It was around 2pm in the afternoon when the phone rang. It’s my very good friend Justa. Justa works as a Nurse’s Aid in the Tongo Health Clinic, and she’s calling me from work. She greets me and then blurts out – “Saraaaah, Charity is in labour! Here, I will pass her the phone!”
I hear Charity’s voice at the other end of the line. She is the Daughter in Law of my host father, Patrick. About my age, she and her husband, Patrick’s son, are a part of our compound. I help Charity cook for the family whenever I get the chance, and normally wash bowls in the mornings with her. She taught me how to scrub the big pots with sand to remove the scorch marks that accumulate from the fire. Charity says hello weakly and I tell her I will come home as soon as I can.
I tell everyone at the office that my sister in my house is in labour – causing a lot of confusion because people are not sure if I mean my sister in Canada or what. I consult my chief advisor in culturally appropriate actions in these sorts of matters. Modesta, on secretarial attachment in my office, suggests that the correct course of action is to bring a new mother a baby dress, or soap, pomade and/or baby powder.
Charity doesn’t use pomade herself (moisturizer) so I know it would be a bit of a stretch and maybe a bit over the top to bring home such things – but still I am so thrilled and tickled to think there will be a new baby that I just can’t wait to go to the store when work ends…
The afternoon DRAGS on like I can’t believe. FINALLY I finish up for the day and drive my moto, aka “Black Star” to one of my regular corner stores. I blindly rush up to the clerk, David, and blurt out, “My sister [in tongo] is having a baby, she’s in labour, and I need to buy soap and pomade and baby powder.” He laughs at my panick-dness, and heads to the next shop to fetch pomade because he is out. I buy everything. My purchases are dressed in matching light blue packaging featuring a cute Caucasian baby. I don’t immediately register the lack of cultural ‘appropriateness’ of some imported products – I’m used to it.
I have to stop and look around to find batteries for my camera as well, and I waste time. It is dark when I arrive at the big trees after the bridge, that mark the entrance to the village/small town of Tongo.
Turning signal blaring I branch to the health clinic and park the bike beside the Ambulance that carries serious cases to the Regional Hospital in Bolgatanga. I make a small wish that it will stay parked there tonite. I’m sure that Charity is not covered by the National Health Insurance scheme that provides basic medical coverage for a premium of about 10$ CAN a year. It’s a clear and encouraging attempt on Ghana’s part to provide some more affordable health care for the public. It just hasn’t reached Charity.
I walk up to the veranda, squinting to identify people in the dark in case they are from my house. A man asks me what’s wrong in a confused tone, clearly wondering why I am so frantic and worried that there might be something wrong with me, a foreigner.
I basically completely ignore him because I see where Charity is sitting and join her on the edge of the cement porch. The nurse and the man who greeted me both laugh in surprise as they realize the purpose of my visit.
Charity looks woozy and she isn’t breathing very much. The pain started this morning in her back and down, and it is getting worse, although the contractions still seem far apart. I tell her about my day and some other things to pass the time, in between reminding her to breathe.
The attending nurse says it will still be a long before she is ready to give birth. I goodbye Charity and say that I will be back. The house is really close by the clinic, just across the field – so I head back for supper and do a bit of work.
I have just stepped out into the yard with my flashlight in hand to check in on Charity’s progress when the father-to-be, TinDan Doog, interrupts my thoughts.
TinDan Doog is sitting on a step watching a Nigerian movie on our little crackly TV along with about 10 other children and adults, (it’s a slow night, sometimes I count up to 30 kids).
I don’t hear him right away because I am trying to avoid eye contact with anyone as I make my way to the back of the compound, pretending to watch TV. I’m in the process of deciding whether to negotiate openly about walking across the field alone in the dark with my host mother, Madam Lardi, or try to sneak away so that no one will feel they need to accompany me.
Finally I realize he is saying,“Sarah BoaPok, they have come. She is there.” While he points into the room across the compound. I run and get the baby blue soap and rest from the thin polythin bag sitting in my room.
Charity is resting while Mme Lardi carries the baby to just outside the bathing area. Lardi baths it carefully and rubs it down from head to toe with warm shea butter oil. I sit behind her in a doorway and peek over her shoulder to see that it is a little girl. The little body is finally wrapped in a clean new cloth and carried inside to her mom.
Everyone finds it amusing when I ask if I can snap photos … this house has seen at least 15 births in the last 25 years or so… the novelty factor just isn’t strong.
I catch TinDan Doog though –When I ask if he wants me to snap a picture with him included, I add, “Because you are now a father…“ He smiles uncontrollably. Maybe the excitement isn’t lost on everyone. He and Charity both look especially joyful.
It’s unquestionably a very special Dec 4th
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If I can dedicate this entry it will be to Michael, my younger brother, who was born 25 years ago on Dec 6th. I’m sorry to be missing your birthday, Mike-man – but maybe sharing in someone else’s Birth Day will help us all manage me being far from home in Canada.
All my love,