Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife

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Visiting Soul

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Out of curiosity, I asked someone what they call babies before their naming ceremony. "Usually 'Baby'," she said, "But I always called mine (word I can't pronounce). It means 'visiting soul'. My little visiting soul. I always thanked them for stopping by. Little visiting soul, if you decide to stay, I'll give you your own special name." She looked off wistfully. "My little visiting souls..."

Gambian Angel

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)

I picked up my dress from the tailor, and it's wonderful! Except this time there were kids working in there. Besides the ethical issues it was a little close to home because that first boy that came into the outpatient with a seizure had been working as a tailor when he collapsed. But I guess they have to pay for school somehow. In any case, as I was walking home a guy started calling out to me, saying I looked like a Gambian angel. I shook my head as I walked away, thinking, "Wow, child labor just led to a drunk guy calling me his Gambian angel," and then burst out laughing. That's pretty high on the list of things I never thought I'd hear myself say.

Teacher

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

I passed an elder in inpatient yesterday and stopped to introduce myself.

"Jainaba," he repeated, nodding, "Tall, beautiful woman, always smiling. Watcher who is very quiet, but very wise."

This from a guy I'd met five seconds ago. If I see him again I'm going to ask if he's my teacher.

Paradox

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

There's been a movement afoot in the US to adopt aspects of more indigenous cultures, like locally grown food and sustainable transport, living with less, and not doing by machine what you can easily do by hand. These practices are certainly present here, but they are seen as a limitation, and wherever possible people choose to use more. I saw a woman walk by a stand of locally grown vegetables to buy cookies at the store, and when I asked why she pointed to the sticker on the bottom that said 'made in Florida'. While people in the US abandon cars for bikes, people here are using their life's savings on cars (though personal cars are still very rare). Fred Meyer in Portland is considering a ban on plastic bags. When I went to the tailor with a woman from the lodge yesterday, I was carrying the neatly folded fabric in my hand, and she went and bought a plastic bag for me and said, "It has handles. That's easier, see? This is how you do it in the US, isn't it?" And while food companies in the US brag about their organic, grass-fed beef, there are advertisements here (it had never occurred to me there would be billboards in Africa) for beef that's 'certified grain-fed, just like in the US'. It would seem that the US and indigenous cultures will be trapped in an endless cycle of imitating each other.

So many people have come up to me to thank me for visiting their country, because they don't have "infrastructure or wealth" like in the US and need our help. "You don't need us," I have tried to explain, "You can do all that yourself. We're here to learn from you." But they usually ignore me and just want to shake my hand.

Darkness

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Apparently people have had some patients at the hospital that they haven't talked about or brought up at our group meetings. There was a girl in outpatient with layers of scars and scabs across her back. She said she fell. There was a woman in maternity who had to be transferred to Banjul because the scarring from an extreme genital mutilation made vaginal birth impossible.

Then, yesterday, a ten-year-old girl was brought in with third degree genital mutiliation, in addition to irritation and a torn perineum. One of the nurses, a Wolof (one of the few tribes that don't practice female genital mutilation) started scolding the grandmother that brought the girl in, saying that female 'circumcision' was a terrible practice because it made sexual satisfaction impossible and led to the girls being promiscuous. I was glad someone said a word against the practice, though this is not reasoning I've heard or agree with. The grandmother then became distressed that the girl was going to shame them by being promiscuous in addition to having a broken hymen. Our group member held the girl's hand while they examined her.

They said it was a bicycle accident, and all the nurses believed them. Bicycle accidents don't cause injuries like that, but what are you going to do. It's not like there's child services around here. Of course, since it was a bicycle accident, a pregnancy test, antiretrovirals, and counseling were not considered. Jesus Christ there is some darkness in this world.

I was not there. I did not see any of this. As I sat there listening to it, my first thought was, "If I'd been there when they suddenly plopped a ten year old rape victim with third degree genital mutilation on a table and started examining her, I probably would have run out of that hospital screaming, and kept running for a very long time."

And my second thought was, "That's good."

I was reading On Call yesterday, a book about a doctor's years in residency (because Spiritual Midwifery isn't free yet) and the author talked about the numbness that comes with her line of work. I know this isn't comparable to years of residency, but the numbness is similar. I held a boy's head off the ground while he seized this morning. I walked by a bin with a dead baby in it without a second thought. This happens any time people encounter tragedy. You learn to deal with it, to move on. You have to.

I think it would be good, and right, and proper to every once in a while take down these guards and be, in every way, new, to feel the energy of raw emotion, and surrender yourself to it, to be overwhelmed, to weep for all the sorrows of the world, to witness with your whole and emotional self. What would we learn?

Listening to the Rain

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I've found that I can't get up at the same time as my roommate. Not sure why, but I feel tired and rushed if I do. My level of energy, of feeling calm and ready for the day, seems to have less to do with how much I sleep I get and more to do with having five minutes by myself to listen to the rain before the day begins. Usually this means waiting until my roommate has left and being late to breakfast, but on the days I have breakfast duty I've gotten up before everyone else to practice my forms in the field while the sun rises. I think I definitely need to do that more often.

Cue Lion King Music

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Today a woman labored while a cat nursed its kittens under her table and a double dragonfly buzzed along the ceiling. The conditions here may not be very sanitary, but you've got to admit, they're pretty poetic.

On Doing Nothing

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

There was one woman in labor when I stopped by maternity. Her mom was with her, but just as she was approaching transition and starting to vocalize pretty heavily, her mom's cell phone rang and she left (by the time she came back, I later learned, the baby had been born). I was appalled that she would leave her daughter alone during the hardest part of labor, so I went in to see if there was anything I could do. I was honestly a little excited about witnessing this intimate process again and maybe being of help, but even well intentioned help can be distracting when you're a stranger. I could tell I was making her a little nervous, so I left. Some other day.

It made me grateful for the woman on the first day, the one who asked me to help her, as much as I was unprepared for it and didn't want it at the time. I'm honored to have been a part of her experience. And I like that when I leave I'll be able to know without a doubt that I made a difference to someone here. In that way, she helped me, too.

Direction

Posted by Lucille on June 5, 2011 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (0)

I finished Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, and I'm waiting to borrow Spiritual Midwifery. I've read this whole thing backwards, part 2, then part 1, and now book 1, but I'm loving it none the less. I think I’ve been inspired me to be a midwife. I want to meet the author of these books someday. Besides being full of rich information and experience, they're fabulously written, which definitely appeals to my writer's bias.

I've always been fascinated with women's reproductive health, usually one step ahead of wherever I happen to be. By fourth grade I had read up on early puberty, and by fifth grade I was the class's discreet confidante for questions about periods, and so on. Now I'm finding myself inexplicably and passionately drawn to childbirth, which probably means that by the time I settle into a career I'll be an expert in menopause. But midwifery feels like a good place to be for now.

Down Time

Posted by Lucille on June 5, 2011 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Things at the hospital have been slow the last few days, which has left us with a lot of down time. The down time is when I wish I was home. There are definitely still things I'm looking forward to, but I wish I could rush through them and then fly back without all the waiting in between. But then sometimes while I'm waiting, I'll suddenly remember, "I'm in Africa," and it'll seem so surreal that I'll have to take a minute to look at the color of the soil, feel the pressure in the air that precedes rain, listen to the voices of people speaking Mandinka under the trees outside. Even when I'm not doing anything in particular, this is actually pretty cool. I'm in Africa.


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HIPAA Disclaimer

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.