Written by Dawn Duncan Harrell.
These days, everyone goes to the hospital, but a traditional midwife delivered our babies. Back then, mothers only came to the hospital if there was a problem. In gratitude, a child’s family helped support their midwife. Whenever we cut down bananas or harvested beans, we told our children, “Take some to your midwife!”
Midwives didn’t want to lose business, even if a birth was tricky, so they said not to go to the hospital. It took the government three years of public service campaigning to convince everyone that we should always give birth in the hospital.
Now we’re grandmothers and it’s twins! Bukuru and Butoyi were born prematurely, but our daughter is healthy and the babies are thriving.
We walked 45 minutes with our daughter, so she could give birth here. It’s too far to come every day, so we stay here and prepare her meals (and ours) in the cookhouse that the hospital provides. We haven’t got a knife, so we’re peeling potatoes with a stick.
When we leave, we’ll collect one kilo (2.3 lbs) of busoma flour for each baby. Bu-so-ma contains uburo (sorghum/millet), soybean, and maize (corn). The health care worker says that when the children are weaned, the busoma porridge will supply them with the nutrition they need to develop properly. The government covers the cost of busoma for children under the age of five. After that, each kilo costs about $1.25. That’s 14 cups of porridge.
In any case, it’s too far to walk just to collect more porridge flour. We’ll probably feed the babies sweet potato when our daughter goes back to work in the fields. That’s tradition. Sweet potato is how we weaned our children.
“Given name?” asks the World Relief health care worker.
“Bukuru,” I tell her, shifting my left hip forward. Then I lean in with the baby on my right. “And Butoyi.”
She finds their names in her log book. It’s the third time I’ve carried them to this field for the malnutrition clinic.
I’ll wait to see if they survive longer than a year. Then I’ll name them properly. In the meantime, twins are always called Bukuru and Butoyi, “first and second” or “heavy and little.” But these two are both little. Too little.
The health care worker wraps Bukuru’s upper arm with her colored tape. Red. When it’s Butoyi’s turn, he measures in the red, too. No one claps. Clapping is only for mothers whose children start in red or yellow and end up in green. If the kids have improved, the group congratulates them.
“Mama, red means the babies have severe acute malnutrition,” the health care worker tells me. “They’re sick. You have to go to the hospital and get busoma flour for protein to feed the babies.”
The hospital is two hours walk from my house. And two hours back. It’s hard enough carrying a baby on each hip to get to this clinic. My husband won’t let me walk a whole day instead of working in our corn field.
“Or you can buy peanuts in the market and grind them up to add to the babies’ porridge.”
I have no money to buy peanuts.
A muzungu lady with a camera takes pictures of me. Everyone is looking. Bukuru cries. Butoyi screams. My breasts are dry.
“Mama, if you don’t feed your babies with protein from ground peanuts or fish,” lectures the health care worker, “they will die.”
I try to smile, but my lip curls. I can’t help it; tears run down my face. The muzungu lady takes her camera down. Tears line her face, too.