The Village Fou/Folle

Every village has a crazy person. No really…I’m serious. I spent today joking with other PCVs about their village fous/folles. The whole idea of a village idiot is very true and every village seems to have one. 

Even though these people may be amusing it’s a window on mental health care and treatment in BF. Unfortunately there is none. People with mental disorders rarely get treated. There are no mental hospitals or psychiatric wards as far as I know, maybe in Ouagadougou, but definitely not in village. Unfortunately this means that they cannot get the care they need.

The reality is that if you live in BF with a mental health disorder that you will not have the same quality of life. It’s like being dealt a bad hand…and unfortunately they cannot do anything about it and it’s heartbreaking. In my CE1 class there is this “student” Philippe. He’s not an official student or actually enrolled in the class He sits in the class. He cannot read or answer questions when he is called on. He is only there to be with the other students. The other teachers told me that if he wanders around the village during school hours he feels left out. Philippe spends most of the time sitting quietly alone in his chair and rarely speaks to other students.  It’s just sad because there are no opportunities for special education or individualized education plans. If they are academically deficient you are left behind.

Our main fou walks around barefoot, is mute, and asks for money all the time to buy cigarettes. He’s a little creepy but harmless. Every morning he goes to each quartier to ask for money.

 What’s remarkable is that even though these people are crazy, they are taken care of by the community. They might be homeless (Sans-domicile fixe/SDF en Français) but someone always takes them in. They have no money but someone always gives them food. They’re taken care of even if they don’t get any formal medical care. Villagers often ask me if there are homeless people and fous/folles in the US. And I say that there are, but they truly have no home, it’s not like the village/city/community takes them in. There might be a shelter, but that’s not even a guarantee. Unlike mentally challenged persons in the US they can always work in the fields; there will always be some place for them to go. African hospitality is truly warm and friendly. Everyone is a brother or sister, regardless if you are a fou or a folle.

One response to “The Village Fou/Folle

  1. When I got to village, one of the kids in the royal family was constantly coming over to my house, mostly just hanging out, but sometimes asking for money and other things. Several months later, he went off to Ouaga for school (taking with him my Moore bible…I never got that back). At the time, I was a bit relieved as he had mostly been over uninvited.

    It turned out things didn’t work well for him in Ouaga, so he came back about a year later. Upon returning, he was told that the servant girl who he had been fond of had gone off with an Ivoirian drug dealer. For whatever reason he was unable to process this, and so he was constantly watched and frequently had to be dragged away from the house where the servant girl had been (while harassing the new girl and calling her by the name of the old one).

    At some point, it was decided that he was legitimately crazy (fou), and the options on the table for treatment (keeping in mind that he’s a son in the royal family) were a traditional method of putting his hands and feet in stocks (or around a tree) for days until that cured him, or something involving modern medicine. They opted for the second.

    While this might seem a bit refreshing, it offered me little solace when I considered the wide range of mental illnesses corresponding to a similarly expansive and sometimes inexact range of medications. In the US. In village, it was the head nurse who diagnosed and prescribed before the order was sent off to be filled in Ouaga.

    Whatever it was “worked.” The boy was soon more calm and less emotional. He didn’t go looking for the servant girl anymore. He found faith again and practised devoutly. Many days I would now see him with sand on his forehead and parts of his body from where he would touch the ground in prayer.

    While this always struck me as a bit sad, I also realised that most “fou”s don’t get such “good” treatment.

    Mental health (anywhere) is complicated. Thanks for the blog post.

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