Sunday, November 7, 2010
I first met Omega in 1999 when I was working with the US Peace Corps in Tanzania. Omega was a language trainer, and was living in Arusha where we trained our new volunteers. She was a very bright and pleasant woman, and I loved to kid around with her. She was one of the best trainers we had, and it was fun to see her interact with the volunteers. Omega was also very pregnant at the time.
Although she was a Tanzanian, Omega was very accustomed to western ways. I liked talking to her, as she was eager to learn more of our idiomatic language. One day our conversation turned to her pregnancy, and she did not hesitate. I mention this now, as I would learn that many Tanzanian women don't speak of their pregnancy, and pretty much everyone around them ignores the fact. I suppose it has something to do with the high infant mortality rate, and it was just bad luck to talk about the pregnancy. I did not know this at the time. We joked about her condition, and she even let me touch her belly. Once again, she did not hesitate, and I knew no differently.
A month or two before her due date, Omega started to have difficulties. So much so that they eventually took her to the infirmary. Several of us went to visit her after a few days, and I was shocked at the conditions of her room. There must have been a dozen beds in a room 15 x 15, with a dozen women in various stages of pregnancy. It was obvious the bedding wasn't often washed, nor were the women. Anything they needed had to be brought to them by family or friends, the infirmary didn't even feed them. Omega couldn't leave her bed, so I had to weave my way into the room to stand beside her bed. She was as amiable as ever, but I knew she was having difficulty. We joked according to our custom, and I left. Instead of going back to my hotel, I went down to the local market. I bought a few dozen oranges and a dozen Toblerone candy bars. I went back to the infirmary, bribed the guard to let me back in (past visiting hours), and entered Omega's room. I gave her the oranges and candy bars and she distributed them through out the room. They were all grateful, and we spent a gentle hour chatting, mostly them laughing at my baby Swahili. I was glad I could take their minds of their pain and the miserable conditions of their room for a short time.
Omega lost the child a few days later. By that time, another language trainer had educated me about their customs regarding pregnancy and childbirth. To this day, the ugly notion that I had "jinxed" her pregnancy creeps into my mind. Rationally, I know that I had nothing to do with it. But it still tugs at my soul from time to time.