Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Corn Mother at the Linnton Food Pantry

During the summer of 2015, I decide to help at the food pantry.  It seems an unlikely place for a food pantry but each morning I could see hundreds of people coming by bus or walking or crowding into old cars.  Volunteers picked up food at the regional food bank and brought it to this small, regional community center.  People came pinwheel chairs and with walkers; with children and grandparents.

They did not need anyone else to give out food so I  thought perhaps people would like a few health screenings.  I packed a bag and prepared to do  blood pressures, weights, pulse, blood glucose and oxygen levels.   These are very simple screenings that most people could get in a grocery store.  But it seemed that what they wanted, that the machine could not give them, was someone to listen to their story and I felt honor to listen to their journey; the journey that would bring them to this place of waiting for free food in a small, crowded center squeezed between the river and railroad tracks and highway.  The trains and trucks covered us with a layer of dust and noise.   In a city of lovely parks and old, tree filled neighborhoods, the food pantry sat on a sliver of land that thing hung on for dear life.  

It was a popular food pantry.  People came from far away because, I believe, there was considerable respect and dignity.   I listen to the stories of the homeless, the sick, the injured, the immigrant; people who found themselves without food and wondering why anyhow this happened.  

Almost everyone had high blood pressure and struggled with high blood sugar.  Their health was worn down by poverty and abuses beyond reason.  It was hard to hold their head up high but I could see that the poorest of our communities have a culture of their own.   They are bound together by survival.

This is one woman's story which brings with it the story of her birth.

A thin, anemic woman sits down and sighs.   Her strength shines through the fatigue.  She is still laughing and has grown tough and determined.  She is there with a friend.  They took tri-met to get there and smoke outside until their number is called.  She tells me her story; kids, grandkids, evicted, abused.

"I had to be tough" she explains.  "I was born in a cornfield." I listen carefully.

"It was summer and the corn needed picking so my mother went up into the corn field and I just slipped out before she could get back to the house. "

I ask if she and her mom were okay and she says she guesses so.

"Born in a corn field."   She shakes her head.   "They were poor too, like me."

I tell her that women all over the world gave and give birth in the midst of harvest.   I tell her, why I have met women who gave birth in rice paddies and gathering turmeric and ranching.   I had read Pearl Buck's Good Earth and was so surprised she had a baby in the rice field.  Now I can see that all over the world. women give birth during harvest.   They pick the baby up and head back to the house with the best harvest of all - the baby.   Later some one will go get the corn or rice or roots they were working on.   She will go to bed and be given tea and forever the baby will be told the story of birth in the midst of harvest.

 I thank her for the story.   I think of her mom with four other young children trying to get the corn in.  
Too busy to feel the contractions and the baby small and willing,:coming fast.  I think of the baby born with the sky blue above her and the birds calling and the corn singing to her.   It was a great morning to be born, I tell her.   I tell her that the mom was a Corn Mother and she says she never thought of it like that.

To the woman born in the corn fields of Oregon.  May she know how beautiful she is and how strong and mazing her mother was.

Mothers waiting for the Revolution

I wonder if mothers and babies need to wait for the revolution- or if creating a society where pregnant women and their young are cared for is the revolution?

The people I met in the mountains there in Southern Mindanao, are now my Facebook Friends and I watch them from time to time slip into view.  Sometimes they send me a message or greeting.  Sometimes they are involved in a political protest or an evacuation and other times there are photos of fun times with friends and family.  They fall in love and go to beautiful places amongst the outrage of injustice.

The people who connected me with them, have not yet met with me.   Times are set but never kept and the weeks slip by.    At first the people are so close to me, I can feel them all around.  I am desperate to do the simple things I promised.  I did not want to just go and then come back and forget them.  I pick very simple, very easy to accomplish tasks.   I make a pack of pictures to show people.   At first, I thrust the photos in visitors line of vision, and they look with some curiosity but I can tell it does not seem particularly real to them.   I quietly grieve the loss of these new friends.   I want to sing and be with them.

I had wanted to help them get Vitamin Angels.  It is so simple.  A short application but I need an organization.   My children say, "If you need an organization to help mothers and children in the Philippines, you should start your own."

I say, "But it already exists.  We just have to fill in the space on the application.  I'll do all the work."

But they never give me the information.   I call, email, text but it never happens.

They say there are more important issues than maternal and child health.   They say, "How can they worry about maternal and newborn health when they might be killed?"

I reply, "More are dying in childbirth and in the first five years of life.  "   No one ever answers.

I have a pile of things to send with the next visitor from Portland but they go without theses things and eventually I put them aside.

I look up the political situation.   The people are being manipulated by many foreign and local forces.   People in Europe fund "health care and schools" but it is all in the name of a revolutionary force.  They call the shots from afar, creating training camps and centers that are the face of the revolution.
They try to keep the communist revolution alive.   After this, they will tend to mothers who bleed to death or babies who die on political marches from the mountains.   Later.

I do not know enough about the political situation but I know that when mothers are safe to have babies when the choose and marry who they choose and are pretty sure their babies will live and grow up to get an education and will have food; that this will be revolutionary.

You can not simultaneously have forced child marriage,  a disregard for women's health and a revolution dedicated to equality and social justice.   Handing out prenatal vitamins and training health workers in basic life saving techniques, is not a Che moment.  It is too ordinary.  

But it is my revolution.  The one I have struggled and fought for all these years.   Tell me how you treat a woman who is pregnant . Tell me how you will treat her children and I will tell you the state of equity and social justice in your community or country or in the world.

The saying goes,  There is no way to peace.  Peace is the way.  There is no way to revolution.  Revolutions the way.

I only visited one small part of a vast network of islands.   Islands that were gathered  up and made into one country without understanding or consent.   My friends in the those communities wake up and have coffee over a fire and sweep the yard and begin their day, even as I drink tea and sweep and begin my day.

I wave the revolutionary flag of prenatal care and safe transport for all women.  I pack the weapons of clean birth kits and respect for women's reproductive health.   There are midwives in the revolution - women and men who support them, marching for this basic building block of social justice.  People who know that safe birth can not wait for political victories.  It is now.  One birth at a time.