Monday, May 12, 2008

A New Life Celebrated; A New Life Cut Short


Erinne was born to two loving parents, Elize and Anastasia, who invited us to partake in the traditional ceremony welcoming their baby into the family and community. It was a joyous celebration, packed with friends, relatives, and neighbors. Cases of Coke and Fanta, plates filled with rice beans and potatos, and most importantly, jugs of urwagwa (locally produced banana beer) were passed amongst the crowd.

After the jugs made several rounds, the speeches began. One half of the room, the mother's side, addressed the other, the father's side, with thanks and gratitude; and gifts of urwagwa. The father's side answered with welcoming words. Each speech was greeted with rounds of clapping. Each speech ended with more gulps of urwagwa. Each speech got longer, louder, and more emotional.

Finally, long after dark, the celebration ended with a rousing song bringing everyone to their feet, clapping, dancing, stomping their feet to celebrate and welcome this new life to the family.
Coming down from this rowdy celebration as we walked back through the pitch dark, we were abruptly detoured by a man approaching saying "Baby sick". We were taken to a small house near the road where a crowd was gathered inside. My heart, previously racing from the dancing and singing was now racing from the concern for this newborn struggling to breathe in this remote valley. When we arrived at the house, we were told that we were too late. The infant had already died.

We entered the house. It was strikingly similar to the ceremony we had just left: a room packed with the family's closest friends, relatives, and neighbors passing a jug of urwagwa around the crowd. The only difference was the painful somber looks on all of the faces glowing in the lantern light.

One new life, one unfortunate death. Both the joy and the pain shared amongst the community in a uniquely African manner. While Erinne will hopefully live a healthy and happy life, the poor nameless child unlucky enough to be born in a place with no access to basic health care will never have that chance.

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