Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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Better than the Roof

Posted by Lucille on June 7, 2011 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

We just passed people lifting a live ram into the trunk of a taxi.

It took me a minute to remember that in America, that would be weird.


Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

The head of the maternity ward told us that she had asked to take her one week annual leave after her wedding. The head of the hospital said he'd think about it, but when she asked about it on Friday, he said no. They argued about it for a while, and several other midwives tried to argue on her behalf, but he wouldn't budge. Neither would she. "I'm not coming," she told us after he left. But then she smiled. "You all know how to get there, right?"

We got there on time, and she looked beautiful, of course. We were led into a living room and served a bowl of the spiciest benachin I've ever had. All of our noses started running after the first bite. The Gambians (who were devouring it) laughed at us, but they were fully forgiven afterwards when they gave us each a piece of chocolate.

Parties in Gambia seem to follow a certain pattern. Groups come wearing the same fabric (everyone from maternity wore orange), people sit outside in lawn chairs, there is usually benachin, and speakers blast music way too loud. There's a sense that using technology makes things official, so people will use microphones even if they don't need it and it's causing feedback, and play music at maximum volume just because they can. I started feeling dizzy and then my head started pounding. A man invited me to come and dance. "Jainaba is too shy to dance in public," he said. I danced for four years in a professional troupe that toured internationally, but instead of telling him that I nodded and sat down with my head in my hands.

Before we left we passed the head of the hospital and gave him our gift to give to the bride.

"So are you giving her next week off?" a group member asked.

"No," he said, "Don't tell her, but if she comes I'm going to give her three months off next year."

"And if she doesn't come?"

"Then she gets her week off, and she is happy. I should probably pretend to be mad about it for a day or two. But maybe not. It's bad luck to give the bride a hard time, don't you think?"

For as much as those two go back and forth over things, I can tell they have a lot of respect for each other.

I got in the van feeling like crap. I kept thinking I was going to pass out on the way home. The light from the headlights on the road seemed blinding. When we got back to Brikama, I was stumbling like a drunk person (walking over uneven ground in the dark probably didn't help.) I borrowed money from someone and went over to the nearest stand for an omelet sandwich. I didn't bother going back to the lodge, I just sat down there and opened it, and as I was getting ready to go I imagined an older version of myself smiling down at a younger version of myself and shaking her head in exasperation, saying, "Lucille, there's this thing called eating, and it tends to make you feel a lot better."


Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

I was walking to the Internet when one of the deaf guys that sometimes hangs out up front waved me over.

"What?" I asked by raising my arms.

He started making out with his hand.

I don't think so.

As we were walking back, a guy cane up to a group member. "Hello, I am a psychiatric patient. Where do you live? You are beautiful. I love you. Will you get drink with me?"

This is crazy!

Beach Day

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

We went to Sanyang again today. Lots of throwing people in the air, and a group member and I practiced our tae kwon do forms. The bus driver didn't show up (we learned later that he was taken by the police, never found out why) and the new driver didn't come until late at night, so we spent a couple hours spread out under palm trees telling stories under the African sky.

Can You Believe I Haven't Done Maternity Yet?

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Friday was my first official day working in maternity. First we were invited to watch an IUD removal. I was glad the woman spoke English, so I could ask if it was okay for us to be in the room, and she said yes without hesitation and joked with us through the whole thing. We were supposed to watch an insertion, too, but the speculum was too short and they couldn't find her cervix, so she was transferred to Banjul.

When we got back to maternity, the Cuban doctors were in there working with one of the mothers. They'd found her baby wrapped in layers of blankets in the afternoon heat, covering its face. It moved feebly when they picked it up.

"Not so much blankets, the baby is too hot," they said, "When did you last feed it?"

The woman shook her head.

"You haven't fed it? When was it born?"

"Last night."

The Cuban doctor looked appalled, and immediately had her try to feed it, but by then it wouldn't latch on. He filled a syringe with dextrose and squirted it into the baby's mouth, instructed the mother to keep trying, and moved on to the next patient. She'd also delivered the night before and hadn't fed it, and the woman next to her was the same story. The Cuban doctor left to exchange words with the midwife, and as soon as he was gone the first woman put her baby back in the bin and covered it up. I think the infant mortality rate here is misleading. Wanted babies actually have a pretty good shot.

