Compound life

Categories Family, Niger

It’s the hottest part of the day in Galmi, and the hospital is winding down for a few hours break.The outpatients waiting room is gradually emptying, calmer now after the packed morning. Women in bright headscarves and men in long robes are milling around, waiting for admission or treatment. The air is heavy with the smell of open wounds and brewing infections. It is a relief to feel the fresh air outside and squint into the mid day sun.

I walk back towards the compound and say hello to Issa, who works as a security guard here. He is always happy to teach me something new in Hausa. Next to the guard house is the trader shack where Ouseman and Rakia have set out piles of fruit and vegetables. Ouseman is particularly keen to make a sale. I enjoy talking to him as he teaches me some useful words. Today they teach me to greet them with “Ina kasua” (greetings at your market stall?) and laugh when I’m confused and tell them that my own market stall is going well. There are bowls of guavas, some big paw paws, eggs, tomatoes, potatoes and cucumbers. I tell them that Cathy will be back later to buy something.

Just opposite the trader shack is the compound co-op where we can buy food. It’s open two afternoons a week and is stocked with all the essentials for living here.

A gravel road leads on through the compound under big shady trees. Each step stirs up a cloud of grasshoppers that scatter in every direction. Lizards scurry about trying to catch them as they land. Some of the houses have gardeners watering vegetables or cutting down weeds, and each of them greet me in Hausa as I go past.

Our house is almost at the end of the compound, just past a little playground with some fantastically rickety swings and a squeaky merry go round. Isabel is there playing with her friend from next door, and she runs up to say hello. Our neighbours are great gardneners, and I check out the progress of the durian tree – the eighth attempt is sending up a shoot a few millimetres high. Georgi is racing back from her morning at school. She’s keen for lunch and then can’t wait to dash back for the afternoon.


Life in the compound here at Galmi has a rhythm to it. Each day there is a morning break at 10, and a longer lunch break at 1. Work finishes at around 6. On Wednesdays the team get together for cinnamon buns and good coffee at morning tea time. Tuesdays and Thursdays there are team meetings in the afternoons. Order eggs on Monday and bread on Tuesday. People come on regular days to the door taking orders for samosas, roast chickens, fried bread, tortillas, and buns. If you want meat, buy it from the back of the motorbike on Wednesday. Meet at 9 on Sunday to go to one of the local churches, then get together on Sunday evening for an English/French church service with the team.

The pattern of life here is relaxed and comfortable. The predictable rhythm counters the chaotic bustle of the hospital. The compound is like a sanctuary that makes life here sustainable. Is it too separate from the community here? I’m not here long enough to answer that, but it reminds me that my home town in Nhulunbuy is also quite like a big compound, a town set apart from the culture around it. Making strong cross cultural relationships can be a challenge, and I continue to be impressed at how the team here at Galmi continue to build bridges with those around them.

Andy is a GP obstetrician living in remote Northern Territory, Australia. He is totally outnumbered by girls in his family - one wife, 3 daughters, 2 chooks.

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