Myths of motherhood

Two days ago we were in verdant Kisii, where the bright green tea plantations provide a vivid splash of colour even when the clouds are angry and black (which they frequently are!). It is the wettest and most densely populated area of Kenya.

We are now in Turkana. This is the driest and most sparsely populated area of Kenya. The heat today is a punishing 35 degrees, and this is winter. Last year this region witnessed the worst food crisis in east Africa in more than 60 years.

We’re here to find out more about Merlin’s work in maternal and child health. This morning we visited the maternity ward at Lodwar District Hospital. We weren’t due to be there until 11 but at 10.30 Adan from the local Merlin office came rushing into the compound. He’d received a call from the Merlin midwife; three women who had delivered last night were waiting for us but they wanted to leave – you pay per night for your bed here. Twenty minutes later we were there.

I chatted to Margaret, whose daughter Zamu Zamu was just 16 hours old. She told me how with her first baby she had not been to the clinic until she was seven months pregnant. Instead she’d sought advice from other women. Advice included ‘do not be idle, keep working hard’.

We’re not talking about the kind of work most people reading this blog regard as hard.

A few minutes later I met Lokwawi. She was at the hospital with her baby, born at home prematurely and admitted to hospital weighing just 900 grams (around 2lb). James, another member of the Merlin team, explained that two of the most common causes of premature birth here are overworking and exposure to sunlight.

I thought about the advice that Margaret had received.

Meanwhile Lokwawi will have to return to her community for a complex ritual to rid her of the evil that premature birth has brought into her family.

A vital part of Merlin’s work here is community education to debunk myths. Sometimes on these trips you have to hunt out the compelling stories that bring an NGO’s work to life; sometimes they slap you in the face.

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