A woman came in eight centimeters dilated. After a little while, they decided her contractions weren't strong enough and put her on Pitocin. A little while later (I wasn't looking at the clock, but it didn't seem like more than ten minutes), they decided they still weren't strong enough (I have no idea what criteria they used to determine this, since she looked fine to me and her blood pressure was normal), and they decided to manually contract her uterus. She screamed and tried to fight them off, and they slapped her arms away. She switched to gripping the edge of the table and trying not to make noise. I left the room during this part, partially because I didn't want that image in my head, and partly because I was having trouble controlling my facial expression and I think the only thing that could make a birth situation like that harder is having a bunch of strangers staring at you looking horrified. I could still hear it, though, and I never want to hear a human being make those sounds again.

I went back in when the baby was born. The midwife proceeded to tug on the umbilical cord and a group member looked over at the baby.

"The baby's coughing."

"Hang on."

"The baby's not breathing."

"I'm coming."

After a few seconds she abandoned the cord, flipped the baby upside down by its ankles and hit it on the feet several times. She then went back to tugging out the placenta. The group member flipped the baby over her arm and got it to spit out the fluid that was in its mouth, and later opened a discussion with them about the best ways to clear a baby's airway.

After the midwife left, I offered to give the mom her baby, and she stared at her for a while looking mesmerized. I took her back after a minute because those tables aren't designed for holding a baby comfortably, but I moved the bin next to her and she leaned over it, looking into her baby's face. I stood there for a minute, trying not to disturb the stillness of the room, watching the mother watch her child.

A New Take on an Old Gig

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

There was something in our guidebook about a reinvention of the sex trade in Western Africa. Instead of rich white men coming to hook up with young girls, white middle aged women come to spend time with young African men. An older woman came over yesterday and moved into a room with a young Gambian man and we're pretty sure that's what's going on. I'd like to report that it prompted an intellectual discussion on the destructiveness of unequal power in relationships, but instead it's prompted fits of giggling after they walk by. Still pretty entertaining.

The Light Is Out

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

I was typing in the Internet cafe when someone ran in yelling, "The light is out! The light is out!"

I looked up at the light, which was definitely on, and the computers, which were still functioning.

"The light is out! The light is out!"

And then the computers died. This is how I learned that there is a man whose job is sitting in a tall chair outside the internet cafe and watching the far hill, because they lose electricity a minute before we do. He sits out there all day watching the light on the hill so he can run in and warn people to save their work. We see him every day now and we're becoming good friends. Now any time I hear someone say the light is out, I take it seriously and finish as fast as I can.

Care Package

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

I've been eagerly awaiting a care package from my mom since we got here. We usually go by the post office after work a couple times a week. Until last week there were no packages, and several other people were expecting one. Last week we went by, and they saw us coming in and said, "Yes, yes! We have three packages for you! Three packages for the health center!" We were so excited and ran up to the desk. "But they're not in the system yet, and the light is out. Come back tomorrow." We did, and none of them were for me, but people shared what they got, so the love was passed around…in the form of gum and bubbles.

It Looks Like Birth

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

They have a lot of fabrics with complex, mandala-like circle patterns. The first time I saw these with our group leader, she said, "Ooh, it looks like a cervix!" We all thought that was funny, but the idea caught on, and a week later I couldn't help thinking they looked like birth. A number of people made dresses so the mandala was centered over their bellies, and they were really quite beautiful.

Age Is Relative

Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2011 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

"When are you getting married?"

Me: "I don't know. When I'm done with school and meet the right person. Maybe around twenty eight."

"What?! Twenty eight? No, it is better to have children early. That way when you're forty they're already grown."

"I don't want to start a family until after I'm done with school. But I'm definitely going to at some point."

"You have boyfriend?"

"Yes. We're going to different schools, though, so we'll probably meet other people."

"Well, why isn't he your fiancé? I think he should be your fiancé."

I told her I'd let him know.