Dr. Azadeh and I stood in the bright African sun, leaning over a railing of one of the rural extensions of the clinic, sipping mango juice and chatting while waiting for the director of the clinic to finish up so we could all return to Kanifing.
“If you deliver any babies this week, could I come with you to watch?” I asked.
“Haven’t you seen enough deliveries?”
“I’ve seen plenty, but they’ve all been to dead babies.”
And it was true. Because the most complicated cases in the country are all referred to the hospital at which I did my internship, each delivery I have seen has been a still birth. I am still trying to eliminate those terrifying, devastating images from my mind. I can imagine nothing more devastating than carrying a child for nine months, feeling him kick inside your belly, dreaming of watching him grow up and then having it all end before it even begins.
“Why should I let you in to see a delivery then? You are a bad juju.” Dr. Azadeh said, his eyes crinkling at the corners.
A juju is a good luck charm carried by nearly all Gambians, either worn around the waist or the ankle or just carried around. Dr. Azadeh and I frequently deal with them at the Saturday morning clinic where I have become the unofficial radiologist, allowed to carry out all of the ultrasounds and predict due dates based on the circumference of the baby’s head. Before spreading on the lubricant for the ultrasound, anywhere from one to ten jujus have to be pulled over that bulging belly so that we can see the baby.
I am not a bad juju.
This morning I made the mile-long trek to Gambian Family Planning Association—a Saturday morning tradition that I have grown to look forward to each and every week–ignoring cat calls and forging my way through sandy back roads. I arrived at the clinic just in time to carry out the first patient’s ultrasound, and the morning continued as usual.
After thirty-some patients had been seen, Dr. Azadeh and I packed up our stuff and headed out to his old Benz. “Let’s check the labor ward quickly,” he said. “Maybe you can stick around for a delivery.”
“Are you sure? I’m a bad juju.”
“Shut up,” he joked, pulling me into the ward.
Sure enough, Adama Camara had just been admitted, already 7 cm dilated.
“Shouldn’t be long now,” Dr. Azadeh said as he walked out of the door. “Call me later.”
Forty-five minutes of coaching, screaming, and some serious pushing later, Mariama Camara was brought into this world. As cliché as it may sound, I can honestly say that I have never witnessed such a beautiful miracle. Words cannot describe how excited I was to see that first little tuft of hair when she began to crown, and I cannot begin to articulate how awe-struck I was to see a whole miniature human body emerge from such a tiny woman. I’ve read about it in books, seen it on TV, heard about it so many times, but absolutely nothing compares to witnessing the miracle of life first-hand.
As Adama recovered, I was on Mariama duty—cleaning off her little face and arms and making sure she didn’t kick off her blanket. As the mid-wife dealt with the mother, I stood watching Mariama, simply amazed and overwhelmed with what I had just witnessed. Gradually more and more color filled her perfect little cheeks and suddenly, after a few half-hearted blinks, she opened her eyes to see this whole new world and this strange, white-skinned creature she will later come to know as “Tubob.”
I fell in love.
After everyone had been successfully transferred out of the labor ward, I grabbed my bag and rushed the door. “I’ll be right back!” I said, hustling out. “Give me an hour, max.”
I walked as fast as my little Tubob legs could take me, through the sandy back roads and across the traffic-ridden streets to Happy Camp, where I keep a drawer full of Tubob things that I have been saving for a moment such as this. I grabbed two bars of fancy French soap and a baby soft stuffed bunny, threw them into a bag, and rushed back out into the 100 degree day.
I hustled past children playing and goats butting heads, dodged a circumcision parade, screaming obscenities at the masked man asking me for money, stormed by the car park as taxi drivers shouted their many pick-up lines my way, and finally made it back to the clinic.
“Adama!” I said, walking in the room. I walked over to her, bearing my gifts like a modern-day wise man. “This is for Mariama,” I said, taking out the bunny, “and here is some really cool soap I brought over from America.”
“God bless you, God bless you,” she repeated.
“Adama, amuloo morom,” I said in Wolof. You have no equal.
“God bless you, God bless you.”
I am still in awe from what I have experienced today. I was told before I departed for The Gambia that this experience would change my life. I never thought I would get to do all the things I have done, meet all the people I have met, experience all I have experienced. This place has changed me, changed my future, changed my goals and dreams and all for the better. I have been transformed. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world—definitely not a bad juju.