Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife

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Jainaba

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I met my namesake today. She has the cutest baby in the world. And people use that as a compliment a lot, so I'd like to reemphasize it. She literally has the cutest baby I have ever seen. I thought she was 26, but apparently she's 18, three months younger than me. She is married to a 30 year old but no one has seen him so I don't think he's very involved. When she told us she was 18, we all expressed our shock, and she smiled a little and said, "Why, because I have a baby?" Which surprised us just as much because that's not what we were thinking at all. She just seems too mature to be 18. So if I'm named after her, that means I get to have a baby as sweet as hers, right? I mean it's only fair.


Not Just Another White Person

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

At our group meeting the other day, our group leader emphasized the importance of integrating with the community. She said it in the context of spending less time on the Internet, which I disliked because I'm more than a week behind in blog posts as it is, but in any case it's an important goal. So yesterday another group member and I went to join some kids who were playing soccer in the street. Two girls that I had befriended earlier, around six and eight years old, joined us and brought two of their friends, (around four and five years old). The girls were much younger than the boys that were playing so I tried to alternate between chasing the ball and playing with them on the side. I made sure that they got a chance to kick the ball now and then.

An older girl (10) came over to scold the girls I was playing with for running after the ball like the boys. I kept playing with them and passed her the ball. She ignored it. I passed it to her again, and praised her enthusiastically when she kicked it. A half hour later she had tied up her skirt and was chasing the ball as energetically as the other kids, and encouraging the younger girls to play with her.

As we left the lodge this morning to walk to the hospital, the older girl came out and greeted me by name with a huge smile on her face. If someone was that happy to see me every morning I'd pretty much be content. The whole way to work, children ran out of their homes, and instead of yelling, "Tubab!" they called to us by name and asked if we would be back to play with them that night.


Selective

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Work in he eye unit was slow today, so I went over to maternity. There were a number of babies in bins and I asked my group leader if I could hold one. She asked me to wait and picked which babies I could help with, I think based on which were most likely to make it. That woman is my guardian angel. Today was rough though and even the baby she chose for me was fading by the time we left. I miss being in a place where love could be unreserved.

Eye Unit

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I worked in the eye unit today, but work was pretty slow. One of the nurses showed me how to do a vision test. She also tried to show me how take my own blood pressure, but I couldn't get a pulse. She said it's because her equipment is old but I'm pretty sure I'm just a zombie. Also a guy came in who'd been in a fistfight so I got to see how sutures are done.

Gender Roles

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

One of the men who work at the lodge has been trying to persuade a group member to marry him. Hoping for an easy out, she asked, "Isn't it bad for a Muslim to marry a Christian?"

"A Muslim woman can't marry a Christian," he said, "But a man can, because he has the power in the family. He makes the woman Muslim."

So far she is not convinced.

The people here are more open to talking about their culture than I had expected. At some point we happened upon the subject of premarital sex. "The men can," a man from the lodge told us, "But the women don't. So if a man is engaged and wants to have sex, he must do it with a lower class woman." Shocked, we asked how his fiancée would feel about this. "The women are fine with it," he told us, "They even encourage it." The only way I can wrap my head around this is realizing that sex for many people here is not seen as an emotional act or as an expression of affection. It is a path toward procreation and physical satisfaction for men, exclusively. At least in the most traditional families here, the emotional aspect and women's sexuality are not acknowledged, even by the women themselves.

When I first came here, I was shocked by the number of women who were pregnant. In some of the tribal languages, 'pregnant' and 'woman' are the same word. I expected to feel saddened by the very young women in the maternity ward, but instead they are the most heartening, because they represent a change toward the kind of relationship I am more familiar with. I think I mentioned that men are not allowed in the labor room. What I didn't say is that usually they don't even wait outside. They drop the women off at the front of the hospital and come back for them in a few hours. Only the young men stay. When I first arrived, there was a very young woman in the recovery room with her husband, who was anxiously caring for her, massaging her and telling her how wonderfully she had done.

We were talking with some of the women at the lodge yesterday, and one of the younger women told us that she wants to find a husband who will love her enough to wait for her in the maternity ward and care for her when she's done.

Her mom started tearing up and had to leave the room. Whenever I'm working in the maternity ward I find myself remembering those young couples to remind myself that gender roles can change.

Whoops

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

As I was leaving maternity, I passed a bin with a bundle in it that looked like a baby. "Aww, and who's this little guy?" I asked.

