Smiles from Africa


In 2011, Daughter #1 decided to take a break for medical school, in between two residencies. Anybody who has a doctor in the family knows what a “Doctor” break means: More work. She applied to, and joined, for a year, “Médecins sans frontières”, (Doctors without borders) a French/International NGO that provides medical and humanitarian aid worldwide to victims of conflicts or natural disasters. The above photo: baby in line (on her mother’s back) for a vaccination campaign in Tchad (Chad in English?).


Young girl from a nomad tribe of Tchad. Daughter #1’s first assignment was in Tchad. I was not too happy about that. My African childhood has left me with a relatively wide knowledge of Africa. Tchad was then – and probably still is – in the middle of many armed conflicts, due to its geographical location, smack in the middle of Africa, south of Lybia, East of Niger, North of Nigeria and West of Sudan. Fortunately the mission was stationed  in the South of Chad, with relatively more security.


Young boys at a vaccination campaign, Chad, 2011. The mission was to stop a outbreak of viral meningitis. Project leader: MSF (Médecins sans frontières) teaming with WHO (World Health Organization). The meningitis outbreak in Chad could likely claim thousands of lives, if massive vaccination campaigns, funded and implemented by MSF were not carried out.


“See how brave I was? I did not cry when the nurse stuck the needle.” Chad is one of the poorest countries in the world. More than 50 years after Independence, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita (at Purchasing Power Parity) was 2,850 (International) Dollars a year, in 2016. 7 Dollars a day per person. As a matter of comparison, US GDP per capita (PPP) was $57,294.00. I will not go into the overwhelming corruption of (most) African governments. Check Transparency International corruption Index for that.


Cattle of the nomadic tribes of Chad. Suffice it to say, that without international aid, and Doctors without borders, direct, on hand action on the ground thousands would have died of meningitis. So, vaccines were bought, shipped and stored (the cold chain being a nightmare under the African sun), and vaccination campaigns were launched. (Alongside with as much immediate health care as could be provided.)


Children of the Northern nomadic tribes of Chad. Chad’s population is close to 12 million inhabitants. Birthrate is 36.6 per 1,000, as compared to 12.5 in the US. Average births per fertile woman is 6 and change. Infant mortality (under the age of one year) is 89 per 1,000 live births. Want to know the figure for the US? 6 per 1,000 live births.


Women and a young girl from one of the nomadic tribes of Northern Chad. I couldn’t tell which tribe. They would know: colour and style of the dress and headdress is generally enough.


The young man on the right has adopted a headdress style closer to the Arabic Gulf states than Africa. Fashion rules everywhere. Most Chadians in the North are moslem.


A very serious young lady. Everyone donned their best clothes to come to the vaccination rally.


A respected elder.


A shy beauty. Note the silver coins arranged as a necklace. The dowry is often invested in gold and silver to reflect the woman’s wealth and status.


Babies in Africa, as was the case in many cultures around the globe, are generally carried on their mother’s back for a long time, as much as two years or more. Makes for a closer mother-child relationship, and allows the mother to have both her hands and arms free. I’ve seen women in Africa work the fields with a hoe, the baby sound asleep on their back.


More smiles.


Not smiling. That hurt…


Smile, smile. Note the tattoos joining the eyebrows.

My heartfelt thanks to Cécile Heurtebise, the author and rightful owner of these photographs, and a colleague of Daughter #1 on the Chad mission. In addition to being a humanitarian, she is a remarkable photographer. I wish I could do such wonderful portraits. 🙂

Should you wish to learn more about Médecins Sans Fontières, who really do an amazing work, here is the link to their english page:

Thank you for traveling on Equinoxio’s Time-Space shuttle.

99 thoughts on “Smiles from Africa

    • Thanks Jenny. The photographer is really good at portraits. To get such spontaneity is a talent. (I “shy” away from people street photography. Need to work on that.) Be good.

  1. Faces can express all human feelings. It is quite amazing if you stop to think it. As if our minds and inner psychology could have an external corrolary, somehow. Excellent photographs & post. Sending love & wishing you a wonderful spring ahead! 😀

  2. My fellow commenters have said it. A wonderful post. Loved all the facts and figures to compare and the pics. The host of Equinoxio’s Time-Space shuttle wasn’t too bad either! 😉
    This time I’ll even forgive the lack of sweaty head-rest cushion used by previous traveler and absence of biscuits.

  3. Yes, Cécile’s photos are wonderful. Your article was very informative and interesting. I heard on the radio last night that there has been a breakthrough with a drug used in childbirth that used to need refrigeration. It is now formulated in a powder form that remains effective even if exposed to relatively high heat. It will save the lives of so many woman in hot countries that wouldn’t have been able to have access to the drug previously.

  4. Beautiful photos Brian (or Cécile), and greatly admire the work of MSF. You know the old saying, one photo equals a thousand words, and these speak volumes. I don’t recall where I heard it now, but I recall someone saying that if it was possible for coca cola to have a cold chain that reached into almost every village in the world, how hard could it be for medicines to do the same. Hope all well? Paul

    • Hi Paul. Glad you liked the post. Problem is (and I’ve had Coca Cola as a client for many years) they do reach every village; in Chiapas for instance they are remarkable. BUT the lorries are not refrigerated. They do install fridges in every small outlet they can. However, the problem is electricity. In the heart of Chad, power is cut sometimes many, many hours a day. So MSF, for instance needs many power generators to avoid rupture of the cold chain. And only for medicines. Not easy. 🙂

      • Indeed, Brian, no easy solutions when you’re dealing with a cold chain and inadequate infrastructure. I thought the Gates Foundation had worked on a possible solution with some big corporations, but I may be misremembering that! Great photos, compliments to the photographer. All the best, Paul

      • I will look up the Gates foundation. As I remember from my daughter’s account, MSF did manage a constant cold chain, otherwise vaccines and drugs would be lost but I remember it was a tough challenge. Take care.

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