Friday, 26 June 2009

Two French Musicians in Fez: Les Frères F. Toussaint meet the Hamadcha brotherhood

Julien and Manu, a.k.a the F. Toussaint Brothers, friends from our hometown Nancy, are currently in residence at Dar Batha (the French Institute of Fez).
And yesterday we saw the result of this encounter.
Hamadcha danse and music, mixed with Manu's bass and Julien's crazy percussion.

Great night.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Two Weeks in a Moroccan Public Hospital: Bachir's Story

Bachir was at the hospital. His mother and Aziz, his friend since he was a child, had managed to get him to Fez.
But there, nothing could be done for him. The doctors were helpless, because they didn't have the equipement to diagnose him. He needed to be transferred to Rabat, the faster the better.
Fred spent the entire afternoon at the hospital, waiting for a vacancy in Rabat.
An ambulance finally came to get Bachir. Aziz was the only one who could stay with him in the vehicule. In poor Moroccan families, men are the ones who accompany the sick. Women stay home, and wait. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for Bachir's mom. She went back to Ouled Tahar, alone. And waited.

We had been told that Rabat public hospital was the biggest hospital of Morocco.
We knew that Rabat was a modern city, much more modern than Fez, a very traditionnal city.
In the car, on our way to the capital, we were hopeful. We were very relieved to leave Fez.
And we pictured the hospital in Rabat bigger than the one in Fez, with more nurses, with better equipement, and more dignity for the patients.

Oh my, were we wrong.

We understood it as soon as we entered the hospital.

 photo : ortizmj12

No nurse, except for a very old man, who just stood there, in the neurological ER – where Aziz had been waiting for us, trying to calm Bachir down, who was delirious with pain.
Only one doctor in the ER – who had to admit the patients, diagnose them, decide what to do with them, and, and, perform surgery on the patients.
No phone in the ER. I mean, no phone for the ER staff – that was a staff of three. The doctor on call, the old nurse, and the « surveillant ». So, when we were told by Hugues, the doctor, that Bachir needed to go to a private hospital to have a echography of his heart, the « surveillant » had to use a payphone outside the hospital.
No pharmacy, and no medication available in the whole hospital. When we got back from the private hospital, at 2 am, after having dismissed the hypothesis of a heart malformation, Bachir was in extreme pain, completely delirious. Since he left Fez, at 4 pm, nobody had given him any painkiller. So Fred had to go, in the middle of the night, in a city we didn’t know, find a pharmacy on call – twice, because the first time the doctor made a mistake in the prescription.

And at 3 am, Bachir was finally admitted in the neurology department.
Where there were no sheets on the beds. No pillows. No doctor.
Moldy walls.
Bachir got a half broken bed – and he was dangerous, in his delirium. He moved a lot, wanted to get off the bed.
The nurse tied him the broken bed with some bandage.
Didn’t give him any medication.
Had to wait for the on call doctor to authorize a sedative injection.
(But he was downstairs, remember, with a dozen patients, and with an operating room to take care of).
So we got angry. Bachir too, in a way. Half an hour later, the insults he was screaming made the nurse give up and she gave him the sedative.

We left Bachir at this point, because there was nothing more that we could do.
The arteriography was scheduled for the next morning.
It almost didn’t happen, because a nurse who fed Bachir with some yogurt when he wasn’t supposed to eat anything for the procedure.
I can’t tell you how much we were angry at this point.
But the doctor told us not to tell anybody about the yogurt. And the arteriography went well.
36 hours after Bachir had the stroke, we finally had a diagnosis – a malformation in his brain had provoked the bleeding. Hugues was optimistic.

The worse in the Moroccan public health system is the solitude.
Nobody comes to you to see if you need something. You just wait, and wait, and wait. To get someone to help you you need to insist and threaten. Most of the people we’ve seen at the hospital are just resigned. A co-worker told me that the patients are afraid of the doctors won’t take care of them if they get angry. Corruption is very strong in Moroccan hospitals – drugs get stolen, some doctor will only perform surgery if you bribe them. The system is very sick.

And you’d better not be alone, or poor, when you have an accident in Morocc.
You can’t get an examination or an operation if you don’t pay first.  In France, the health system is great in comparison. Health insurance is free for those who can't afford it. 
Oh, of course, it’s free to a certain extent too in Morocco. That is, most of the population is considered to be « indigent », and « indigents » don’t pay for consultations or operations. But they still need to pay for the material. And that is very expensive.
So if you have no money, I guess you can just die in the ER.
We were so glad we went to Rabat with Bachir. We payed, he got what he needed.

In Morrocan hospitals, the patients are always accompanied by a family member, who literaly lives by their beds. Since the nurses don’t give medication or wash the patients, families are the real nurses. What would happen to somebody who doesn’t have family ? Or whose family lives far away ?

Aziz spent 17 days at the hospital, in Bachir’s room. He gave Bachir his medication. He kept him clean, walked him to the bathroom, fed him. He held Bachir when he was delirious – most of the nights. He slept in his friend’s bed, because there was nothing else available for him. He bought the medication and talked to the doctors.

