Thursday, February 14, 2013

Adelaieda

October 28, 2012-December 3, 2012. One month and five days.

Remember the story about building a classroom? This was that day. It is really not fair that sometimes I get 2 or 3 stories to tell within the same day and then can go a week doing nothing but watching chickens and getting bug bites. It is especially hard when of the two stories, one is so great and the other so bad. Because you never remember the good stuff. In a few hours, if you just read the last bunch of posts I have put up together, you will remember that I get discriminated against for being a woman, that I threw up in Yaviza, and that a baby died. When that happens please force yourself to remember that I am (ever so painfully slowly) eroding gender roles and gaining respect, that I got 4 latrines mostly built in my community, and that I have some of the best friends in the Darien (and Cocle) a girl could ask for.

But still, a baby died. I have avoided this story for over a month now because it is inherently dramatic and sad and I know my readers will naturally fixate on it. And maybe they should, because it shouldn't have happened. If Adelaiede's mommy lived in the US, she would be 3 months old now. But she lives here, and now Adelaiede is in a concrete box just outside my community. If there is something to get mad about, to get passionate about, something to inspire change, this is it. But what? What exactly are we mad at? What is it that we want to see changed? What can be done to prevent this from happening again?

That is exactly how I felt all day after this happened. Angry. Frustrated. Motivated to create change. But all of that compounded itself on me, because I have no answers. I don't know why she died.

Like I said, it was the day of the classroom construction, a great day. I went to a neighbor's house for dinner and came home about 8pm, noticing the generator was still going and the lights were still on at the tienda, which had normally closed up shop by now. There was a lot of commotion and people coming in and out as well. I went into my room, closed the door, and got ready for bed. That's when the screaming started. Wailing, crying, and screaming more like. I sent a text off to another Volunteer making a quip about a mother giving birth and crawled into bed. I couldn't remember there being a pregnant woman in that family though, so that made me a little uneasy. But it could be a woman from a different house that didn't have a generator, I rationalized. I put my headphones in to listen to music to drown it out for a bit.

I got a text back saying that the Embera women give birth silently. The screaming and wailing went on until well after midnight, and when it stopped, I didn't hear a baby crying. I didn't sleep well that night. The next morning that tienda was closed, so I went to another one. Claudia gave me the news that Tolentino's granddaughter died. When she told me, it was like I already knew it. The signs were there, but I chose to ignore them.

I made breakfast, did my dishes, and braced myself for the next part. I had to go visit the body. When someone dies, they have a 24 hour vigil where everyone comes to pay respects and accompany the soul until it goes to the afterlife at the following sunrise, just before burial. I held out at my host grandma's vigil until after midnight, but I hadn't gone to the one for the first newborn at all, and apparently my absence was noted. I knew that I didn't have to stay for this vigil the whole time, just visit for a bit. But that doesn't mean I wanted to.

I sat there with her grandfather on the floor, her tiny body wrapped in a sheet between us, with a candle burning at her head and feet. Her grandmother was cradling her mother as they both laid there half asleep, too tired to cry anymore.

When I asked what happened, Tolentino told me that she had been fine. She hadn't been sick. At 8pm the night before, she had been lying on her blanket on the floor and then she just stopped breathing. They tried to wake her up, but she never did.

There are a million things that it could have been, but the mystery of her death with forever go unsolved. She could have had a birth defect. She could have fainted or choked or had a seizure.  She could have had SIDS. Her grandfather could have lied to me to cover up some kind of accident. I sometimes still wonder if I had gone over there to see what was going on if there was anything I could have done. Maybe. Maybe not.

A week later, I was visiting a young mother in Danielle's community. She told me about how her young daughter, less than a year old, almost died the previous day. I expected a near drowning story, but instead she told me a story that had a similar structure to one I had recently heard. The girl was in the house, just fine one minute. The next minute she was unconcious and not breathing. They ran to get a nurse from the health center in town (this community is much bigger than mine, with 800 people) and this little girl woke up. The nurse diagnosed her as having fainted due to anemia. Lack of iron in her blood. If only the Embera knew Popeye.
Danielle gave the mother some of her fresh growing spinach and explained that even if the baby was still breastfeeding that she can be malnourished if the mom is malnourished.

I wonder if Adelaiede could have been saved with spinach. I will never know. But this contrasting story helps give my anger and frustration some focused direction. After visiting Adelaiede's body I came home that day, scrubbed my floors, beat my laundry, did the deck workout, and reorganized my hut, because I needed to do something. I was mad. I was driven. And I had no idea what to do with that. With so much ambiguity, where do you start?

Danielle's host sister was my answer. She will see her first birthday because there was someone with health training in her community to help her, and because now her mom knows to eat spinach. In a few months when the latrine project calms down a bit I want to do a nutrition activity with the mothers of Playona.

They are small things. It is impossible to know what kind of impact they will have. But I gotta try. Maybe it could have been the difference for Adelaiede. Maybe not. Regardless, it could still be the difference for a lot of little kids in Playona.

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