I am not in Cabestore writing this. I barely had any electricity in Cabestore and no internet. I kept a journal and made cartoon sketches of the things going around me at four or five in the morning. I would turn on solar lights and drink luke warm tea from a thermos. The dogs often woke me up; the dogs and the roosters.
The place where I stayed was guarded by the priest's guard dogs. The dogs were kept in crates all day. People would poke them with sticks to make sure they stayed good and mean. The dogs got in fights all night long with the local dogs who were always having babies and in a state of extreme starvation.
When I first arrived, Frankie warned me that if I went downstairs to the birth rooms at night, the dogs would attack me and eat me.
"What about the mothers in labor? Will they eat the mother's in labor?"
I thought I would simply say we cannot have mother eating dogs at a birth center and they would be moved but they were not. The priest said if I just used the secret code word, they would not eat me. It was hard to remember and besides he said, "Do not let any mothers know the secret dog code."
"How will they keep the dogs from eating them if they don't know the code?" I am persistent.
Fortunately the mother eating dogs only tried to eat one volunteer whose aunt had died and had tried to go down the stairs before they were put in crates for the day. I yelled the code world as loud as I could and the cooks called them in. I considered that my accent was spoiling the use of the code word. It is actually a sound. Something like "Ta-tee-ta" but I never got it right.
Most nights, the dogs would start ripping a smaller dog apart and a great deal of crying and screaming of dogs would ensue and then the roosters got up and I could no longer sleep and got up too.
It was cold and damp. The mist hung all around the mountains and our clothes were wet. I thought about the babies; the ones who would show up at the clinic with "Night fevers and grip."
Was it malaria or simply the effects of sleeping on dirt floors on banana leaf mats. It was so hot during the day but there by my little solar campfire on the upper porch, it was cold and my cartoons were drawn in the half dark.
|The four hour walk to healthcare|
The moto could take you out to the world beyond those small hamlets nestled in the side of mountains. It could take you to healthcare beyond our capabilities. It was possible.
I had told Oliver's mother to go to the hospital; to follow that road but we all have been so sick we could barely manage to get to the bathroom and I was asking her to go all the way, on a moto, to town. It was a forty-five minute ride to the closest small hospital and another hour to the larger one. She would cross many streams and it was rocky and she had bad diarrhea and was throwing up. Someone would have to go with her and who would watch all those kids.
She nodded at me. She was bent in half and throwing up the rehydration salts.
Instead she made her way across the field and up the trail that turned into a creek when it rained and laid down in her small, dirt floor house, with all the children, and died. I remember that her name was a form of Rose. It was not exactly Rose but the word Rose was in it.
Rose would have walked that trail. Neighbors would have come out to say hello and a leaf doctor would be called.
There is a slight incline to get into her yard. It is not so steep but if you were sick and walked all the way to the birth center and back sick, it would be one more hard hill to cross. Her house was in a cleared yard. There was a porch and all around fields of corn and millet with squash and beans tangled in between. Her children would be naked, as they always were. What did she see as she forced herself to climb the incline to her house and find a place to die.
She would not make her way through the yard and down the incline or down the path that turned into a creek with rain or onto the moto or even back to us. She could not nurse he baby or even hold him. She did not leave that yard on her own two feet again. Back then I did not know the way to this hamlet or that she was laying there dying.
I sat by my solar campfire and worried about the dogs attacking mothers and volunteers and how we would manage until the supplies came. I made lists of things to do to get a birth center up and going. I made signs in Creole, looking up each word and making drawings to illustrate the danger signs of pregnancy. I know these signs well, by now.
But I know I am also a placed- based midwife; a midwife who considers the geography of the roads, the condition of the soil, schools and the amount land one has to farm. While I worried about the dogs and the lack of a bed to give birth on, Rose was dying.
Next - What did you say her diahreaa looked like? Conversations at a funeral.