Saturday, July 24, 2010

I'm living in contradictions

I'm tired and energized. Though I came to South Africa with little expectations, it was still so different than I imagined. Khayelitsha Maternity Clinic's labour and delivery ward is busy and slow, just like labour. Just as a woman may quietly labour with slow deep breaths, her body is in a constant state of change and progression. In the same way, though the sisters (that's what they call the midwives in the clinic) may be eating, singing, and chatting, there is at any given moment 1-3 women in active labour in the next room and 1-8 women in the early stages of labour in the room beyond the first. Since January 1st of this year, 1437 babies have been born in this clinic.

My role here is different than I expected. I'm learning a lot more about the women working these 12 hour daily shifts and less about birth. These women are amazing, vibrant, resilient, and most of the time I don't understand a word they say. They speak limited English but are determined to teach me Xhosa.

I came here with the expectation of learning midwifery from South Africans, to give emotional support to mothers, and in some space to create a project. I'm not really doing any of those things. I"m learning to "B Still" as my YWCA rock says. I'm learning to take in every click of the Xhosa tongue, and every life lesson the sisters pass on.

As for my project and patchworks, I can't tell you where these journeys will end. Dr. Fish keeps telling me to "trust the process". I'm slowly learning to follow her advice. I keep thinking of a quote from Eddie Izzard in The Riches. "Life's a river kid. You gotta go where it takes you."

Here's a small section from my journal on 7/21, our first day of observation. Tonya is a graduate student at University of Cape Town. She is helping us on our journey to better understand the surrounding culture. Enjoy! Enkosi!

...I'm sitting in the ward watching this woman in labour. She is so quiet. She makes little noise. She walks the halls in laps. She's having a contraction now, softly she whimpers. Tonya says women here are not allowed to feel pain. They have no right, no voice. African women are expected to be stronger, to "shut up and take it". Tonya said the staff is often so overwhelmed and tired that they do not allow patients to express their pain. If these women cry out, they are silenced by weary women working night and day to deliver their babies....


  1. Your journal entry was so beautiful in its peace. Do trust the process, from our many conversations it is life's way. You are exactly where you are supposed to be - both for the women you are aiding and the women who will become part of your heart.
    Virtual spelunking anytime you need. Wrapping you in BIG HUGS...

  2. Wow, thats all I can say. Thank you for blogging and journaling so that we may share in your understanding and insight into women from another culture.