Finally, this trip to Madagascar I've been dreaming of for a few years is just on the horizon. The itinerary is solidified, the workshops on keeping oneself and one's environment healthy, family planning, breastfeeding, and training for midwives are being worked on, the last of the midwifery equipment and supplies are going to be bought on Friday, and updates on the political situation in Tana, the capital, being given to us by our friends (Karen and Mitch) there. Karen, who came up with the idea for this event, as well as planned and coordinated the entire thing in between tandem nursing, teaching university, and doing hardcore paleontology expeditions on the beaches and in the forests of Madagascar, not to mention planning a move to Australia (did I mention Karen and her husband Mitch are some of the most remarkable people ever?), has been in Madagascar the past few months and has let me know that the women and midwives of the Taratra group are excited for our arrival. This, of course, just stokes my own excitement.
I have my raincoat, camping mattress, back pack, warm sleeping bag (it gets to freezing at night there this time of year), and every homeopathic diarrhea remedy known to man. I've had my hepatitis A shot, and was very kindly given some malaria pills by my fellow MotherWittie Steph who had some left over from her travels in Africa. Every available bit of free space we (Sarah and Deborah, the other Canadian members of Taratra) have will be packed up with warm clothes to give away to children and adults in Mahatsinjo, the area in which we'll be spending most of our time. We have also had a request for Elizabeth Taylor perfume (not sure for whom, but hey, everyone should have some something fancy to feel good, even if they live or work in a rain forest) and dental floss. We're also bringing some bubbles for the kids there to blow (apparently they LOVE blowing bubbles, and it's a real treat), and a couple of soccer balls (deflated, of course) for the kids to play with.
I know that when we get there (after a flight to Paris, a layover for a few hours, then a 10 hour flight to Madagascar), we will be met by Karen and Mitch and go to the house they rent just outside of the capital. The next day, we will drive for several hours as far as a car can take us to our destination, then probably hike a couple of hours to the site. If the weather allows, we will go visit some lemurs, and be introduced to the four midwives. The next few days will be spent holding workshops, taking down some data, getting a sense of what is wanted/needed and the best way to help, hopefully creating an infrastructure for easy follow up and future visits. Back in the capital, we'll scour the souvenir market, and Sarah and I will be hunting down tons of essential oils (Madagascar is famous for their amazing oils) and interesting homeopathic remedies. We'll have dinner with Mitch and Karen at their favourite Chinese restaurant, then we'll grab our flight home.
Sarah, Deb, and I decided to pay for a 24 hour stopover in Paris, another place I've never been. Our plan is just to walk around the entire time and soak it all in. If we're stopping there anyway, we might as well travel 'til that travel bug is spent. Then we'll come home.
I am beside myself with excitement for the entire experience, but there are a few things in particular which fill me with the most anticipation. One, is the knowledge that I'll get to sit around and chit chat with the Malagasy midwives (with the help of an interpreter). If all the midwives speak a bit of French, we can get by with that, but if not, we'll need help communicating with each other. These ladies have attended TONS of births, all at home, obviously, and I can only imagine what kind of knowledge they have. They have asked for some hands on technical training for difficult situations, as well as for some basic information that will help them immensely in their work. It definitely feels good to be able to contribute to that. But I know I'm going to be awestruck by these Rainforest midwives and many aspects of their customs, beliefs, and intuitions surrounding the birth process. I can only imagine the inventive things these women have come up with in challenging situations. My sense is that they probably have some pretty amazingly developed motherwit. One of the midwives Karen has told me about is named Ratine. She is a tiny lady who is a total hoot. She literally collapses onto the ground with laughter. Ah, midwives...they are probably riot grrrls everywhere you go.
Another thing I am looking forward to is the newness of this experience. I have never done anything remotely like this. My family is a little worried about me, worried that something might happen and I'll be so far away from "civilization". But to be honest, when I think of my being on the edge of the Rainforest in the depths of Madagascar, I don't feel afraid. Truly, the thing I'm most afraid of is a bad stomach. But even if that does happen, I'll be okay. We will have some Cipro available if things get out of control, and there is apparently a really good first aid kit in the camp to treat infections, some injuries, and stomach bugs. Deb is a family doctor, so I figure her knowledge and skills will be a great resource if anyone is sick or hurt (providing it isn't her). In an area as truly remote as this, probably nobody is going to get hit by a car, be a victim of a crime, or fall out of a window. There are apparently no major poisonous creepy crawlies to worry about, and there are no man eating predators around, so unless there's some kind of lemur uprising, I think we're good. If there is a major emergency, there is a satellite phone at the camp. Karen and Mitch bring their young daughters there, and all feel very healthy and strong when they spend months at the camp, eating simple rice, beans, veggies, and whatever fruit is in season, and getting a lot of exercise, fresh air, and rest. Getting a break from city noise and electricity is pretty healing too.
