“Alzhara, come, come. It’s urgent, “ Abdoulaye insisted that I follow him. I had been sitting in front of my Tuareg tent, busy hand washing my clothes with questionable looking marsh water. I was enjoying a day of respite from grueling, yet fascinating, days walking across vast expanses of savannah to conduct my Fulbright research in as many Fulani and Tuareg camps my feet could reach. I looked down at my clothes, shook my head realizing that they would not get clean soaking in such murk, and followed Abdoulaye to a nearby Tuareg tent.
A gaunt lady lay on the ground with closed eyes, heaving with every breath. She looked deathly ill. Seeing the fear in my eyes, Abdoulaye explained, “This is my mom, Raichatou. She hasn’t eaten for days. She can’t drink either because she vomits everything.” Because I was from the west, people took me for a doctor. Oh, how I wished I had pursued a medical degree instead of contenting myself with a master’s in public health. I minced no words, “Abdoulaye, I need to rush her to the nearest health post. I cannot treat her myself. We need to hurry, or I fear she will die before the evening sets.” “No no,” was his response, “she is afflicted with genies. Your medicine cannot save her. You must dance and sing to ward away the evil spirits. The other women aren’t allowed to dance and sing due to tradition. We are counting on you.”
Secretly, I wanted to shake Abdoulaye to reason. I took a moment to reflect. Trying to be as respectful as I could; I was, after all, a trained anthropologist that had grown up in Niger. “Ok, I will dance for your mother. But she has to take the medicine I will bring her.” I spent the rest of my day spoon feeding her oral rehydration therapy (salt and sugar water) every 15 minutes – I remembered that my dad had successfully cured my dehydrated brother this way when we were children.
Early evening, men carried Raichatou to the center of camp. I put a tape of Tuareg music in my pick-up’s stereo, and I danced. For hours, I danced and sang to the music. I danced and prayed. I repeated this process of dancing and administering ORT for three days. On the fourth day, as had become my ritual, upon waking I prepared ORT treatment and carried it over to Raichatou’s tent. She wasn’t there; I feared the worse. Abdoulaye, with a smile, took my hand in his, “Alzhara, the genies are gone, and mom is healed. She rode home on a donkey earlier this morning to my father’s camp”.