Nearly on the same day after one year has passed, I drove with Fr. Ned to the family of Nengai. Her story had a happy end, which I want to share with you. My name is Florian Schneider, age 22, and a medical student from Germany. I spent one year in Ethiopia with the Spiritan missionaries. I have been working at Endulen Hospital from September 2006 to August 2007.
In the last month of my stay there I took part in one of the national Immunization Days. This meant for me to drive with the vaccination box full of antiworm medicine and Vitamin A for children under five from one Maasai encampment after another, starting from the hospital at Endulen, in the direction of Serengeti National Park. In one of the remotest Maasai villages I found Nengai, hidden by the rest of the family. Nengai, a little Maasai girl, then in the age of around four was suffered from an upper cleft pallet, meaning that speaking, eating and drinking were very difficult for her. I was able to pick her up after two weeks, as I had promised her parents. I brought her to Endulen Hospital, where she was examined from head to toe and prepared for her trip to Arusha for surgery. I was able to organize an appointment for an operation at Salien hospital near Arusha with Dutch doctors and the Flying Medical Service. Her upper cleft pallet was closed on the 26th of August. Everything went quite well. The Australian physiotherapist Sarah Wallis organized the visit of the foreign surgeon at Selian Hospital. Last week, Sarah told me that Nengai, sensitive about her appearance, had been at first surprised seeing other children with the same disability, then began to touch their lips and get to know them. It had been very important for her to find friends before and after the operation and be able to share with others that difficult and painful time. The pilots of FMS reported that her character had changed a lot for the better during that time, more than just her physical appearance. Since March 2008 Nengai has been living at the Catholic mission in Endulen and has begun to attend kindergarten at the local government primary school. She now seems to be a happy normal child, playing and attending school with the other children.
I responded to the invitation of Ned last Wednesday to look for Nengai’s mother. She and Nengai had been separated for around five months. After a long drive to the edge of the Serengeti plains, and as we neared the village, Nengai started to cry. Was she happy or scared? We were not quite sure about it. She was quiet and starred to the floor of the car. Her mother stepped through the doorway of the thorn fence, which surrounds Maasai cattle camps. Her eyes squeezed together to be able to see through the dust, which was whirled up by the stopping car. The surprise was huge, when Fr. Ned lifted Nengai out of the car, tears ran down her cheeks. More women and children were streaming out of the Boma to see, what is happening. Nengai was welcomed warmly by everybody. Among them were some very surprised looks at the huge change in the appearance of Nengai. After a while we chatted with everybody and we told them what has been happened to Nengai since their last meeting. At first they didn’t believe the story, not quit believed that such a life changing operation was possible. Her mother guided Nengai inside the Boma to her igloo shaped cow dung covered house. They came back shortly with a big white plastic bag. Nengai was carrying it proudly, because inside were presents for the school beginning next year, pens, exercise books and biscuits, which her mother collected since their separation. Nengai watched it carefully while we drove back and held it between her legs. Arriving in the evening hours in Endulen, Nengai had already been asleep on the seat of the land cruiser for hours. She still had the bag full of presents from her mother tightly grasped in her hands.
It was good, after a year to meet her mother again. It was an exciting occasion for me. Last year It hadn’t been easy to convince her parents of the operation. I had great doubts how Nengai would be received on her return. Would her family still accept her? Would she be recognized at all? How would her relatives react to Nengai after her life changing operation and her becoming a school girld? Did we/Did I make the right decision? The mother recognized me and was indeed a little annoyed, but she was put out about not knowing that we were coming for a visit, because otherwise she would have prepared something for us. She still remembered me. She still remembered all of out experiences together during the time that Nengai was undergoing her operation. She was touched and thankful in her own special way. The "Ashe naleng" (maa for "Thank you very much"), which she repeated frequently, still resounds in my ears. I got several bracelets from her, which she wrapped around my arms on her own. They are just small plastic pearls put in patterns on wires. But for me they are symbols indicating that I made the right decisions about Nengai. I’m still touched by that story and I’m pretty sure that I will never forget it. I get asked frequently, why I’m going to Tanzania/to Africa to live and work whenever I have spare time and have the necessary funding. The story about Nengai is one of the many answers.
The cost of the transport from Endulen to Arusha and back, the subsidies for Nengai and her mother during all their stays in different hospitals and not to forget the operation itself all came to about 600 Dollars, a small price to pay to transform the life of a small Maasai girl.
for Nengai to be able eat and drink without pain.
for Nengai to be able learn to speak.
for a life to Nengai.
In these thoughts…yours Florian Schneider
Till next month,