Later in the day, rainy, muggy and after a nice cold star beer; sitting in the quiet of the Christian Monistary where we have procured quarters for the night. I am looking forward to an amble through their grounds after I have finished writing. There are well-manicured lawns with widely spaced magnificently tall palm trees…it’s lovely and tranquil, tranquility not being a quality I typically associate with this urban Salone.
Mamie Lamine’s (the head TBA in Pellie) daughter died a few years ago. She was in labor and walking to the clinic in Pellie to deliver. Her mother happened to be working there on shift that night. She was coming from a neighboring village where she lived with her family and was walking along the red dirt road that winds through the swampy jungle. Homebirth has become illegal in Sierra Leone since I was last here. Which while I am not a fan of it being illegal, encouraging women to birth in the clinics is a good idea because at least there they have access to basic medical care if needed, something which is not available at all at home. Instead of being at home with her mother coming to her, she was walking along the road. I can picture it. I have seen so many women here walk along those roads with great burdens on their heads and pikin (children) on their back. Her burden was her body, her baby. She began to bleed and the bleeding did not stop. She bled to death on the side of the road while her mother, a very experienced TBA, waited for her at the clinic. Most likely, based on the story, no one knows why she started bleeding, the only thing that Mamie Lamine could have offered was comfort and arms to hold her as she passed, as I said the roads are terrible and the nearest hospital with operating rooms is a very bumpy 3 hours away, but that would have been something. You wouldn’t be able to guess at the tragedies this woman has seen in her lifetime by looking at her. A violent war had torn her country and her village apart, very few women in these areas escaped innumerable personal, physical horrors, so I am sure that Mamie Lamine had her share. They are farmers and tilling the land is hard, back braking work, she is a widow and works hard as a TBA, keeping long hours for little pay, despite all this, she smiles. She wakes up every day and greets everyone in her village. She takes pride in the accomplishments and recognition she has gained at this point in her life. She sits with us in the evening, laughing and leading the women in song. She even shared a beer with us last night, like a real “pumway” (white) woman. Her name around the village has even become Mamie Lamine Pumway…a mantel she wears with pride. She inspires me and humbles me and I am so happy that she has risen to a place of prominence in MOMS.
Sierra Leone is poorer then Haiti per capita and the mortality rates are higher, but somehow they feel richer here. They are farmers and can grow their own food upcountry. Corn plants dripping with pink silk and planted in neat rows and tucked in patches throughout the jungles and swamps. Rice fields are in abundance in this part of the country as well as banana, plantain, mango, avocado and papaya trees. These are the hungry times. When the heavy rains come in the months leading up to harvest season. Even so the people in this rural villages are so generous, despite knowing that we have more then they do, monetarily at least. Mamie Lamine brought us over a little rooster the other night, a bit scrawny but healthy, and a bowl of last years harvest of Mende “pink” rice..the best rice you will ever taste in my opinion, just to thank us for being here and bringing what we can. Veronica, the Maternal/Child Heath Aid at the clinic, is the town baker and daily brought us over small loaves of her freshly baked bread. Even the dogs in Salone are healthier, they are well fed for the most part and often belonging to a family, a protector and guardian. The streets and towns and homes are cleaner for the most part, at least outside of the cities and bigger towns. Maybe it is the legacy of slavery in Haiti that is the difference. Obviously this place had its role in slavery as well, and saw its share of war and suffering as a result but it doesn’t seem as prominent a feature of life here. These people, the people here now are not the descendants of stolen people, displaced people, they can trace their families back to these same lands for thousands of years. Maybe it is all the aid in Haiti, maybe it has crippled the country into a state of dependency that it is trying desperately to claw its way free from but with all of the west’s interference in government and trade it is having a very difficult time of it. These are the thoughts that run through my head as the rain beats a steady tattoo on the tin roof overhead.
Katrine joined me for my walk. I asked her about rainbows and if they saw them here often, “do you know” she said “that in this country when people see a rainbow it means that a chief wants to die, and so they get worried.” I told her the story of Noah and the flood and of leprachauns and how pretty much across the board in America rainbows are seen as a good thing…she shook her head, “here many people are worried when they see them”.
All of the Americans who work for MOMS or come here as volunteers are given Mende names, I am the exception since I already have a Mende name. The other volunteer this year is called Elizabeth but Buffy for short at home. In a gas station outside of Freetown a man decided that her name should be Hawa, after his mother, a very common Mende name but she didn’t love it and she petitioned Jitta for a new one. In Bo Jitta gave her the name Munda, Mamie Munda (Mamie (pronounced mommy) is a sign of respect given to older women, particularly wise women like TBAs, I am not called Mamie because I am too y
oung and have not yet had children). Yesterday morning in Pellie one of the local men, Shafa, who manages the farmers co-op and grainery in town and speaks good English told us the story of her name. Munda means “belonging to the people, belonging to the village, everyone” and he gathered his arms around as if to scoop up the whole room in to his embrace. “When women are having many children die, they are thinking that there are witches and devils who are making the children die, people in the community, so they will, after a time name a child Munda, meaning that she belongs to everyone, even the witches and the devils, so that they will also want to take care of her and make sure that she doesn’t die”.
We head up to Ngoloan, our plans have had to be altered because the calendar did not take the final feast days of Ramadan in to account, so the next few days will be with little work for us and we will begin classes again on Monday.
Thanks to all of you who have been responding to these, it is really nice to get emails when I get internet access, I am sorry that I have not been able to respond to them as my time online is limited, but know that they make me smile.
Lots of love