Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tatu vs. The Thorazine

          I have to go back to CEPIMA--the mental health center where Kahambu was transferred after FEPSI--to pay la facture, even though her condition only got worse there and god only knows what other things might have happened to her.
          This time, when I'm there I am able to look around and notice the other people wandering through the omnipresent dirt.  Before, I was always moving quickly, with Kahambu in my head and the worry I had for her blinding my peripheral vision.  Now I can look into the faces of the other patients and see a different kind of hot pepper.
          When I step in through the brown metal gate once again, a young psychologist shows me into a different closet sized room where a nurse in a white coat is counting pill bottles and writing numbers on a tablet of paper.  Next to her on a small wooden bench sits an overweight girl with a purple dress on and eyes that cross in the middle.  Her eyes cross each other but there is no focus in either.  I immediately recognize the stupor as a brain fried on psychotropics; the zombie gaze is horrifying.
    -What medication is she taking and how much?  I've asked this question before and have yet to receive a definitive response.
    -Beaucoup des medicaments.
    -But how much and what kind?
    -I don't know.  Several types and a lot of each type.
    -It's way too much, why are you giving her that much medication?
          I'm not a psychiatrist or a Doctor, but it's clear her brain is exploding in some type neurotransmitter overload.  The nurse shrugs her shoulders.
    -She has a psychological illness, she says and continues with her work.
          I watch the girl's blank stare for a few minutes, not knowing what to do with the lack of humanity in her face.  Another short and stubby girl meanders in with the same greasy face and blank expression.  She tries to say something but the weight of the medication makes it difficult for her to even open her mouth, let alone form a complete sentence.  She has excess saliva poised on the edges of her mouth and it only accumulates as she moves her lips.  When she finally succeeds, the words she says don't make any sense.  The first woman is still sitting silently, staring off in two different directions.
          They remind me of the pictures and films I watched in various psychology classes of the mental institutions and practices in the States before patients were treated as humans.  The wandering zombies from those outdated Psych films look just like these patients.  I've fallen into 1938 and horrifying doesn't quite capture it.  It's unsettling in a way that's difficult to pin down.
          Psychology seems to be a new fad in Eastern D.R. Congo, yet not one person has given me an actual diagnosis when I've inquired about what illness a patient is suffering from.  The responses are confined to maladie psycologique, traumatizée and simply fou--crazy.  It makes me want to start shovelling all of the white pill bottles into my bag and burn them; anything to put a little human back into these faces.  Outside a young boy who greeted me enthusiastically when I came in is singing loudly in a hoarse, monotone voice that I'm sure he has been using in this manner all day.  The girl who seems to have forgotten how to swallow wanders out slowly without changing her expression.  The nurse tells me that the cross-eyed girl still remaining is named Marie.
    -Hello, good day to you, my name is Tatu, and you are?
          Another young woman, about my age comes in.  She has the unfocused look of the other patients but her English is hsarp and she says the words with attitude.
    -Amy, like Emai.
    -Like Emai?  My sister's name is Emai, she switches into French.  My sister lives in Beni.
          Tatu stops quickly and glares at me as if deciding whether or not she wants to give me the privilege of speaking with her.  She has a thin frame and a beautiful, wide face and 5 inch long hair shooting off of her head in random directions making her look like a fourth of July fireworks display.  I'm quite certain she is Rwandan; Rwandans--according to some--are the most beautiful women in Africa.  Tatu is very beautiful and looks a lot like Sonya, my prostitue friend in Beni who I remember vividly for grabbing my boob.
          Tatu comes to a decision.
    -I'm sick, she says shoving Marie down the bench with her hips.  Marie moves as if someone else is sliding her down the bench with a remote control.
    -I have a psychological problem.  Here, read my report.
          She hands me two pages written in completely illegible French.
    -I'm sick all the time.  These people are supposed to help me, she nods slowly in the direction of the nurse, but I don't see anything happening.
          The nurse next to me chuckles and continues working.
    -Ca me fait mal, Tatu continues.  It hurts to be sick all the time.  It hurts my heart.
          The nurse nods in agreement but doesn't take her eyes from her writing.
    -Look at my wounds.  Tatu lifts her shirt sleeve proudly to reveal a large wound that's only partially healed.  The scab is so thick it's pitch black.  She shows me more healing wounds on her feet and arms.
    -What are they from?  I ask, expecting the usual of soldiers or a motorcycle.
    -She gets in fights with people in the city, the nurse cuts in.  She's always fighting people.
          Tatu is still brandishing her wound proudly.  I laugh.  If things were a little bit different I think she and I would be great friends.  I like her spirit.  It's battling the medication and winning beautifully.
