Tuesday, May 31


notes from west africa - may 31.2005

Yamah gave birth at the wrong time. The place wasn't ideal either, a West African nation tangled in a brutal civil war, but the timing, late 1994, was just plain awful. Just after Yamah went into labor, rebels stormed into the village of Gbarnga, Liberia, sending the town's inhabitants scurrying to safety in the bush. Among them were the midwives, and Yamah spent four days in intense pain searching for someone to help deliver her baby. Finally, old lady Kpeh was located, and a delivery that began at six a.m. finished twelve hours later.

She gave birth to a stillborn child and Yamah began leaking urine through her birth canal. She developed a condition called vesicovaginal fistula or "VVF" as it's known among doctors. During delivery, the extended pressure of the baby's head against her pelvis left a hole in the tissue between the bladder and the birth canal.

Although unheard of in developed nations for almost a century (the last fistula hospital in the US closed near the end of the 19th century), because of where she was born, Yamah is not alone with this condition. The United Nations estimates two million women in Africa and Asia suffer from this condition, many of them constantly leaking feces as well.

So Yamah did what most would do. She sought a doctor. During war this wasn't easy, and she was told simply by the ones she found that her problem was "too heavy." It's hard to imagine, but because of her incontinence, Yamah smelled of urine. All the time. She would avoid people, staying mainly inside her house, but when she did come in contact with them, she said they would give her dirty looks and "talk bad about her."

In 1998, during a lull in the war, she met Sam. Sam had returned to Liberia from Guinea where he had fled to escape the fighting, and sought treatment for his leprosy at the Ganta Rehab Center. He came with a badly ulcerated leg that was later to be amputated and replaced with a crutch. Although cured now, Sam has dark, sorrowful eyes and bears the scars of leprosy in his face.

He tells me he met Yamah when she ventured out to buy something.

"I asked her to be my friend," Sam says. "She told me her problem. I said okay, we will see about it."

The next few years were difficult but Sam says he stayed with her. "I used to sometimes comfort her that God one day might make her better. I made up my mind for she and myself to be together."

A fine pair of misfits they were, Sam, hobbling along on one leg, making and selling straw baskets for about $8 each, saving money. Yamah, hiding in the house, unable to shake a constant stench of urine.

Hope came in the form of a visiting surgeon at local hospital, a sleepy facility founded by an American missionary in the 1920's. It is one of only three places in the country where it is possible to have a fistula surgery - when a qualified surgeon is present. But most women can only dream of obtaining the $150 it costs for the procedure.

Luckily for Yamah, Sam the leper had somehow saved enough money for the operation. She was admitted to hospital in November of 2000 and scheduled for surgery. Six years after she began leaking.

The operation is a tricky one, and requires great skill on the part of the surgeon. Many patients are determined unfixable after an initial examination yet fortunately, this wasn't the case for Yamah. Her operation seemed a success at its completion, Sam tells me, until a nurse, while removing the catheter, just "pull it."

It's gruesome to hear him describe it, "The blood started coming," he says. Hope yanked away and replaced with fear, more urine, and this time intense pain.

As the surgeon was leaving the next day to accept a scholarship in the United States, Sam and Yamah were told sorry, nothing can be done.

Another three years of suffering passed before Sam heard on the radio that a ship was coming to Liberia that provided free surgery - fistula fixes among the procedures performed.

At the screening date in early March, Mercy Ships doctors examined Yamah, and Sam says he just sat outside praying. "This is the last chance," he says he thought. "If people come from another country and they fail, how are we gonna manage now." Sam says while waiting, he saw another woman with a VVF rejected for surgery, her tear deemed irreparable. "I said, oh... what if this happen to my wife too."

Yamah was examined by Scottish surgeon Dr. Fiona Burslem and scheduled for surgery. Although it is uncommon that surgeons will attempt to "fix" other surgeons failed operations, Dr. Burslem thought she could repair Yamah. She scheduled her for surgery on March 30.

Sam says they left early and traveled across the country to Monrovia, where the ship is docked. They arrived on March 28.

