18. THE PERFUME HOSPITAL

With the month of March came the season of sand storms.

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Sometimes you cannot see more than three meters away, as if it you were in a fog valley, engulfed in a red cloud.

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But it is not just sand. It is the dust of the city, polluted by the expectorations of the sick and excrement from the gutters, all dried by the sun and the wind. It’s a poison that causes most of the diseases of the eyes, ears, and respiratory tract of the local people.
It is no longer possible to treat people in the tent; the hospital of the poor is no longer working. I am getting sick myself. Therefore I rented a villa, as all the NGOs do in Timbuktu, from a rich trader of the city.

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It is a very fine house. Although I paid him the full rental price, however, the owner will not allow me to use the rooms to treat people. I understand why, for certainly he fears that the patients will spit everywhere.
I myself have struggled with the spitting; the patients cough and spit anywhere. In the hospital of the poor, I filled cans with sand and asked patients to use them as spittoons; and I threatened not to treat those who spit in the sand inside the tent, where I walk barefoot and where the children play. I eventually won.
At the new location, in the end it doesn’t matter that the rooms are off-limits, because I have two porches available—one for the women and one for the men.

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Of the many people who arrive at the clinic hoping for treatment, often 10 or more at a time, I am only able to see 30 a day, because not only do I have to examine them and assess their problems, but I also have to use the needles on them and prepare their medicines.

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A crowd waits outside every day—people who come from the desert, sometimes from distant villages. The reputation of aromatherapy is now established in Timbuktu. It has succeeded where the hospital remedies have failed.

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Some days I treat only women, so that I can offer them adequate privacy during acupuncture treatment, which I haven’t been able to do until now for them.

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I cannot arrange days for men only, however, because every day women bring their children, who have absolute priority. They are always admitted first.

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On the terrace I can accommodate the sick children as long as it is in the shade. It is a space that I can use only part of the day.
There are many diseases that can be treated very easily with aromatherapy.

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And acupuncture cures the problems of the joints and the back very well.

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But there is also the disease that makes you scratch till you become crazy, the strange illness of the scalp that produces patches of pus, diseases that I had never seen before.

Don’t ask me their names; I don’t know them. I just know how to recognize them and cure them successfully with the essences of aromatherapy.

Previous episode: the lands of Bokiat
Next episode: The pool of Timbuktu

Read the whole story from the beginning: The desert wind

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