The above quote comes from a personal hero of mine, Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu. I love that guy. Completely badass.
First days here pass in a blur. Between the jet lag, the (absolutely required for me) ambien use, and the time difference, we are all walking around like cotton wool encased zombies. The group is starting to get to know each other; living in such tight quarters breaks down barriers quickly, and it is always interesting to observe the ins and outs of interpersonal relationships. the group is much smaller this year, but I feel it is more intense. The three American participants are not only experienced doulas, but two of them are student midwives, and the other is working towards going to nursing school.
I redid the entire curriculum this year, as last year my role was more supervisory. The majority of the teaching was done by my colleagues, Kristina Kruzan and Melinda Ferguson. This was awesome for the first year, as it enabled me to watch what worked and what didn’t, see how the Ugandan cultural activities resonated and generally keep an eye on the big picture . This year I don’t feel like that is quite so necessary, so I can focus more on the actual workshop content. The curriculum this year was designed to cross the streams a little bit, exploring some deep advanced topics from both the doula and midwifery perspective. I think it turned out really well, and I am very excited to teach it.
All the participants are on such personal journeys of their own. It is amazing to see how deeply they are connecting with each other this early in the trip. I am hearing very intense stories being told: histories and struggles, hopes and dreams, deeply private experiences…all are coming out so quickly and easily as we walk these red dirt roads together. I find myself caring so deeply for these women. They are open and present and eager for the lessons Africa will teach them.
So the cast of characters:
Marquita is an amazingly intelligent young woman, who is having the singular experience of being an African American in Africa. She has a unique road to walk, as she searches to integrate her southern upbringing, her work with marginalized communities in Seattle, and the huge overwhelming ness that is Uganda. She is a bright light in the Seattle birth community, and I hope I can be a solid support to her as her heart opens even more here.
Kathryn is a pre nursing student with the eventual goal of becoming a CNM. She has wanted to come to Africa for a long time, and is very friendly and eager to make connections. She is the first to ask someone’s name, to ask questions, and to draw a smile from someone. She is embracing the Ugandan way of connecting, never failing to ask after someone’s family or spend a few extra minutes in conversation.
Finally we have Jolene joining us. I feel I know her the best, having attended two of her six births over the years. She is also hosting two Korean boys this year, bringing the number of children in her household to eight. The Ugandans love this, as many of them have large families themselves. She has brought a photo book of her family to share, and it is a big hit. She is a lovely soul, sweet and generous, with a lot of sauciness to spice things up.
One of the most interesting things about returning year after year is the fact that the project coordinators change every year, as do the development volunteers. It is so fun to see how the different personalities shape the energy of Shanti, making it truly a different experience every time. I will introduce them tomorrow as it is getting late here and I am barely able to keep my eyes open. It seems like jet lag gets harder a I get older. It has been a long day changing money, riding bodas and being embraced and welcomed back by the staff.
Sister Mary, the head midwife at Shanti, a delightful person in all ways, took us on a tour of the center, which was awesome, as always. Then Kato, the groundkeeper took us on a garden and village tour, pointing out the many useful plants that Shanti cultivates and that grow wild. Kato’s heart is broken right now, having recently lost his 8 year old son to leukemia, but his smile was as bright as ever. I shared a little about my own experiences with loss and cancer…not sure if it helped or not, but sometimes it helps people feel not so alone in grief. The loss of a child is the same the world over, unfortunately.
We covered some pretty basic stuff today, like the history of the doula profession, focusing on Penny Simkin’s work, naturally, but also my friend Dr. Christine Morton’s work on the sociological impact of doula care. I urge you to check out Christine’s work. Her dissertation, Doula Care: The (Re)-Emergence of Woman-Supported Childbirth in the United States, was the first scientific exploration of doulas and their role in modern childbirth. Her website is www.christinemorton.com, and she has a new book out soon. The information seemed to go over well with the group, and everyone got into a feminist tizzy about why women birth professionals, including nurses and ob-gyns, do not have their experiences documented, either formally or informally. Fascinating stuff.
Back at the Guest House we had a relaxing evening, trying to make ourselves sleep when our bodies thought it was 9 am, but somehow we managed.
And in case you are keeping score at home, still no sign of our lost luggage.