"I was so excited, I met security. They said not to enter yet. I started appealing. Economic reasons first. I said please find somebody to talk to. I saw Betty (a nurse on the ship). When she came, I explain I want to be on time. She went and checked, she found an empty bed."

Yamah said when she saw the ship, she felt peace. It was her first time to Monrovia, her first time seeing a ship. "I was not scared," she said. "I knew my problem would be solved. I was praying, every morning, every evening."

Late in the afternoon of March 30th, after the surgical procedure, Yamah woke up in the ship's hospital ward, dry for the first time in 11 years.

* * *

Yamah has a lovely smile and shy, girlish giggle that now seem ever present. She thinks she's about 30 years old now, but looks younger. We talked as she scrubbed clothes on the doorstep of the small stone house where she lives with Sam on the fringe of the Rehab leprosy compound. Chickens and small dogs sometimes interrupted and were chased away by a brandished broomstick.

She has been transformed. She has made new friends, she can go out among people without fearing their looks of scorn and disgust. She can go to church without spoiling her clothes.

"My heart is all right. I feel free," she says simply.


To watch a five minute video of Mercy Ships's work and learn more about VVF surgery, please visit http://www.onamercyship.com/video.html

If you're interested in sponsoring a surgery or supporting the work of mercy ships, write me here: scott@onamercyship.com
please visit www.onamercyship.com

for more images and words, including the latest pics from five days in the leper colony here.


Carina said...

A very informative blogg. I grew up in Liberia during the -60´s and the Lamco part in mining. I found it very interesting to read more direct information on what goes on.

I will return to read your posts more thorough. I have my own little Africa blogg about my growin up in Liberia and Ghana from 1963 till 1976 but it is in swedish even though I am norwegian but live in Sweden.

Thank You for sharing. Sorry for my illwritten english but it is a long time ago I used the language on a daily basis.

Best regards Carina Wesenlund-Jonsson

11:52 PM  
sabbath day's journey said...

Thanks so much for this, Scott...a truly amazing story.


8:35 PM  
Anonymous said...

you don't know who i am, but i wanted to say how amazing and blessing your blog is. it surely makes me think of what i can do to make a positive change in this world. thank you for sharing your truly merciful work.

9:20 PM  
Coby Somsen said...

Scott--what a great story! I"m constantly blessed by reading your perspective on the patients--you saw such a different side of them than we did on the ward. Caring for Yammah was a gift--hearing her background in such detail has added new depth to it. Glad you made it home safe--hope you're adjusting back to life, and that your hiatus is going well--blessings to you!

6:37 AM  
nicole said...

an amazing story - thank you for sharing it with the world.

4:54 AM  
msa showcase said...


7:44 PM  
wilsonian said...

What a stunning portrait of Love Incarnate.

Can't thank you enough for this...

2:37 AM  
Mary said...

truly moving. it is inspiring to see someone living their life to the fullest while helping others. and reading yammah and sam's story just makes my faith stronger and reminds me of how very lucky i am. often those of us in the west think we have problems but they are mostly in our heads.

4:00 PM  
Anonymous said...

Nothing is free my friend.

Program on the emergence of civilization.

"14 species of large animals capable of domesitcation in the history of mankind.
13 from Europe, Asia and northern Africa.
None from the sub-Saharan African continent. "
And disfavor.

They point out Africans’ failed attempts to domesticate the elephant and zebra, the latter being an animal they illustrate that had utmost importance for it's applicability in transformation from a hunting/gathering to agrarian-based civilization.

The roots of racism are not of this earth.

Austrailia, aboriginals:::No domesticable animals.

The North American continent had none. Now 99% of that population is gone.

AIDS in Africa.

Organizational Heirarchy/Levels of positioning.
Heirarchical order, from top to bottom:

1. MUCK - perhaps have experienced multiple universal contractions (have seen multiple big bangs), creator of the artificial intelligence humans ignorantly refer to as "god"
2. Perhaps some mid-level alien management
3. Evil/disfavored aliens - runs day-to-day operations here and perhaps elsewhere

Terrestrial management/positioning:

4. Chinese/egyptians - this may be separated into the eastern and western worlds
5. Romans -
6. Mafia - the real-world 20th century interface that constantly turns over generationally so as to reinforce the widely-held notion of mortality
7. Jews, corporation, women, politician - Evidence exisits to suggest mafia management over all these groups.

