Life and Death in Kolofata: An American Doctor in Africa

Life and Death in Kolofata: An American Doctor in Africa

Life and Death in Kolofata: An American Doctor in Africa

Life and Death in Kolofata: An American Doctor in Africa


When Dr. Ellen Einterz first arrives in the town of Kolofata in Cameroon, the situation is dire: patients are exploited by healthcare workers, unsterilized needles are reused, and only the wealthy can afford care. In Life and Death in Kolofata: An American Doctor in Africa, Einterz tells her remarkable story of delivering healthcare for 24 years in one of the poorest countries in the world, revealing both touching stories of those she is able to help and the terrible suffering of people born in extreme poverty. In one case, a 6-year-old burn victim suffers after an oil tanker tips and catches fire; in another story, Dr. Einterz delivers a child in the front yard of her home. In addition to struggling to cure diseases and injuries and combat malnutrition, Einterz faced another kind of danger: the terrorist organization Boko Haram had successively kidnapped foreigners from Cameroon, and they had set their sights on the American in Kolofata. It would only be a matter of time before they would come for her.

Tragic, heartwarming, and at times even humorous, Life and Death in Kolofata illustrates daily life for the people of Cameroon and their doctor, documenting both the incredible human suffering in the world and the difference that can be made by those willing to help.


For us, there is only the trying.
The rest is not our business

T. S. Eliot

When at last they came for us, we were not there. There were over two hundred of them, dressed in baggy trousers and unbuttoned camouflage shirts over singlets smudged with dirt and drenched with sweat. They rode into town aboard white Toyota pickup trucks and Chinese motorcycles, and they brandished rocket launchers, RPGs, and AK47s. It was a predawn Sunday: July 27, 2014, the last day of the holy month of Ramadan.

Friends later described to us what happened. Screaming, “Allahu akbar!” over and over again and firing into the air, they shouted orders and demanded in Hausa, Kanuri, and broken English: “Where is Amadou Ali? Where are the American doctors?”

Myra and I, the American doctors (though Myra was neither American nor a doctor), had been living under military guard for fifteen months, going little more than from house to hospital, hospital to house, always with an armed escort. Boko Haram, the terrorist organization whose name in local parlance meant “Western education is sin,” had been successively kidnapping foreigners from our part of northern Cameroon—a French family of seven, a French priest, a Canadian nun, two Italian priests, ten Chinese road workers—and we had known for a long time that we were on their list.

As it happened, Amadou Ali, a native son of Kolofata who by this time was Cameroon’s vice prime minister, was still traveling up from the capital, Yaoundé, for the holiday. His wife, twenty-year-old son, and extended family members had preceded him and arrived in Kolofata the night before. Myra and I had recently departed for our biennial visit to our families in North America.

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