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Annals of the Malaria War: Move over Angelina Jolie

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We’re driving on a dirt road and my interpreter, one of the friendliest guys I’ve ever met, is absorbed in a conversation with a health worker in our group. Cornfields and rice paddies paint the landscape chartreuse. Donkey carts and herds of goats swerve into the plants when we rumble past. The interpreter and the health worker don’t pause their conversation when we jerk to a stop in front of a knee-deep puddle. They continue to chat over the bumps and swerves along this muddy road on the southeastern edge of Mali.

Finally, I ask my interpreter, Sadio Sogoba, to let me in on the conversation in the Bambara language. Sadio says the health worker’s first name, Bogoba, means “a baby that is born on a very rainy day.” When Sadio had told him this, Bogoba Fafana smiled and said that no one knows what names mean anymore. In turn, he knew that Sadio means, “the brother of twins.” Sadio said that the twins died when they were very young, which was not an unusual story for Fafana to hear. But it is for me. I wrinkle my forehead, interrupt the story and say, “I’m sorry.” Sadio says, “That’s just how it was 40 years ago.” Parents in Mali commonly lose a child to malnutrition or disease now, but they lost more babies in the past. “I’m a survivor,” he laughs.

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