Movies foreshadowing catastrophy
1985 James Bond View to a Kill 1989 San Francisco Loma Prieta earthquake.

Our society gives clues to the system in place. We all have heard the saying "He has more money than god." There is also an episode of the Simpsons where god meets Homer and says "I'm too old and rich for this."

This is the system on earth because this is the system everywhere.

I don't want to suggest the upper eschelons are evil and good is the fringe.

But they have made it abundantly clear that doing business with evil (disfavored) won't help people. They say only good would have the ear, since evil is struggling for survival, and therefore only the favored could help.

The clues are there which companies are favored and which are disfavored, but they conceal it very hard because it is so crucial.

I offer an example of historical proportions:::

People point to Walmart and cry "anti-union".
Unions enable disfavored people to live satisfactorly without addressing their disfavor. This way their family's problems are never resolved. Without the union they would have to accept the heirarchy, their own inferiority.
Unions serve to empower.
Walmart is anti-union because they are good. They try to help people address and resolve their problems by creating an enviornment where there are fewer hurdles.

Media ridicule and lawsuits are creations to reinforce people's belief that Walmart is evil in a subsegment of the indistry dominated by the middle and lower classes.
Low-cost disfavored Chinese labor is utilized by corporate america to maximize margins. They all do it. Only WalMart gets fingered because they are the ones who help, and those who seek to create confusion in the marketplace want to eliminate the vast middle class who have a real chance and instead stick with lower classes who may not work otherwise. So they dirty him up while allowing the others to appear clean.

The middle class is being deceived. They are being misled into the unfavored, and subsequently will have no assistance from their purchases with corporate america.

I believe the coining of the term "Uncle Sam" was a clue alluding to just this::Sam Walton and WalMart is one of few saviors of the peasant class.

Amercia is a country of castoffs, rejects. Italy sent its criminals. Malcontents.
Between the thrones, the klans and kindred, they "decided" who they didn't want and acted, creating discontent and/or starvation.
The u.s. is full of disfavored rejects. It is the reason for the myriad of problems not found in European countries. As far as the Rockafellers and other industrialists of the 19th century go, I suspect these aren't their real names. I suspect they were chosen to go and head this new empire.

Royalty is the right way to organize a society. Dictatorships and monarchies are a reflection of the antient's hierarchical organization.
Positions go to those who have favor with the rulers, as opposed to being elected.
Elections bring a false sense of how the world is. Democracy misleads people.
Which is why the disfavored rejects were sent to the shores of America::To keep them on the wrong path.

Jesus Christ is a religious figure of evil. These seperatist churches formed so they could still capture the rest of the white people, keeping them worshipping the wrong god.
And now they do it to people of color, Latinos and Asians, after centuries of preying upon them.

Simpson's foreshadowing::Helloween IV special, Flanders is Satan. "Last one you ever suspect."
"You'll see lots of nuns where you're going:::hell!!!" St. Wigham, Helloween VI, missionary work, destroying cultures.
Over and over, the Simpsons was a source of education and enlightenment, a target of ridicule by the system which wishes to conceal its secrets.

Since Buddism doesn't recongnize a god, the calls are never heard, and Chinese representation is instead selected by the thrones.
Budda was the Asian's Jesus Christ::: bad for the people. "They came up at the same time for a reason."

Jews maim the body formed in the image of "god", and inflicted circumsision upon all other white people, as well as the evil that is Jesus Christ.
I think about how Jews (were used to) created homosexuality among Slavics, retribution for the Holocaust.
Then I think of the Catholic Church and its troubles.
What connection is here between Jews and the Catholic church???
If it is their sinister motives that’s behind the evil that is Jesus Christ are they being used at all?
Perhaps it is them who are pulling strings.
Their centuries of slavery in Egypt proves their disfavor.
The Jew leaders decided to prey on the up-and-coming Europeans to try to fix their problems with the ruling elite, a recurring aspect of their methodology.

I believe Islam is the one true religion, and those misled christians who attack "god"'s most favored people will pay dearly one day.

4:07 AM  

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