Holding the Baby

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

During a storm, a young woman needed a lift to the hospital.

Holding the Baby.

To us, living where we did, didn’t seem remote. We were but twenty five miles from the main town of Arusha, which is roughly the same distance we had to travel to town back home. But we had the advantage of a vehicle while the rest of the people in the little hamlet didn’t. If they wanted to go to town, it meant a forty minute walk to the main road and then a thirty minute daladala ride. A daladala is a mini-bus where people are packed in so tightly that the locals termed it banana... after all they knew nothing about sardines. On the homeward journey, they had to carry their purchases all the way back up the hill. So with a few provisos, I was prepared to give people a lift when I could. And when there was an emergency in the village, I was the first port of call because they knew the trip wouldn’t cost them anything.

Strong winds were unusual at where we live on the foothills of Mt. Meru, but a howling gale was blowing one night, when around 10:30, above the noise of the storm, I heard a gonging at the gate. Our bedroom window had mosquito netting and no glass, so above the din of the storm I heard Mbise call out, ‘Mzee is asleep.’

But he called me. ‘Mzee, mzee.’ In his way of it, he wanted to wake me and not Mags, which wasn’t a possibility, because the storm was keeping her awake.

I went downstairs to talk to him.

‘It’s Mama Toto.’ He told me. ‘Bibi is having her baby and she requests a lift to the hospital.’

Mama Toto was a neighbour who I sometimes paid to cook chapatis for my nursery workers – I knew her daughter Bibi, was pregnant.

‘Let her come in out of the wind.’ I suggested, but Mbise turned to show me he already had.

‘I’m here.’ Mama Toto said quietly.

‘What hospital is she to go to?’ I asked her.

‘Nkoaranga.’ She replied, which didn’t please me one bit. Nkoaranga was further up the mountain from us and the track to it wound through indigenous forest. I was concerned about fallen trees blocking the track or broken limbs falling on the vehicle. I told her so.

‘This wind is the work of the devil.’ She asserted, ‘The devil cannot stop the birth of my granddaughter!’

Well I didn’t share her faith in our security, but I suspected that if I didn’t take her, I’d be involved hands-on in the delivery process. The thought didn’t appeal! The other problem occurred to me… Mama Toto lived where vehicle access was impossible.

‘Mbise, can you go to help Bibi down the hill?’ He didn’t move.

‘It’s no problem.’ Mama Toto said, ‘They are bringing her down.’ I had no idea who ‘they’ were but it was obviously in hand.

‘I’ll crank up the Landrover,’ I told Mbise, ‘you go see if they need help and we’ll meet her at the bottom of the footpath.’ The last part of the track is steep, narrow and difficult to negotiate even in daylight. Without hesitation, off he went into the dark, among the falling branches and leaves.

Mama Toto sat in the back seat ready to comfort her daughter while I drove to the arranged spot. They were within sight, only ten or fifteen metres away. Bibi and her mother were relieved she was in the relative safety of the cab.

‘Ok Mbise, you stay with Mama, she’ll be anxious with this wind.’ I told him and off we went.

The track is steep and narrow, but it was a route I often travelled. There were leaves and fallen branches, but there was nothing the vehicle couldn’t bounce over easily, but the bouncing made my passengers nervous. Bibi was having pains and moaning softly, while Mama Toto was comforting her and praying loudly, banishing the devil. ‘Toka shitani!

The hospital was in darkness maybe the wires were down or as often happens the power was off for some other reason. Undaunted, Mama Toto braved the darkness and wind to find someone. I told Bibi that we were safe because there were no trees around us, but the wind rocked the vehicle, sometimes violently. Bibi thanked me and was obviously anxious that the baby would come before she was in the ward. I felt a bit useless sitting in the front seat craning my neck, so I sat beside her and she held my hand while I said what I thought were soothing words, making it up as I went along. Meanwhile the contractions were becoming more regular. An approaching torchlight meant that someone was coming with Mama Toto, and the pair took Bibi away.

‘I will be staying.’ Mama Toto said over her shoulder as she left, ‘You can go.’ So I made my way gingerly down the hill to be greeted by Mags and Mbise.

Four or five days later, I was invited to pick Bibi and her baby up from the hospital to bring them down the hill. Fortunately it was a day that I was working in the nursery, so it was of no particular inconvenience to me to do so. There was a group of women to piga vigelegele - perform a welcoming chant and to escort them home. But that wasn’t were it ended; when the baby girl was due for her first month’s check-up, I was again asked to transport them to the hospital. As with all my bus servicing, I didn’t mind so much the transporting, it was the waiting around I didn’t enjoy… but Bibi was back with the child within half an hour, so I was somewhat chuffed about my luck.

Bibi handed me the baby and told me she had to go back in… that was unexpected! Holding tiny babies isn’t particularly within my comfort zone. Anyway, cradled in my arms she soon fell asleep, which I took as a good thing, but after an hour my arms began to cramp up, and I could feel her warming up – a combination of my own body heat and despite the windows being down, the temperature inside of the cab. Soon the baby began to grizzle so I guessed she was hungry or thirsty or both… and then the crying started! I felt awkward getting out of the Landrover because I didn’t want to drop the child, but it was stinking hot outside and because it was around midday, there was no shade! So I found it to be cooler in the vehicle. Women walking to and from the hospital seemed to see the funny side of my dilemma as they greeted me, so I asked one if she could find Bibi.

‘She will be here soon.’ Was her confident reply, but she hadn’t yet been into the hospital nor did she know Bibi from a bar of soap.

I’d been waiting for more than two and a half hours when Bibi came back, bright as a button, by which time the baby had become tires and had settled. Bibi simply told me that the doctor had had an emergency.

The baby was quickly transferred, and before I’d turned the vehicle around, Bibi was feeding her. Sure there was a bit of frustration at the time, but now there’s a sense of satisfaction in playing a part to bring someone safely into this world.  




Submitted: May 27, 2020

© Copyright 2021 moa rider. All rights reserved.

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