Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I came into the common area and someone asked what I was smiling about. "I just got off the phone with my mom," I said, "Have you talked to your parents lately?"

"I called them last week, but I don't think I'll call again for a while. I only talked for ten minutes and it was almost six dollars."

I nodded, but I didn't understand, and wished there was a way to explain that talking with your mom is priceless.

Thanks for Asking

Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

"Hey, hello!"


"Are you a loose woman?"

"Uh, no, not really."

"Okay, have nice evening!"

At least they're direct.

Hands On Care

Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

This is the part of the hospital that handles chronic conditions like epilepsy, diabetes, and HIV. It focuses on HIV, or so I was told, but when I was invited to go on an HIV outreach trip it turned out to be more like antenatal appointments. We started in a room packed full of women, and the doctor talked to them for over an hour about nutrition, eclampsia, birth control, STIs, and HIV. The women were great. They got into it and started calling back. "If you're not tested for HIV, you could give HIV to your baby, and that's not good. (No, it's not good.) You need to be tested so you can protect your children. (Protect the children!) It's important to learn as much as you can. Your health is your responsibility. (It's our responsibility.) Some of the women stood up and were waving their hands in the air like it was a rock concert.

Then we saw the women one by one, and calculated the extent of the pregnancy by measuring the height of the uterus. (This was all taking place in the tribal languages, so to ask someone how far along her pregnancy is, you have to say, "How woman are you?" And she answers with a number. It blows my mind.) We listened for the fetal heart rate, and then the nurse did palpations, the often-uncomfortable process of moving the fetus so that it is head down. In the US this is done rarely and just before birth, but here's it's done regularly because the risks of getting a C-section are greater (death is common). They wanted me to try but I could tell that was the kind of thing you'd have to have a lot of training for before you could do it in the US. I practiced gently figuring out where the head was and left the rest to the nurses. It looked to me like they were using the same amount of pressure on everyone, but some patients would grimace like they were trying not to cry out, and others could not stop laughing and asked the doctor to do it harder so it wouldn't tickle so much. I learned on the laughing ones and refused to touch the ones who looked scared. The nurses thought I was ridiculous, but it made it a much nicer day for me.

I worked in the lab with a group member for a while, doing urine tests and entering data. We ran over a hundred HIV tests and only had three positives.

I Wonder What the Electrician Looks Like

Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

The toilet in one of our rooms isn't working, so the people from the lodge offered to call the plumber, who turned out to be a guy on a bike with a plunger.

Cooking Day 2

Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

I cooked with our guide’s family again last night. One of the women pulled me aside and asked if I wanted an African boyfriend. I'm pretty sure the young man from last time put her up to it, especially because he avoided me the rest of the night. That’s the trouble with the excessive forwardness around here. It makes friendship almost impossible. Hopefully some African beauty will come scoop him up when I'm gone.

I talked with the elder for a while, and learned that he's 90. He wants me to write to him when I get back to let him know I made it home safe.

While I was cutting potatoes they lined up the kids to bathe in a bucket. All of the boys had blisters where they had been circumcised (I guess here it’s done when they’re around 4 or 5 years old). A group member watched a circumcision in outpatient the other day, and the nurse told him that when he comes back tomorrow she wants him to do one. Its crazy the things they encourage us to try even though we have no training.

When the kids were done they all ganged up on one of the boys. Parents allow fighting here, with the reasoning that it makes fighting juvenile so that when kids grow up they won't want to fight anymore. But they started throwing mangoes at him and he was crying, so I got up and distracted them by trying to balance buckets on my head. They played with my hair for a while and fell asleep on a mat around me, under a mango tree full of roosting chickens beneath the stars.

Things I Miss

Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Homesickness has been rough the last few days, so I'm making a list.

People. People, people, people. A lot. The first people I missed were actually the ones I'd left on mixed terms, because they're the ones I'm not sure I'll see again. Then the people that form my broader community. Missing the people I expected to miss first, my immediate family and close friends, didn't hit for a while, but when it did it hit hard. Miss you all.

Familiarity. I miss knowing my way around and knowing how to find the things I need. I can't tell which way is north here.

Independence. For safety reasons, we can't go anywhere alone, which makes things like going to the store or the Internet café a hassle.

Whole grain anything. And dairy.

Being able to play with kittens. They're all over the place here, but you can't touch them because you don't know what they might have.

Being able to go outside without sunscreen.


Harry Potter

Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

No one here has seen or heard of Harry Potter. Most of us have never lived in a world without Harry Potter. A couple of us had a lot of fun during lunch trying to explain what Quidditch was. I'm not sure they got it. Maybe I'll mail them the movie.

I was honestly upset when I learned that I would be missing the release of the last HP movie, the last midnight release party. I called my dad, and he laughed and said that he and my brother would wait and see it with me when I got back, that we could have our own party. I went back out to the common area, feeling loved and warm and fuzzy, and shared the conversation. Someone interrupted me. "Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. Boy, I'm glad we're missing that craziness." I went back to my room feeling very homesick again, then smiled to myself. I get to have a party with my dad and brother. And he wasn't invited anyway.

I bought some red fabric in the market and made my dad and brother matching Gryffindor shirts.

Would You Like Some Carbs With Your Carbs?

Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

There's a lot of white bread, white rice, oil, and cookies here. Even though there are almost no fat people, diabetes is common. They actually grow brown rice but they export it and import white rice because it's cheaper. I'd been worried about not being able to find enough food here, but combine that with the fact that it's too hot to exercise and I might have the opposite problem.

And I Missed It

Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

A group member told me that in maternity today she had a frank breech, a set of twins (one of which was breech), and a baby born in the caul. All delivered vaginally with no pain medication and no tearing. These women are amazing.


Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

I love that the people here wear traditional clothing. The women wear those colorful dresses and head wraps and the older men wear those long shirts and caps. With the younger people, like high school to college age, shorts and t-shirts that say things like, "Know your HIV status," "Find the volunteer in you," and "Celebrate International Women's Day" are more popular.

There are tailors in the market and I want to get a couple of dresses made. I bought fabric and ordered a dress, but it didn't fit well enough. It's very cheap here, about ten dollars to make a dress, but they also don't do much with them. I'm going to surge all the seams when I get back home, and not wear them until then in case they fall apart. I went back to ask them to fix the fit, and went through a chain of translators to communicate quite clearly that the bust is fine, don't touch the bust, just take it in in the waist. They took it in everywhere and now it's hard to breathe. I'll go back at some point.



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Sometimes I have the privilege of being a part of intimate, powerful moments in other people’s lives. I cannot and would not share these stories, because they are not mine to tell. However, they touch my life and become part of my own story. When I share these moments here, you can trust that I have not broken anyone’s confidentiality. The characters are invented. They are not real, but could be. I take creative license to communicate the essence of my experience while respecting the privacy of others.