Imagine how brave is Aziz. He didn’t sleep much during those two weeks, because of Bachir’s screams and pain. He barely got out of the hospital, except to buy Bachir’s medication and some yogurts. Just try to imagine. The room with four patients, and their sons or fathers. The small bathroom. Bachir screaming all night, waking everybody in the service.

Bachir and Aziz

That makes me so angry. Because everything is not so bad in those hospitals. The machines they use are modern – when you finally get to the point that they , after hours, or days. The rooms are big and bright. But they desperately need some makeover.
The doctors are competent. The nurses too, probably. But they are overwhelmed, lack of everything. Helpless. The budget of public hospitals in Morcco is way too low.

And I know that we didn’t see the darkest side of the system, because we’re French, and that Bachir beneficiated from some kind of affirmative action just because we were with him.

Bachir is getting better and better. It’s incredible, considering how he was just after the stroke. Sometimes though, he looks like a child, is scared of the dark, he who usually is so strong and so brave. We don’t know if he’ll be able to work again.
And. He is absolutely convinced that he spent four months at the hospital.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Life in a small village in Morocco : Bachir's story

You know Bachir.

Or maybe not yet.

He's our friend, and he takes care of our house. We've know him since he was14. At the time we hired him, along with his mother, to make the white rendering of the room that is today our office. Yassine, who is responsible for our coming to Ouled Mgatel in the first place – his family comes from the douar – introduced him to us. We trusted him at once, and, with Fouad, our neighbor's son, he became the proud keeper of our mudbrick house – but also a worker, a gardener, and even sometimes a cat-sitter.


Photo Gabriel Feret

Bachir's family is one of the poorest of Ouled Tahar, the douar where he lives, near Ouled Mgatel.

His father is more that seventy years old, his mom works all day, keeping the house clean and fixing things, cooking, baking bread, going to gather twigs for the oven and food for their animals. She is from the Rif mountains, and her family still lives there. They have more money that her husband's family, but they barely give her anything. Just big bags of olives that she brings from the north every once in a while.


You've already seen Smaïn, Bachir's little brother. They also have a big brother, who left for Casablanca, hoping to find more money and a better life, and who watches car for a living.

On the far left, Bachir's brother Mohammed

Bachir is the one that brings money to the family– his brother contributes too I guess, but he's not often here. Thanks to Bachir, the family was able to buy a cow. He ears some money with the job he has in our house, and we've always helped him when he needed medication for his mom, or when he couldn't reimburse his loan.

Smaïn is still too young to work in the fields, and their dad is too old to do anything else than going to the well to get water, with the donkey.

In this area – Ouled Jamaa, near Fez -, where life is hard for everybody, Bachir is one of the less lucky. A family that don't have any piece of land. A big brother who lives in the big city, and a dad too old to feed his family. At 19, Bachir is responsible for his family – I say 19, even though on his ID card it's written that he was born in 1981. That often happens in Morocco, and it doesn't surprise anybody, because a lot of people simply don't know which year they were born in.

How to describe Bachir ? As a very reliable young man, strong, smart, who didn't have the chance to go to school – Fouad did, and he can read. That makes a huge difference in his life. Bachir is rarely in a good mood when he wakes up. It used to make us laugh, last year, when we were doing some work in the house. He would open the door without knocking, not look at us, mumble « sabah el khir », (good morning), and make some tea. After a few hours of work, and after smoking some kif, he would become more friendly, would smile, and lunch would always be jokes and laughter, with Fred and Fouad.

Unfortunately, we don’t know if he'll be himself again. Six weeks ago, after a hard day of making mudbricks with Aziz and Fouad, he said having a headache, and collapsed on the ground. A few hours later, in Fez, the doctors began suspecting he had a stroke.

In my next post, I’ll tell you about the awful night we spent in Rabat with him, desperately trying to get a diagnosis, and medication.

Just know that, today, Bachir is much, much better. After more than 2 weeks in the hospital, he came back home, to his family. Even if he’s still very weak, he can walk and speak. Maybe some day we’ll get the old Bachir back. Maybe.


Saturday, 6 June 2009

A mudbrick house in Morocco: waiting for the summer

Here are a few more pictures of our Moroccan mudbrick house, that Fred took the last time he was there.
Where you'll see that we have a lot of mud bricks (the boys have been working very hard).

And we'got thousands of ideas for a new and improved house.

We've realized that we just can't live in the house full time. We need more power, for the computers, and a good internet connexion -we have a secret plan to make the electric company come to us, but I have no idea when (and if) it will happen. As a result of the flood, that destroyed the two dirt roads leading to Ouled Mgatel, we haven't spent a single night in the house since October (I think). And right now that it won't rain for a few months, spending the night there would mean to go camping in the house (no water - the pump broke, a dirty and collapsing bathroom). After the long months of sleeping in a crappy hotel, I don't to live in those conditions - Fred might try, but I'm sure he would give up too...
Bachir and Fouad took care of the house, sleeping there every night.

So this cannot go on. So we decided to build another room or two, so that the boys can have their privacy, put their stuff, and, last but not least, have some private time away from their families (they don't have a room for themselves in their houses - they sleep with their brothers and their dads).

Here we are. Waiting for July. A lot of plans, but not very much money or very much time to make them happen right now.

Just a lot, a lot of mud bricks.