9 October 2012
We were sitting on the bamboo bed at Fanta’s house catching each other up on the day’s events. Due to the size of her stomach, she stayed at home most of the day, only taking one short walk to the faroo to check on her rice; nevertheless she’d gathered more news from the village than I had. It’s tempting to blame this on my language barrier, but I honestly think it’s a mother’s charm that allows one to know all without lifting a finger. Fanta is the mother of seven, so I imagine her senses are even more heightened than my flesh and blood mother. Anyway, we were sitting there chatting and a bird pooped on Fanta. I don’t know the Mandinka word for luck, so I told her good things were coming.
The next day, September 25th, dusk was well upon me as I raced the daylight home carrying seven kilos of beans on my baggage rack, a reward for a long day’s work on the Master Farm. I nearly sped past Daba, Fanta’s husband on the path outside the Health Hut. I assumed he was strolling back from an evening shift of scaring monkeys away from his fields and started shouting a greeting when something in his face made me slow down. He wasn’t strolling. He was pacing. “Fanta is in there,” he nearly whispered as he tends to through the cigarette parting his lips.
I leaned my bike against the fence and hurried up to the porch. Three older women from Fanta’s compound were sitting there waiting. They said they hadn’t been there long and after a few silent moments passed I decided to race off to bathe. For once no one begged my attention or greetings when I said I was hurrying back to the Health Hut. Those who did not already know Fanta was there understood with a glance towards my anxious, excited eyes and uncertain grin.
I took a book and my raincoat to ensure I would not need them. And I didn’t, because it turns out sitting anxiously is a very busying occupation. The other women pleaded with Fanta to give forgiveness as she cried in waves and rhythms, praying and singing in pain. Ansata, the educated and sassy midwife, who by some miracle comes from a Pulaar village one and a half compounds strong, was inside snapping off commands like it was no big deal to produce a child from between your legs with nothing but cries to Allah to relieve the pain. I was silent, sitting up straight, ears and eyes wide. Finally there was a tiny whine, less wholesome than Fanta’s, full of urgency, not desperation. After Ansata chopped some more orders, Fanta called for Diara, my host mother, to come to the door. When told she had left, Fanta requested that someone go get me. “I’m here,” I called out in a chorus of “she’s here’s.”
We sat and watched Ansata come and go with requests for water and Fanta’s clothes, a bed pan of amniotic sac, and the new clothe for swaddling. It wasn’t long until we were invited in to see mother and child. Someone else had taken my flashlight and I had to call the small herd of women in front of me back to the first room we entered to see the child, who had just been born, before crowding her mother.
That’s right, her, a gorgeous baby girl, 4.8 kilograms with sweet, soft curls of black hair, scrunched-up puppy eyes and little hands whiter than my own. We carried the baby into the second room where Fanta was prostrate, every fiber of her being yanked and pulled, tired to extremes. Of course she managed to scoot over for me to sit, never forgetting propriety. The baby was passed around pushy ladies telling her she was ugly and telling me they were going to beat her. They were all calling her my namesake but I was the last in the room to hold her. When I did the room finally went still and quiet. She hadn’t been alive five minutes, and here I was holding her, my namesake, ntooma.
A week later little Mary was christened. The name was whispered from ear to ear around her head so that she might not forget. The beautiful locks shaved from her head and a piece of Fanta’s were tied away in a cloth to be blessed and sewn into burro, medicine, to protect Mary on a string around her neck. The day before her christening. Mary’s father asked me what her name was going to be—mine, my mother’s, any name I want to lie an say was mine to give myself a chuckle every time I saw her. The position of namesake here is one similar to god-parent but with the addendum that if I wanted to or if her mother every asked me, I could be responsible for this child as my own.
I visit her every day and am questioned on my whereabouts if I don’t make it around until evening. My feeling are those of a responsible parent. Of course she is perfect and the most beautiful child I’ve ever seen. I already worry about her future, how I will keep in touch with her and if it’s be possible or appropriate to fund her education. I love her to bits and cherish the moments I can quell her tears with a round of “Hush Little Baby” sung at a level audible only to her tiny ears as we sway about the goats and weaver’s nest dropped for the mango trees. She cures and sadness or tiredness I accumulate throughout the day. Needless to say, I believe in the luck.
M.Cad and M.Kondjira