It's our second full day in West Africa and we have plenty of ground to cover. Gregoire proposes a 5:00 a.m. start and while both Serena and Dr. Benoit seem enthusiastic, I am a bit skeptical and attempt a polite demure. Gregoire softens and a more civilized time is agreed upon- 6:00 a.m.
And so it is, I am stumbling around the Center at Calavi on a Sunday morning trying not to be noticed as I peak in at the open air room where patients are gathered to sing their prayers amid their own artwork. I take several pictures and head back to where I left Serena and the good doctor only to realize I have lost them. I turn a corner to find a striking, dark elegant man buttoning his white shirt. He sits on a grand staircase, which like so many here goes apparently nowhere but up. He politely ignores my clumsy French and directs me towards my crew. I thank him and ask if I can take his picture, he agrees and sits up straight for the portrait.
Later when I share the photo with Gregoire he nods and says, "Ah yes, this is Narcisse." Gregoire says Narcisse is a man in his late 50's who for many years lived a productive life working as a chauffeur. His religion directed him to serve as an assistant to his priest. Narcisse had six children and a wife to whom he was married for many years.
But about three years ago, things began to go haywire for Narcisse. He began to confuse his identity with that of Saint Francis. As his sense of reality frayed, the lure of the biblical world grew. One day, Gregoire was called in to help by one of Narcisse's neighbors. When Gregoire found Narcisse he was naked and lying at the feet of a statue of Jesus.
Gregoire, who is a pragmatic man, and not beyond telling a small lie when it serves a greater purpose, told Narcisse that a bishop needed to speak with him immediately.
Gregoire guided Narcisse into his car and to the center at Calavi.
With therapy and medication Narcisse returned to his elegant and distinguished self, the man I met sitting on the stairs.
Narcisse's marriage however, did not survive his mental health crisis.
But today Narcisse lives and works at Calavi. He is again an engaged and active member of his community, controlling his own life and serving as an example for others who face their own mental health challenges.
He is visited regularly by his children and grandchildren.