Africa in the Heart
I have always had a desire to help others. And ever since I was a child, I always wanted to become a doctor. And when, after becoming a paediatrician, some friends offered me an experience in Africa, I accepted with enthusiasm. But I would never have thought that Africa would have entered my heart like this, marking my life in such an important way!
There is a special mood that unites people who have had the good luck to visit Africa, a "syndrome" that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The discovery of a deep sense of attachment, belonging and return to the origins, a strong call to the African land, its people, its colors. A state of mind such that in those lands - even if so remote and different from those from which we come - we feel at home, in the right place, at peace with ourselves. It is the “Longing for Africa!”
My first time in Africa was in 2010, when I chose to visit a wonderful little country: Togo. I remember very well the feeling I had as soon as I got off the plane, in the airport of Lomè. Lomè bewitched me with its colors, its noises, the liveliness of the great African metropolis. But, just out of the city, the warm air was dry and clean, so clean that I could distinguish distinctly each smell and catch the colors in all their vividness. Although I was many many kilometres from home, literally on the other side of the world, I was more calm and serene than I had ever been in my life. The feeling was that of déjà vu, as if I had already been in those places. I would have expected to feel disoriented, different and "other" in that reality, worlds apart from our West. But it was not like that, it was quite the opposite. Longing for Africa typically manifests itself when you return from a trip to Africa, and you feel a psycho-emotional discomfort, you feel inadequate and intolerant in resuming your lifestyle. Then the nostalgia for the African nature, for the days spent there, for the colours, the landscapes, the sounds, the scents and the people of the African Mother Earth. The longing has captured me and will always remain, regardless of any other destinations that I choose in the future.
I arrived in Momé-Katiohé, in the south of Togo, at a dispensary. And in this place, I was placed before the raw reality of African health. I remember one evening, sitting down outside of the maternity ward. Beside me, a woman was holding a baby. Tired face, careful eyes. She had been “released”: she had given birth for the seventh time in thirty-two years, but only the first- and last-born survived. The first was at home waiting for her; the last was in her arms, just 24 hours old. The women in Togo have between five and six children on average, and of every 1,000 born, more than 50 die (in Italy 3.5). And then I remember the evening after, the heart-wrenching song of another mother whose fate had taken her baby away from her too soon.
I can hear, even today, all the crying. The cries of sick children, of their parents, and of our despair whenever we could not save a life. But I can still clearly see every smile of a healed child, and of every parent after the fear of illness of their child has passed.
Dott. Stefano Stagi