BEHOLD WHO I AM AND BELIEVE- RUBEN MATERNITY LAUNCH
On the last days of the great festival Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts let him/ her come to me let them drink they who believe in me for within them rivers of living water will flow.”(John Ch. 7). This is A short gospel exerts from the Pentecost vigil celebrated recently and I dared believe for a fleeting moment that this was me.
June 1st Kenya too was daring to believe in itself as it celebrates 55 years of self-rule. Madaraka day and holiday gave me an extra hour sleep and a rare sense of freedom about the lack of jobs to do and a chance to just drink as one who believes.
I went down to Ruben Centre and on arrival I found all was quiet and calm, including in the newly functioning birthing unit. Entering I was surprised to see two expectant mothers in stage one of their labour. Suddenly I knew how I was going to spend my Madaraka morning. I would just be present to this drama of new life that would suddenly be ushered in. I was on a great learning curve and soon appreciating the skills and knowledge of the 2 nurses on duty. I watched the two mamas walking, groaning and being patient with the unstoppable physiological process taking its course.
Soon one baby was placed in our new resuscitaire and I was suddenly transfixed at the new life stirring before me. Gulping for air, wee coughs and splutters as lungs rejected uninvited fluids, eyes being wiped, and wriggling body and arms. ‘ Welcome to Kenya mtoto (baby),’ said the nurse as she lifted the little bloke up. ‘ Remember it is Madaraka day, and may you live your life in freedom and peace.” Then putting him down she asks, ‘Frank what time is it? “ About midday,’ I replied but soon got rebuked as the nurse wanted the hour minute and second in an apparent need to record this child’s birth with great accuracy and respect for what this child might become.
I then retired to the front desk to just marvel at it all, but in no time more sounds came from the birthing area. Baby number two was on its way and as this happened a man came along and asked for Teresia. I went in and the woman who had just delivered pointed to the now pulled curtain. Going back out I told the man that his wife was delivering their baby now, ‘ Come and listen.’ He retreated to the safety of the nearby tree. Shortly there was a healthy cry as new lungs experienced a burst of oxygen and I called him to come and listen but again he refused. Emboldened I went and took his hand and led him into the unit just as his baby was being lowered into the resuscitaire. ‘It’s a girl,’ he blurted and left and I was left wondering what mark out of ten that comment betrayed. I followed him outside and prevented him from leaving the scene, saying in ten minutes I am sure your wife will love to see you. I again retreated the front desk to ponder life for a bit. ‘ Within him rivers of living water will flow,’ came again to me and I just felt alive in this moment of time. This was baby number nineteen since last week and we don’t open the birthing unit until tomorrow. “Oh my, what have I done?” I asked myself.
An hour later the nurses seemed to imagine they deserved a cuppa and one said to me,’ Frank we have a real problem here.” I dreaded what was to come next and she went on, ‘ How are we going to get these mothers to go home? They have hot meals prepared for them, love, care and attention for once in their lives, nice clean bedding and comfortable beds and wait for it… a hot shower. No one wants to go home.” I laughed and said,’ that is why I love it here, as my two bob’s worth goes along way.” I felt like a new millionaire.
June 2nd arrived and the day of the official opening of the birthing unit. Three more babies had arrived in the night and so all was set for the big day in the life and times of Ruben Centre and indeed the women of Mukuru slums.
And so just after midday the ceremony began with a good crowd of women, the Guest of honour (Nairobi County government women’ representative) and even some uninvited politicians. The newly formed Ruben school orchestra bravely put out the National anthem (it was recognized as people stood for it) followed by a prayer, then the school-performing group showed off their talent and then the politicking and grandstanding began. The Nairobi City County Health minister promised nurses, equipment and an ambulance by Monday and the people cheered.
The sub-county Doctor and director of health spoke of the importance of this birthing unit. In a city with nearly 5 million people, there are only twenty eight public maternity centers, one in four women are pregnant, and one in seven births has life threatening complications were just some of his facts.
He then launched into an attack on the politicians in front of him who have let down the women and health facilities by their failure to resource the maternity centers and to address the pressing needs. “ Forget your plans to bring Cuban doctors to Nairobi, and instead use the money that each one will take and hire ten nurses so that facilities like the one Br. Frank has built can provide affordable maternity care,” he told them. Before finishing he pleaded for better consultation between policy makers and practitioners on the ground. The crowd cheered.
The Guest of honor unveiled an official plaque, then more speeches and finally clinic staff gathered for cake, some bubbly wine was popped, and appreciation for their good work expressed. Finally they left and I locked up a few rooms but before leaving to celebrate the day with a few Australian visitors, I decided to pass through the birthing unit to say good-bye. Four women and their babies were there in beds, not a visitor in sight and it struck me how exhausted, and sad they all were. One new mother was crying and very distressed so I moved to her side. Eventually she was composed enough to tell me she needed my help.’ Br. Frank, yesterday as I set out to walk here to have this baby, my husband said he would not be here when I returned as he has found a better wife. And I have nothing and no one to turn to, “
I looked at the sleeping baby in a dirty old blanket and knew it was real. ‘I don’t want to leave here,” she implored. The silence was deafening as we looked at each other and I finally asked, ‘ What do you need from me?”
‘ Give me $30.00 please and I will go back home tomorrow morning to my mother in our rural home in Kisii (eight hours by bus) ” she said. I phoned a community health volunteer (CHV) she knew, and when she arrived I learnt that this mother had two older little children being cared for at this moment by neighbours. The CHV said she would care for the mother and children and help her get to the bus station by 7.30am the next morning. The new mother cried. I cried. The helplessness, misery and distress this woman was enduring seemed overwhelming. Betrayal, rejection and abandonment, defined her now and all at a time which I thought should be for a new mother’s joy and happiness.
I left her and headed off home, acutely aware that both the sounds of the day’s laughter, singing and celebration had been snuffed out, and also that my promised ‘mighty’ river of living water had been reduced to a $30.00 trickle going no where.
June 3rd Sunday and now reflecting on the past two days and the experience of briefly being both a millionaire and living waters, and I hear St Augustine (5th Century) invitation to behold who I am and believe and be ‘the body of Christ, both broken and poured out for the wretched. Slowly the past two days defined themselves as gifts of real consciousness at being someone, somehow fully connected to humanity in this wee moment in our universe story.
Is this what the river of living water talked about?
Is my holy grail actually within reach here: in the lives of these poor people and in the life and times of Ruben Centre.
By: Br. Frank O'Shea
Director Ruben Centre