This morning Christy and I took Mariama for her immunizations. This is her 10 week visit—though she is actually 11 weeks old now—and so this was our third time going for immunizations.
When we went for our first visit—about two weeks after Mariama was born—to the government facility where Mariama receives free vaccinations, Christy was imagining a sharp, white-halled facility with waiting rooms like we are familiar with in the US. Since I had been there in 2007 when I received one of my final travel vaccinations—hepatitis B—I knew what to expect of the building. But both of us were in for a participatory lesson in how infant vaccinations work here.
First there were the questions of what vaccinations were available. The night before I read up online about which vaccinations would be given at which age. The “at birth” vaccinations we gave Mariama were for tuberculosis (TB) and polio. We later heard that the TB vaccination is not very effective and may cause TB tests required by some in the US to false positive. Oh well, Christy’s mom assured us it was still good for Mariama to have this one. (I think she had seen TB firsthand in children in Sierre Leone about thirty years ago.)
Also, I have learned a lot more about Polio in Nigeria. Nigeria used to have a major problem with polio. In 2012, the year we were married, Nigeria had more than half of the polio cases worldwide. However, by the month Mariama was born (July this year), Nigeria was celebrating one full year without any new polio cases. Thank God with us! So I guess Mariama is not at high risk for Polio—especially now that she has received three doses of the oral polio vaccination (OPV)
When you show up at the vaccination center you collect a card with a number—a piece of cardboard with a handwritten number—from the stack on the desk at the front of the vaccination room. If you arrive around 7:30am, you can get the number 5—we have picked up this number twice. Then you have time to explore the facilities, because the vaccinations won’t start until around 9am or so.
The building appears to my untrained eyes to date the colonial era. It is a two-story building with a long row of rooms—both upstairs and downstairs all opening directly to walkways outdoors. If you arrive by 7:30am, there aren’t many people around yet. Just one or two other mothers with their babies and the staff who have come to open the doors and sweep the facility.
Today, Christy and I entered into the courtyard behind the row of vaccination rooms to wait. I like the quiet atmosphere with mango trees and a grand old stairway leading up to the balcony of the rooms that face the inner part of the court yard. Since not many people have arrived yet, Christy and I have time to quietly talk and pray together—just the two of us and Mariama—a luxury we hardly even have in our house these days. Slowly more women began to arrive. Some young ladies seize the opportunity to sell baby items: baby clothes, diaper covers, and natural medicines like shea butter and palm kernel oils. Christy took the opportunity to buy some oils and the diaper covers—it seems we are always running out!
Around 9am suddenly it got dark and the wind started blowing. Rainy season usually ends this month, and it hasn’t rained for a few days, but we knew it would probably be good to hurry to the front of the building. It seems our timing was perfect. Just as we all reached the covered walkway in front of the building, it started to rain. It was also time to start the vaccination process.
There is a wonderful sense of belonging that comes from receiving vaccinations together with all the other women and their babies. We waited in the crowd of colorfully-dressed women and their warmly wrapped babies just outside the door. One-by-one the man at the door called out the numbers, and each woman entered and sat in rows of benches according to number—over thirty of them. I knew from a previous visit I was not to sit with Christy, so I sat in a plastic chair by the side of the room.
A woman in charge explained in English and then in Hausa how it worked: When you are called you receive your vaccination at the front right of the room—I recognized the friendly young man there who had done the vaccinations before. To the front left of the room is the table of vaccination records, which have already been processed while we waited in the courtyard. By the right of the room, was the birth certificate desk with a window opening out onto the walkway.
Speaking of birth certificates, you can thank God with us that we got Mariama’s birth certificate last time. I cannot easily explain how excited I felt the moment I held that birth certificate—about six weeks after she was born! While the woman in charge explained which vaccinations would be given where for which age groups of children, I read up on the next step in Mariama’s paperwork—her Consular Report of Births Abroad and her passport. It is amazing to have internet access right on Christy’s phone, so I could read all the details right there! It was also amazing how many documents we need. In addition to the birth certificate I am so happy to have, we also need our marriage certificate, photos of her birth, photos of us, several documents to prove we really did live in the US long enough for Mariama to be a US citizen, an application including a list of the exact dates we have been in the US… and so many other things. Please pray that we can get all these documents together in a timely way. Although I know by my own strength I may be able to gather most of the documents, I am afraid of this process taking a lot of time that could be spend on other things, and could easily get delayed.
Since we were number five, it didn’t take long for us to get our vaccinations. Mariama did very well, only crying for a little bit. Thank God for how well Mariama seems to be taking to life. Although (like all babies, even baby Jesus, I believe) Mariama does cry each day, she also shares so many smiles and lovely “talking” sounds. Thank God for the privilege to receive vaccinations for free along with so many other babies in this country. Please continue to pray to God for us and our baby to remain healthy so we can serve here!
Quick update: Mariama is crying a lot this afternoon. We think she is feeling uncomfortable after the vaccinations. We think it is just a normal minor side effect of the vaccination, but we still ask that you pray for us for wisdom and for her to recover quickly to full health.