I am SO happy to be going with friends. Sarah and I are close. We are friends who have attended each others' births and have attended some seriously far out, crazy, intense and amazing births together. You're pretty much sisters at that point. I have been a doula for quite a few of Deborah's patients, and I feel we have absolutely glorious birth team chemistry. The more I've had the opportunity to hang out with her as we prepare for the trip, the more I see what a generous, compassionate, smart, funny lady she is. When Karen asked for my help in choosing a doctor for our team, she was the first I thought of, and she agreed right away when I asked her. She clicked easily with Karen, Sarah, and me, and I am just so happy she's on board. I have attended the births of Karen and Mitch's daughters, and I have loved them since the first time I met them. So while we all be doing important work, it will be immensely fun too. Knowing I can announce, "Oh, man, stop the hike for a sec, I think I have the runs!" or sniffle because I'm missing my husband, kids, and dog so much, and that there will be support and good humour, makes me feel very safe indeed.
But I think what stands out in my dreams of Madagascar the most right now is the sky. I can only imagine looking up at that sky at night, miles and miles away from any electricity and major roads, and being able to see STARS. I can't fathom the profound, car-less, electrical hum-less silence that must exist in the space between and surround the night sounds of the forest. I cannot even conceive of the smells of the air and the earth.
If you'd like to read more about Karen and Mitch's work in Madagascar, and/or would like to make a donation to Sadabe, please visit www.sadabe.org
I promise, Friends, to take as many photos as possible and blog whenever I can, though it probably won't be until I get home.
MotherWitties Millie and Steph are going to meet next week to conceive of a grant request for us MotherWit doulas to one day go to Peru, where Millie's brother is a neonatologist. Millie is passionate about learning about the birthing culture and experiences of the women there (Millie being of Peruvian descent) and facilitating an expedition for us to learn and to teach. She relayed a scene her brother witnessed of a traditional midwife holding a woman in a supported squat. The midwife was vocalizing very harshly and strongly. The birthing woman would respond in a big yell. Back and forth they shouted. To Millie's brother, it looked as if the midwife was yelling violently at the lady in her care. But the baby emerged gently. When the midwife was asked, "Why were you yelling like that?" she answered, "I was healing that woman!" This midwife was very connected to the emotional pain the birthing woman had experienced in her life, especially aware of the energy of the pain surrounding the death of the woman's mother. The midwife was yelling for all the tension to dissipate. And it worked. She was probably very aware of the vibrations of her tones and where they would resonate in the woman's body, and that the ferocity of her sounds gave the woman permission and strength to release. This story was so powerful to me. Women who work with birth are so rich in amazing knowledge that I feel insatiable in my desire to learn from them.
As doulas, we are committed to reconnecting women to and supporting their motherwit. Having the opportunity to go to different lands and learn from other birth attendants gives us new and wider perspective, allowing us to bring so much back to help heal this culture. And our knowledge of the really positive aspects of birth in this culture can help others in theirs too.
Blessings to birth attending sisters everywhere. Blessings to the midwives under the Malagasy sky. Blessings to the Peruvian birth healing women. Blessings to my doula sister Rivka in Italy. Blessings to my doula friends in New Brunswick. Blessing to my doula students past and present, scattered around the globe (from Portland USA to Benin Africa). Blessings to my Facebook doula buddies from near and far. Love to all of you everywhere.
I will be back in mid September with lots of stories to tell. Stay tuned, and be well.
The lady on the far left with the curly hair is Sarah Roberts, who just returned from Mahatsinjo where she hung out with Karen and her family, and spent her days facilitating games, fun activities, and educational opportunities for the area's many children. The lady with the baby in red is my friend Sarah, who is a US trained birth attendant who practices in Texas. The next lady with the child is Karen. The two ladies at the end are Marie-Maude and Renee, owners and operators of Melons and Clementines. They were kind enough to let us use their lovely space to hold our silent auction to raise funds for our project. And the two small people in front are Deborah (in pink) and me. We are bending our knees a little, but yes, we are teeny. So now that you have an image of us, send us prayers for a safe and fruitful trip. Thanks!