Thursday, May 21, 2009
I had a great last few days in Dhaka, hosted by the wonderful Margarita of Save the Children, in her beautiful home bedecked by artifacts from around the world. I visited Shishu (meaning children or baby) Hospital, the largest pediatric hospital in Bangladesh, and had the opportunity to see where the swabs taken from umbilical cords of babies in Sylhet, came to be tested. The lab was interesting, though most of the explanations I received about testing processes and the chemistry behind diseases left me wishing that I had held onto the stuff I learned in my high school science courses a little better.
After visiting the lab, I followed a group of med students to the NICU where I saw the tiniest babies ever. From what I understood of the lecture the professor was giving, the students were learning how to tell the gestational age of a baby when there was no way of knowing how many months pregnant the mom had been when she delivered. We went around and tested little reflexes and listened to heartbeats. I tried to smile at the mothers and grandmothers, and found that they were kind and friendly despite how tired and worried they must have been. One mother handed me her baby to hold, and I held him carefully, amazed at his alert and sparkling eyes. He almost fit into the palm of my hand.
I was told that babies are often born early because the mom is malnourished, very young or old, or works too hard. In the hospital the baby mortality rate is around 2 out of 10, but outside the hospital it can be closer to 4 out of 10, especially in rural areas.
I felt that the visit needed a little digesting, but in a city so full and exciting it was hard to take a breath and think. I saw the equivalent of Times Square in Dhaka and marveled how such wealth and poverty could be so entangled. I went swimming at the American club, where beautiful flowers practically poured off rooftops and I could have ordered a hamburger and fries (I ordered a falafal, and laughed when it looked like one -in pita bread and all- but tasted exactly like the fried squash patties that Kahala had made for me at the guest house.)
The flight home was long, but I was blessed to have the best traveling companion ever for the 13 hour flight from Dubai to New York. His name was Amber and he was one of the 40 10-13 year old Indian students who were on my plane headed for NASA Space Camp in Huston, TX. He was so thrilled to be headed to New York, in love with the in-flight phone that allowed you to call other seats, highly amused by the Hindi-dubbed version of The Incredibles, and terrified of any and all food items offered to him. He had no problem climbing over me to look out the window or over the poor fellow on the aisle to go visit his friends. Best of all, he liked to tell jokes that made no sense. We had a great time.
I was picked up at the airport by my wonderful father early in the morning and arrived back in East Chatham to 20 little lambs and lilac bushes in full, glorious bloom.