"This one?" the head of the maternity ward said, moving toward it, "This one is the dead baby. Do you want to see?"

No, no I don't want to see.

Wigs

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

I wondered why it was taking me so long to remember everyone's names in maternity, and today reached a breakthrough. They all wear wigs! And they trade them, sometimes multiple times a day, just to mess with us. No wonder!

Maternity Day 2

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

RCH wasn't doing anything this morning, so I switched over to maternity for a few hours. A baby had just been born and I held it for a while. She was clearly very hungry. She tried to suck on anything that came near her face and cried when she couldn't get milk from it. Her mom showed no interest in her. She didn't watch her baby when I carried her past and waved me off when I tried to hand it to her. The baby tried to turn toward my chest, and I hated that I couldn't feed her and was angry that the only person who could showed more interest in the wall.

In the mean time, a woman came in and sat down on a table. One of the nurses asked her if she had pushed and she shook her head. She leaned back, gave one push, and -presto!- baby. She sat back up and started eating a sandwich.

Acclimation

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:25 PM Comments comments (0)

A collection of cultural tidbits.

There is no such thing as a trash can here. Trash is piled on the side of the road and burned weekly, used to make charcoal that is sold the next day at the market. There is no concept of littering. "When you put things in the trash," a local told me, "They are taken away and burned. We do the same thing here, but we do it spread out so it can still mix with the soil."


I have been slowly getting used to the heat. Everyone had been drinking at least two liters of water a day. At first it was very hard to sleep in this climate, but after working through 100-degree days, the 85-degree nights are our new definition of cool. The sleeping bag I brought is definitely not needed.

Meal times are different here. We eat breakfast at seven, and lunch at three when we get back from work. Lunch is the largest meal of the day. Dinner is very light, and usually around nine, which has taken some getting used to. We've all started carrying snacks with us.

There has been some discussion regarding my Gambian surname. One of the women from the lodge has adopted me as her sister. Every morning, I greet her, "Koto, isama!" Which means, "Big sister, good morning!" And she greets me, "Isama, Jainaba." When I went to cook, I couldn't remember her surname, and the elder formally welcomed me into their family. But the next time I introduced myself with their surname, the person said, "Oh, you are a Fula! They also are Fulas. Go talk with them." I don't want to be associated with any one tribe, so I think it will be just Jainaba for now.

There has been a lot of curiosity about my age. Age is respected here, so people are not shy about asking, and I usually get one of two responses: "Really! You seem older," or, "Really? You look twelve."

This trip has challenged my concepts of modesty and appropriate dress. I've seen a lot of women with the Muslim veil that fastens just under their chin walking around with no shirt or bra on. I guess modesty is in the eye of the beholder.

I've been finding my place here and starting to feel like I belong. When I reached for my bag a minute ago, the color of my hands surprised me.

Cooking

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 9:25 PM Comments comments (0)

I got to the family compound, greeted the elder, and met our guide from the hospital. I had been told to come at five, but we didn't start cooking until seven, so I spent a while getting to know his family.

I started learning to cook dinner by pounding peanuts and rice in a giant mortar in the common area. Apparently there is a taboo against women wearing pants with an elder present, so someone hurried to get me a skirt. I was told to put the nut/rice mix in a pot of hot water, and learned another taboo: you're not supposed to touch food with your left hand. They slapped the rice out of my hand and then had a lively debate in their language that led to them deciding that because I was a tubab, my left hand was probably okay.

While I was waiting for the water to boil, a woman came by and told me teasingly that one of the young men liked me. I laughed and told her I had a boyfriend, which itself took some explaining because in this culture there is no such thing as dating. You are either married or single, there is no in between. She suggested that just like I had an American name and a Gambian name, I could have an American boy and a Gambian boy. I tried to communicate through mime and limited Mandinka that I could not cut myself in half, but she thought I was asking how to cut the chicken and the subject was accordingly changed.

The young man came out while I was playing with two toddlers. "You like...how do you say it...black babies."

"I like all babies," I told him, "Black has nothing to do with it."

"I wish it was the other way around," he said, "That you like black people, and babies have nothing to do with it. Maybe then you would like me."

Ha ha.

The food was good, and you don't have to take my word for it. I’m hoping I can make some when I get back. Except that one of the ingredients is baobab juice. I'm not sure you can get that in the States.



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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.