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Thursday, July 15, 2010

La Lutte Contre le Paludisme

“Forum International des Parlementaires d’Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre en vue d’Acceler l’Atteinte des Objectifs dans la Lutte Contre le Paludisme”

= “International Parliamentarian’s Forum for West and Central Africa to Accelerate the Attainment of Malaria Control Objectives”

= “The Malaria Forum”

The past few weeks have been fully dedicated to getting prepared for this 3-day monster of a forum.

My first official duty was taking on the task of compiling an Excel worksheet of all the RSVPs from the West and Central African participating parliamentarians. This singular worksheet took me a whopping six hours to complete. Between trying to decode the hand-scribbled version of the RSVP list, emailing the listed National Assembly representatives that from what I’d deciphered had not yet RSVPed, calling these same representatives’ offices, and then continuing to call their offices in 20 minute increments because they were at a World Cup party, it was quite an endeavor.

After such a week of frantic last minute preparation, at last Tuesday rolled around to start “rolling back malaria.”

Professionally, I was totally ready. In addition to finally finishing my cumbersome Excel sheet, I had compiled all of the parliamentarians’ powerpoint presentations, had translated a number of them from English to French and vice versa, and had even laid out my most professional outfit.

Personally, I was exhausted. Not only from my new nemesis Excel, but from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” I had dumbly stayed up until 2:30AM Tuesday morning finishing the graphic Swedish thriller novel, and had to wake up at 6:30AM to get going for our big anti-malaria show.

When we arrived at 8:30AM, I had to get some caffeine in me. Tea time wasn’t scheduled until after the welcome remarks. Rough start.

My colleague Djiba represented our program, “Voices,” on the stage and began her welcome speech in French, then switched to English to kindly, although confusingly, add: “Some of you may be English speaking, but we are the African continent, and we are all African here.”

She then starts talking about the reason we are all here today: “la lutte contre le paludisme” which means, quite literally, “the fight against malaria.” Packs a little punch to it. Yet when I was translating a few paragraphs for a presentation with my dear friend Google translate, it came up as “malaria control.” Not as much punch, although as I would find out, much easier to type.

There had to only be about five other people on stage, but their personal thanks to the crowd took at least a full hour. All fifty of the parliamentarians plus an additional fifty or so extras made up of our staff, malaria programmers of Mali, and some of the parliamentarian’s personal body guards, then passed around a mic for individual introductions.

Taken just before my camera completely lost its picture-taking capabilities:

It was becoming a challenge to keep my eyes open.

Right at my breaking point, we got our Lipton tea, Nescafe coffee, tamarind + ginger juices, and mingling break. Individuals representing their countries in the most vibrant clothes all sipped and snacked together. The outfits ranged from a pair of men’s bright red silk pants to another man’s bright red fez to the ancient head wrap that even covered the chin and mouth of an African-Arab representative, with individuals decked in traditional Mali patterns among them.

The first presentation for the parliamentarians was given by Dr. Malle, who joked about being limited to 10 minutes, which meant that the old man was going to take his sweet time. The only thing I really understood were the charts he added to his densely worded powerpoint on “la lutte contre le paludisme” (still packing punch). Of interest is the fact that Rwanda had made the most progress in devoting more than 15% of national GDP to health, an amount previously determined by the “Alma Ata” agreement. Of particular interest is the fact that Rwanda's progress consequently ensures that 70% of its population sleeps under insecticide-treated bednets.

By this point, my Lipton tea coupled with my ginger juice had gotten me going. I was running up and down the aisles making sure the presentations were on the main computer connected to the projector, recording the presentations on my camera, and jotting down notes. The next presentation on why women and children should sleep under mosquito nets flew by, and I listened intently while typing fiendishly.

Lunch came around, where I opted for "bissap"/hibiscus juice and for an extra jolt, coffee. I wasn’t going to let “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” win this "fight against fatigue."

The presentations recommenced and Joy Phumaphi stole the show. It’s hard to imagine show-stopping for malaria, but this woman has a way of commanding a room. I thought at one point all 100 of us were holding our breath just to make sure nothing would interrupt her. She delivered a very powerful message: how manufacturing anti-malarial products, like bednets, insecticide, and anti-malaria drugs, can enable countries to decrease import costs, eliminate taxes on the products, and reap not only health but also economic benefits.

Her presentation was the highpoint for me because of her inspirational words, and because it was the last presentation in English. I was stuck wearing painful earphones listening to painful translations the rest of the day.

With help from the melange of caffeinated and highly sugared beverages I had been ingesting, I typed every word down coming out of those headphones. I wanted to have the opportunity to make sense of the content later, when I was no longer in an exhausted, jittery state, and at last free from the Frenglish babble being fed into my brain.

Throughout the day, I had been working closely with Tina, a Spanish firecracker who had been sent from Johns Hopkins in the states to help us with the forum. She had been preoccupied with ensuring the day ran smoothly, and had been delegating tasks to me.

She took notice of how quickly I had been typing, and officially gave me the job of secretary.

This duty would not have been an issue had the presentations been in English, but again this is French we’re talking, with an at-times nonsensical English translation.

After rereading my typed work during one of these bizarrely translated presentations, I decided I should try my hand at typing everything down in French. Yet as you can see from the title of the forum, while French may be considered more romantic than my native language, it sure is a hell of a lot more annoying to type.

Eventually, I had typed “la lutte contre le paludisme” a few too many times. It wasn’t packing punch anymore, and no amount of caffeine could motivate me to go back and add the French accents where they were desperately needed.

I made the decision to return to the head-squeezing headphones, and typed the best form of English translation Mali had to offer.

From prep to end time, in my personal "lutte contre le
forum" on "la lutte contre le paludisme," I most surely lost. Any language you translate it.

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These blogs are written on personal accounts and opinions of my near and far away adventures, so far. They do not in any way reflect the thoughts and opinions of the organizations with which I work.

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