Saturday, June 20, 2009

baby in africa

after hours of silent labour, accompanied only with the quiet murmurings of women in a dark hut, nestled in the scorching heat of a village in africa, a baby pours forth in a hot rush onto the dirt floor, landing sprawled between it's mother's feet.
the cord is tied with a bit of hand-spun cotton, and one of the women attending begins to saw against it with a dull knife. when the separation is successful, the squawling infant is lifted up from the dirt and wrapped in a cloth - the same cloth it's mother has used as a skirt, and sometimes as a shawl to ward off an occasional chill in the african night. the cloth has found another use - swaddling the tiny, caremel-colored infant.
when it comes forth, the placenta is whisked away to be buried near the entrance of the family's compound - it's purpose - to ward off evil spirits.
one of the women lowers her mouth to the infant's nose and sucks out the mucous, spits, sucks, and spits, until the breathing is clear.
in the darkness of the hut, the mother and infant lie on a straw mat near a fire that someone has stoked - for more than a week they will be confined to the hut, amidst the constant smoke from the fire, dirt, heat, sweat and darkness.
the smell inside is strong - blood, burning wood, body odor - they all mix together and sting the eyes.
the infant tastes of the mother's milk, tastes the salt of sweat on her skin, tastes the first taste of salt from tears shed. it lies naked against her, warm skin on warm skin in a sweltering place. the heat from outside is just africa as africa is - the heat from the fire is meant to cleanse.
the mother massages the oil from schae nuts into her infant's skin - it glows in the flickering light of the flames.
all the everyday noises and activities from outside are muted in this room. when women come to visit, or bring food for the new mother, they speak in hushed voices. their bare feet make no sound on the dirt floor.
the infant opens it's mouth in a yawn, and someone touches an index finger against it's lips, then the bridge of it's nose, then the forehead where thick, soft, black hair curls damply - they do this special touching to insure that the infant's soul stays within it's body.
on the eighth day, a celebration is held. the whole village attends, drums beating, feet stamping, dirt flying, women singing and clapping in a circle around the mother and infant.
a goat is slaughtered, and it's blood is caught and mixed with water that has boiled in a black cooking pot. village women form an unpenatrable wall around the mother, and she is scrubbed furiously with the blood-water and a course loofa until she gleams.
it's the infant's turn now - an old woman hikes up her brightly-colored cotton wrap-around skirt and sticks her long, thin legs straight out in front of her, her calves forming a cradle on which to lay the naked infant.
it cries lustily as someone scrubs in the same way the mother was, and when the tiny one is held up dripping to the village, everone murmurs their approval.
a witch doctor mutters a blessing over the baby, and then out of nowhere, a grey razor blade is produced. the infant's head is shaved, all the soft, black curls falling to the ground. the hair is collected by the witch doctor to be properly disposed of, in case someone wants to use it in the making of a curse against the New One.
the razor blade is dull, like the knife used in the original separation of baby and mother, and blood blooms in places on the infant's hairless head.
finally, the infant's true name is whispered into it's ear - then, the whisperer turns to the waiting villagers and announces a different name out loud - the name that the infant will be known by.
after only eight days of living, the infant has experienced the tears of it's mother, the sting and scratch of pain, the image of slaughter, the smell of blood, the sound of drums and blessings. after only eight days of living, the infant is old.

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