          She gets up suddenly and takes a fighting stance just outside of the little closet room.
    -Come on, fight me.
          I lean backwards, afraid she'll throw a punch without my consent for a fight.
    -No, thank you.  You'll win.  I'm afraid to fight you because you'll win.
          I inflate her ego to appease her, and speak completely honestly at the same time.  She would kick my ass.  She's content with my admission of her supiriority, shrugs her shoulders and re-enters the closet.
    -I have two....She says in English but trails off searching for the next word.  She grabs her sagging left breast suddenly and shakes it at me.
    -Children, I fill in, laughing along with the nurse.  Tatu's English is surprisingly better than almost any I've heard from a local Congolese person, though I highly doubt she finished secondary school.
          Another young woman comes to the door, carrying a basin filled with empty plastic pitchers.  She doesn't have the glossy haze in her face so I know she's an employee not a patient.
    -Greet her, Tatu exclaims with sharp lucidity and an eager smile.
    -Wahay, I say more as a reflex than anything else.
          Suddenly, Tatu leans over and picks up a yellow plastic thermos from the bin the woman was carrying.  She leans forward mechanically and hands it to me with all presence of self now gone from her face.  Her eyes look through me.  Her spirit can't always win against medicine like Thorazine, which is one of the most zombie-efficient psychotropics.  The battle inside of her is turning her soul in to a light-switch.  I take the empty thermos and place it on the table next to me, thanking her profusely, trying to pull her personality out once more.
          Her eyes drop down to an envelope she's been holding and she begins pulling torn advertisments out with the motions of a disenchanted robot.
    -Olive, she says.
          She hands me an advertisement with Olive written in cursive next to a near-naked woman.  It's a piece of a cardboard box of soap.  One of the other nurses ocmes in with my change from la facture.  I thank her and get ready to leave, but Tatu resurfaces.
    -You know, my husband lives close to here.  Right around there.
          She motions vaguely with her hand.  Her eyes are slightly sharper again; Tatu: 2, Thorazine: 1.
    -His name is Krishnu.  Do you know him?  Do you know Krishnu?
    -No, I don't know Krishnu, sorry.  He lives near here?  Do you see him sometimes?
    -See who?
          She's losing.
    -Krishnu.  Your husband.  Yes?  He lives near her?
          Her face goes dark.  She doesn't respond but glares at me.  I must have mispronounced something.
    -Krishnu is your husband, yes?  He lives near here?
          I try to slowly retrace our route and re-establish her connection with sense.  She got lost in the tunnel and I need to show her the way back.  Her face gets even darker and she crosses her arms across her chest.
    -My husband's name is Roger, she says.
          This is going nowhere.  I don't know how to stop her anger when it doesn't link with the thoughts behind it.
    -You just said your husband's name was Krishnu, and now his name is Roger?  What are you talking about?
          Marie's body doesn't move when she speaks, nor do her criss-crossed eyes.  But she speaks the words with perfect clarity.  I almost fall off of my chair.  She has clearly been following the entire conversation, even the moments when Tatu disappeared.
    -You--I start to ask her if she speaks, but obviously she does.  She continues staring at two different spots on the wall.
    -Yeah, says Tatu.  Kri-sh-nuuuuu.  He lives around the corner.  See him all the time.
          And she's back.  I wonder if Krishnu exists, or is simply a part of the Tatu that needed medication in the first place.  The boy outside is still croaking out his toad song.
    -I have a husband named Jean-Louis, says Tatu.
          Now I'm wondering if her freedom from CEPIMA plus her illness equal prostitution.  It wouldn't be abnormal.
    -First his name is Krishnu, then Roger, now Jean-Louis.  Make a decision, you're crazier than me.
          Again, I'm not expecting Marie's mental presence and my mouth physically falls open.  The Marie inside of her is battling too;  the Marie that wins is just a bit more shy than Tatu.  I notice that it's getting slowly darker so I have to leave immediately.
    The past Thursday and Friday a student was assassinated by the police, one each night.  They were stopped on their way home and asked for money.  When they weren't able to procure the few dollars, each was shot in the head and left in the road for someone to find the next day.  The other University students have been 'revolting' for two days--but only during the day--putting up barricades in the road and demanding money in a frightening mob mentality sort of way.  The students are demanding money so they can buy enough gas to transport the bodies to the cemetery.
          Stores have been closed and people have been running in crowds into alleys when possible student sightings arise.  I drive home on my shiny new motorcycle quickly, in order to avoid the possibility of sad and angry, thus out of control students, but I have a bit of a smile on my face the whole way.   Tatu and Marie are still fighting.

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