“No is here.”
At the hospital the next day, the other Cuban doctor led me into his
office. Frowning, he asked what the problem was. He was a tall man,
thin, with sad eyes and deep creases in his forehead, one of a series of
Cuban professionals assigned to Ghana to work off a debt incurred when
the two nations were comrades in socialism. No one in Wa had any idea
what the debt involved.
This doctor spoke better English. When I explained about Jamilla,
he sent an orderly to collect her charts. After scanning the papers, he
informed me that Jamilla had been too young when she first gave birth.
Her pelvis had been too small. When she came to the hospital it was too
late. The unborn child had already died. They removed it with forceps.
That had been just over a year ago.
This second time, Jamilla had arrived bleeding heavily. Medical staff
had warned the family that the girl was high risk, that she must deliver
in the hospital because she would probably need a C-section. The family had not listened. They had kept the girl at home until she began to
He said he’d had to operate to save her life. Despair leaked out of
him. He had seen too much here. He had seen Jamilla multiplied by
hundreds. He could never go home to the place he had come from or the
person he had been.
“It’s because of poverty,” I said—Boris’s favorite mantra.
We lapsed into an extended silence. Outside on the hospital walkway, sellers were hawking oranges, melon, rice with pepper sauce. People
“The girl,” I reminded the doctor. “She is just a child.”
There was too much blood, he lamented. He’d had to remove her
uterus to save her life. And the baby was dead. Jamilla had now devel-
oped a serious infection. They had tried every antibiotic on hand. Noth-
ing worked. Each day she grew weaker. They didn’t know which organ-
ism was causing the trouble. The West Germans had presented them
with a state-of-the-art laboratory, but this jewel of foreign aid had come
without technicians or instructions. No one in Wa knew how to operate
I pressed. Surely something could be done?
He shrugged. There was a laboratory in the old Catholic Mission
Hospital at Jirappa, forty miles north on a bad road. They might be able