Tuesday, May 1, 2012

On Good Fortune, and an Introduction

Readers of this blog know that though I frequently opine on Central African politics and muse about the workings of witchcraft, I rarely write much about myself. The self-absorbed psychological wreck that a final-throes grad student becomes is not much fun to experience, much less read about. But events of the past week put me in touch with the tragedies I sometimes write about in a new, personal way.

About a year ago, a Central African friend of mine, Berenice, passed away, as I explained here. She had started hemorraging during a c-section and both she and the baby died. When I heard what had happened, it seemed a story from another century. Berenice was not a rural villager without access to health care; she was a university lecturer in Bangui who went to the (admittedly awfully shabby) hospitals of the capital. I knew the odds were against her, and yet the question remained: how could she simply bleed to death?

One week ago, I learned how. A truly last-minute c-section led to major tearing of my uterus, and, as a result, massive bleeding. Surgeons roused from their beds spent three hours figuring out how to stanch the flow and put me back together. Before they switched from epidural to general anaesthesia, I remember the surreal feeling of endless tugging on the inside of my abdomen, and the counts of the nurses as they placed sponge after sponge.

Not being in Bangui, where a move to the surgery is nearly always a move to the morgue, I woke up that morning with my daughter in my arms. And though major surgery takes a while to recover from wherever in the world one finds oneself, last week’s trauma is quickly fading under the inundation of small joys and steep learning curve of the new parent.

Still, I find myself thinking often of Berenice, and of the luck of the draw that led her to interment and me to a recovery presided over by angel-like nurses and soothed with painkillers. I don’t pretend to have unearthed profound new thoughts on western privilege. I simply feel fortunate. And less quick to take that for granted.

With baby Zuleika, day 2 on the outside. Photo credit Z's dad.


  1. Thank you for sharing this Lou- I feel fortunate to have you and now Zuleika in the world. Beauty, strength, passion, compassion, ready, caring... some of the words that pop into my head.

    On a much less squirmy from blood but still feeling fortunate note,
    I found out today that my good friend here makes about $10 a day, fifty dollars a week, about what, 150-200 in a month? I took out that much from the ATM today... No new or profound thoughts on western privilege
    here, either. Just feeling fortunate, especially for having had access to books and amazing parents!

  2. Louisa, I've been meaning to send congratulations and best wishes on Zuleika's arrival. And I am so, so glad you got through okay. And for the reminder that we need to make things better for the Berenices we all know.

    1. Thank you! We are all doing well now.

      Little Z has her first chance to visit Bangui in a few weeks -- just a two-day visit for a conference, but I'm still waffling on whether it's worth subjecting a two-month-old to the travel and disorder.

      I've not been posting much lately because I'll be defending in late July and have lots to do before then...

      Thanks again for the support!

  3. Astride. She was my Berenice. Bilingual french/english through hard work to learn that second language at university of bangui, she was widely respected by so many. Thoughtful, graceful, tough, self assured, wise, funny, loving, we met because she was employed at WWF Bangui. She and I lived together for several months during my dissertation fieldwork. I have so many memories with her and it still makes me cry to write this, even though i know crying doesn't get much done. Still i can't help it. For Astride, and my dear colleague Henri Zana who lost his sister a few years back when she bled to death during childbirth in that same hospital, and for Berenice...we the lucky ones need to pace ourselves, center on ourselves and our daughters but not forget those women. Naina is getting old enough now that i am starting to see a horizon of possibility for creative energy and resources from my life into those of Central African women somehow. That feels good. For now, you take care of you and yours, to whom someday you'll convey memories of these strong women whose daughters we would so much, so much wanted to have known our own. For now, all i can tell you is that at nine, Naina already knows of Astride, and of my love and respect and sorrow for her.