I am amazed that despite such hostility I made any little thing at all of myself in the world.)