Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Baby Madfa’s baby died last night and I cried again. Baby, who lives in an abandoned adult training building on the edge of Maso, gave birth, all alone, to a tiny baby boy about a month ago. Teachers who turned up to work in the adjoining abandoned administrative building the next morning heard Baby call out for someone to call the midwife but really it was too late, the baby was already in her arms. Returning to Mapaki that night in amazement, teachers told us all the tale of the miraculous birth. I stopped to visit Baby and her child the next day and marveled at the tiny warm delight nestled in my arms. Ah, life! As usual, no one is quite sure why the baby died. They say his skin sank in and he developed boils on his head. Baby’s sister took the child to the clinic (Baby, who suffered from polio as a child, doesn’t walk) but it was too late and nothing could be done. So, along with all the others gone before, Baby’s child now lies buried in the burying grounds and Baby has not stopped crying.

Each day is filled with sorrows and joys here and life seems to just go on. Today streams of young men returned from the upland rice field with sacks of fresh threshed rice on their heads, headed for the village grain store (storage area). This is truly a joyous sight. It means the rains did not spoil the crop and it lends some sense of food security for a while. We can cry our pain and sorrow but life goes on.

For the past two nights no one slept in this part of Mapaki and there are some grumblings (mostly by me) about taking those responsible to the elders to be fined. Two nights ago we were woken by a woman with an ill child who was loudly and at length accusing neighbours of witchcraft. Last night it was the traditional society from Malimp which arrived at Mapaki in the wee hours and drummed and sang songs of praise in front of the chief’s house and then Baroq’s house (both my neighbours) for hours before the long journey back to their village. As I’m never sure when the societies’ night activities are secret (in which case you definitely don’t venture out of bed), I stay safely tucked under my bednet and listen to the drums. It will be an early night for me again tonight.

It’s a good thing that everyone here seems to have a healthy sense of humour. Two days ago oncho tablets, which rid people of the worms that cause river blindness, were delivered to the village. As river blindness is very common in the chiefdom, almost everyone took the tablets and for the past two days there has been much joking about the many people whose faces immediately ballooned and the torsos that developed nasty itchy rashes as side effects of the medication. It seems that before the war people were offered the opportunity to be tested for worms before taking the tablets. This opportunity is no longer available so people take the tablets, shut their eyes tightly, and hope that the side effects will pass them by. As it takes many bites over an extended time to develop symptoms, I’ll wait till the opportunity for testing arises again before taking my tablet.

This morning I took the motorbike back along the upturned roads, down fishtail hill, past road workers who called to me to stop and join them for chop (food), to the village of Makambray where the children are working on a story about their forest (it’s kind of sad…the palm-wine tapper who doesn’t get medicine in time dies of the snake bite in the end). We read Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” today and the children told me that they liked the fact that the tree showed love for the boy. One very thoughtful boy also commented on “The Great Kapok Tree” which we read last week, saying he liked the fact that, since all living things are dependent on each other, it gives a message about the need to take care of things in the environment.

So, on taking care of things and people in our environment, I think I’ll plan to go to Maso to see Baby tomorrow and sit with her and mourn with her the little bundle of love she lost. And to all of you who are helping take care of Daniel and the other volunteer teachers, I’m happy to report that we’ve raised enough money to cover Daniels’s tuition for three years plus send an extra woman volunteer teacher to college this year and next. Thanks all!!!

Photo- Searching for the elusive giant cotton tree at Katekeah