Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Monday, 4 June 2012

Anua Hospital


My third child, Ranju, was born in Anua hospital, near Uyo in Nigeria.  Near as in twenty minutes drive into the unchartered 'bush.'
    At the time we were living in Ikot Ekpene and I was getting huge, like a beached whale. The baby was reluctant to appear according to the doctor's schedule, so I got more and more anxious. Anua hospital was  a good hours drive away from Ikot Ekpene and not a safe propostion if labour started in the night.
  I consulted with Sister Cecilia at Anua and she said, 'Haven't you got any friends you can stay with near by? Better be within ten minutes of us.' Mmm...
  There were the Dharmapalans. They were my closest friends in that area and they lived in Obot Idim, working in a small Secondary school, also miles away from anywhere. But I was reluctant to ask. It would be me, my husband, and two boys for an indefinite period of time. It could test the deepest friendship. One day, Padma, the better half of the Dharmapalan partnership turned up at Ikot Ekpene.
   'Can't stay here an hour away from the hospital. Look at you, getting more and more enormous. Come and stay with us.' That Kerala grace, which is almost disappearing from Malayalees now; she made it sound easy.
   She looked at her rather less generous husband, but he could not refuse in front of us.
   'Yes, sure,' he said uncertainly.
   'Come out quickly, baby,' I prayed. We moved to Obot Idim.
   One week passed and then another. I was now three weeks overdue. Padma looked after me as though I was her sister. We wandered round her garden where she had planted red cheera in between Cosmos and Marigolds. The almost maroon leaves of the spinach lent a splash of colour to the rest of the border. When she needed some for the kitchen she cut the tops off and let the stumps sprout leaves again.
   She had brought a Tamarind plant all the way from Palakkad and this grew in the compound too. She had been in Food Storage in India and had a deep respect for edible plants of all kinds. We shared this enthusiam for the garden.
   'We've introduced Tamarind into Nigeria,' she would say happily. However, life was not easy in Obot Idim.
     'Let's go back home,' I often whispered to my husband as all four of us crammed into an iron bed that sloped at the sides. 'Baby will come out when it is ready.' Every time I got out of bed, I would nearly topple, my centre of gravity having its tantrums. But we stayed. Even though we had the one bed in the house and the Dharmapalans were sleeping on mattresses, on the floor, in the living room.
   When labour began it was a relief except the time was a little inconvenient. The men got out of bed and two cars drove to Anua at two in the morning in convoy. In case one had a flat tyre or a break down. There were no street lights within calling distance.
   Looking back I am astonished at the situations I breezed into those days without thought. Was I just young and ignorant or plain foolhardy? It was a relief to drive into Anua hospital where the generators hummed and lights blazed. Sister Cecilia took bearings and put me on a trolley and wheeled me straight into the delivery room.
   Ranju was born a few hours later, a huge baby with the most placid temperament you could imagine.
   'After feeding her, tickle her sole and wake her up before you put her down,' Sister advised. I did that and she learned to put herself to sleep, without being rocked or carried. I learned a lot from Sister.
   Some nights I felt a bit eerie, on my own, in the dim night light. There were always sounds of activity in the corridors. More deliveries and treatments all around.
   One night I was terrified. In the room next to mine a woman screamed through the night - long, mad screams that went on and on. I stepped into the corridor not knowing where to hide.
   Suddenly Sister was at my side. 'Just a woman in Eclampsia,' she said. She sat down on my bed when she saw my terror. 'She'll live. The pressure will come down and she'll be fine.' She stayed till I calmed down.
   When I left the hospital Sister gave me a five-pound tin of light milk so I wouldn't gain weight. She also gave me a diet sheet. That was one pregnancy after which I did not look like a porpoise.
   I often think of that hospital. Deep in practically a forest with no diversions, those nuns worked selflessly. Three years later when the Biafra war broke out, they left Nigeria. Did they go back? Did they train some Nigerian nurses to take over the management? I hope so.
   My life has been full of little kindnesses from strangers. Padma was one of them, Sister Cecilia another.
   How blessed have I been!



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