Indivisible and indispensable
“Everybody—from the border of Mali, all the way to Dakar—knows my son.”
Daouda’s father is a tall, articulate Senegalese man who lives with his family in a small town on the Malian border. His son, now fourteen years old, first noticed a benign tumor on his left upper jaw when he was six.
The tumor started small — they all do — but by the time I met him it had grown large enough to interfere with the way he spoke and how much he could eat.
It’s a benign tumor, but that’s just a technicality. The larger it grows, the more it will interfere with the basic things Daouda has to do to live. Soon enough, it’ll grow large enough to block his breathing.
Daouda’s father knows this. And of course he does: he sees his child’s face every day. The boy has grown increasingly isolated, and increasingly ostracized. People don’t look him in the eye, they look him in the tumor.
The problem is, it isn’t easy to find treatment for his son’s condition where he lives. He’s been trying for eight years.
His first stop was at the health posts near him, but they weren’t equipped to offer the sort of treatment Daouda needed. They sent him to Tambacounda, the Senegalese city nearest him, about 150 km away. No luck there, either.
Five hundred kilometers separate Tambacounda from Dakar, Senegal’s capital. The road skirts a couple of national parks as well as the country’s border with The Gambia. It passes by several other health posts and at least one other regional hospital. Daouda’s father knows them all, and they all know Daouda.
The night before Daouda’s surgery, as his father is telling me the story of his eight-year search for surgery, he says he made the 650-kilometer journey between his home and Dakar half a dozen times, visiting “every single hospital” in the capital city. “And my house is ruined.”
Over the eight years of trying (unsuccessfully) to get care for his son, Daouda’s father spent six million CFA, the equivalent of about $10,000.