Recently I’ve formed a new habit.
Any time Mamie or Tantie complains of an ailment, I pipe up, “I have something you can take for that!”
First it was Mamie with her constant stomach problems. After finding her moaning on the couch post-meal one too many times, I plied her with charcoal tablets to absorb whatever bad stuff she had eaten. Another day I gave her some of my “gluten defense” pills, just in case it’s gluten intolerance she’s suffering from. A third time, I handed over a full sheet of Pepto-Bismol chewables. And she knows where I keep my Immodium, just in case she ever needs it.
Then Tantie started complaining about an on-again off-again cold. I asked her if she thought it might be allergy-related and when she said, “Maybe,” I encouraged her to try my Claritin. And I assured her that if her sniffles made it hard to get to sleep she could always take one of my Nyquils.
Today Mamie came home squealing in anguish after a teeth-whitening session. No sooner had I read online that Aleve could be used to relieve the pain, than I jumped up and headed for my bulging medicine bag. “I’ve got that!” I cried triumphantly while holding the bottle aloft.
That was the moment I realized I have a problem.
You can walk into any Senegalese pharmacy and buy a bunch of powerful medicine for which you’d need a prescription in the United States. But the Senegalese don’t seem to use drugs with the frequency that Americans do. I’ve noticed this even when it comes to stimulants as mild as tea and coffee. While I refuse to do anything before I have my espresso, the Senegalese get on with their caffeine-free lives, drinking nothing but attayah – green tea – at midday, and impotent cafe touba in the morning and evening. They don’t seem to medicate stomaches, headaches, or colds – at least not the people I’ve met (admittedly a small sample size). My host family didn’t even have a thermometer when I wanted to take my temperature last week.
I consider myself a drug-averse individual, and yet I just counted all the drugs I came armed with to Senegal, plus the ones I have picked up here in Dakar, and the grand total is 21. I have more drugs here than underwear.
But the stockpile itself isn’t what bothers me. When it comes to my own usage, I’ve only taken a handful of drugs since arriving, and I keep the rest around only in case of emergency. What’s disturbing is how I’m all too enthusiastic about pushing them on everyone else, even when they are barely called for. I get this gleeful feeling every time I put drugs into someone’s hands, as though I am a caped superhero bearing otherwise-elusive pain relief. My self-worth shouldn’t come from perceiving myself as a helper, and my self-perception as a helper certainly shouldn’t come from offering controlled substances to people.
So, for my personal psychological growth if nothing else, as of today I’m imposing a moratorium on offering unsolicited drugs to others. Let them sneeze, let them grip their stomachs, let them knead their foreheads – unless they come to me asking for the drugs by name, Ruth’s American medicine chest is now off-limits to everyone but myself.
Addendum: I wrote this post and then went downstairs to eat dinner before actually posting it. Within a three-minute span of time, Mamie came back from the hair salon and reported that the Aleve had miraculously taken away all her tooth pain, and Tantie breezed in to tell me that my allergy pills “worked really well” and that she feels “much better.” It may be too late to cut off their supply… Looks like I’ve already created two monsters.
[Photo: Steven Depolo]