dispensaire jacaranda

            

We went on a boat trip the other day with our friend Franck and a friend of his, a doctor named Brigitte. We now know that...

  • The most wide-spread illnesses in Mayotte are high blood pressure and diabetes. However, the women may be fat, they never suffer from varicose veins.
  • In Mayotte, the women carry anything that needs carrying (boxes, shopping baskets...) on their heads. This leads to strong straight spines and heads held high, no spine deformations originating from bags carried over one shoulder. However, they tend to have a lot of neck problems.

          

2010-12-01-jacaranda

            

  • Being ill is seen as a bad thing in Mayotte, something you can't admit to other people. Therefore, people let their illnesses develop almost to the point of no return before going to the hospital or the dispensary.
  • When people do admit to being ill and are given treatment of whatever kind, they often carefully forget to take their medicine. They'll go on holiday, or to see their cousins in the south of the island, and leave their medicine at home for two weeks. Having been prescribed four pills a day for a month, they'll take one pill a day for four months because they don't want to be labelled "sick".
  • Physical problems are apparently fairly easy to localise, but psychological problems are much harder. People arrive in the hospital emergency room screaming and shouting, waving their arms about and stamping their feet, rolling on the floor and crying. This is their way of saying that something is extremely wrong and that they can't take it any more. The usual treatment for this is taking the person to one side with a doctor or nurse, talking to them, and they eventually calm down enough to explain what's wrong: often, the simple fact of having someone there to listen to them is treatment enough, and they want to go straight back out of the hospital again.
  • Social security is free in Mayotte for the locals, so they don't have the excuse of "the pills were too expensive". Instead, they'll say "I don't have a car, and I didn't have enough money for the taxi" (which costs precisely 1.20€, whatever the destination).

          

dispensaire_mamoudzou

         

  • Mayotte is the largest maternity in Europe, with approximately 8000 births per year.
  • Mahorese women define themselves by their children. To be considered a woman, rather than a girl, you have to have a child on your hip. This is also the reason why many Mahorese girls have children at an extremely young age, often starting around age 13. Several 14-year-old girls in my school already have two or three children. 
  • Whenever a woman or a man gets married, she or he must produce at least one child. This often ends up as rather large families of easily 10 children. And thus, when said woman or man is asked how many children she or he has, she or he often has to think about it before answering. "Well, let me think... there's the two children I had with my first wife, then the three I had with the neighbour, then my second wife also has three, and my third wife is pregnant with our fourth..."
  • Because of there being so many children and the parents not always being quite sure of how many children there are, plus the fact that being ill is a sign of weakness, a three-month-old baby can be left for over a week with any given illness before the mother brings him in to hospital
  • The fathers are absent, and the mothers are too busy looking after the baby to bother with their other children, so the children are often left to their own devices. In an average family, the kids will bring each other up, the eldest looking after the second-eldest and so on. Which can lead to disasters. Kids come back to their mothers' houses at the end of the day in a terrible state, having eaten or drunk something they shouldn't have. The mother realizes she can't do anything about it, takes the child to hospital, and the doctors ask how it happened. As she wasn't there, she doesn't know, and the only person who was there at the time was the child's big sister... who is 2 years old, who got fed up of taking the little one round all day and who gave him petrol to drink to get rid of him.
  • When there is a product to store somewhere, the universal container is generally a water bottle. So various water bottles get filled with colourless substances such as white spirit, bleach or diesel, and as the houses are generally small and full of people, these bottles hang around the house. The children drink from them, the children need to go to hospital, the children die. The parents can't explain how that happened.
  • People in Mayotte don't have the same relationship to children and family as we do. A colleague of mine was talking about children in his English class recently, and the kids asked him how many children he had. Zero, he replied. "Oh, you have no children? I have two, do you want one?" asked one of the girls.
  • Most Mahorese men have several wives and can't be with all of them. However, they are obliged by Muslim law to contribute to their children's well-being. This generally means a box of chicken wings and a sack of rice per week or per month, depending on their financial situation.
  • A lot of old men live alone in Mayotte. As they've been married (or are still married, for that matter) to several women and have fathered plenty of children, that means they haven't been with their families very much. Apart from the odd box of chicken wings, the children hardly see their father, as he is too busy making more children. So when the parents grow older, the children will look after their mother, as there is a strong link with her, but will generally leave their father alone, as they don't really know him.

 

hopital dzaoudzi

         

  • In Mayotte, as in several African countries, fat is good, fat is beautiful, fat is rich. Beautiful, slim 18-year-old girls who have just got married often come into the hospital and ask for something to make them fatter, as their husband says they are too thin. In England or France, very fat people often wear big drapy clothes to hide their bodies. Here, very fat women are the most elegant of all: beautiful sequinned salouvas, elegant hairstyles and lots of gold jewellery. Slim girls are lucky to find a husband.
  • When a woman gives birth, Muslim law says she must remain in bed for forty days after the birth and must only look after her baby. The other women in the house will look after the house and all the other things that need to be done. The mother must also eat more than usual after the birth, preferably sweet food, in order to fill the hole in her stomach left by the baby.

         

hopital_dzaoudzi_600

                  

  • Several people here have no idea of their age, or have arrived through clandestine immigration and have no official papers. There's a school example for this: until the age of 16, children who can prove they go to school (easily done, just call the school) can't be sent back to Anjouan (the neighbouring Comoros island, the origin of most clandestine immigration). So a child who is 16 but who looks 12 will pretend to be 12 years old in order to stay for another four years under French protection.
  • Brigitte told us about one young lady who was in hospital because she felt unwell. She wanted to get back out of hospital, but the doctors wouldn't let her out without proof of her age and identity. She said she was 12, so they asked to call her parents as she was a minor. She then said she was 16, but as that would still mean she was a minor, she was still not allowed out. So she said she was 21 and married, but by then, the doctors didn't believe her. So they talked to the administrative high-ups, and the court ordered an X-ray of the bones in her wrist to find her age. Unfortunately, the system of wrist X-rays to determine an age was designed for white Caucasian people in America, not for Bantou-originated people in Mayotte, who are geographically closer to the African skin type and bone structure. The court was not to be overruled, however, so the X-ray was done... and came back with an age of 41 years old. In under twelve hours, the girl had aged 29 years.

            

hopital dzaoudzi affiche

Sign in front of Dzaoudzi hospital: "Please do not spit in the hospital. Thank you"