A Christian midwife describes her work in North Africa
It was a home with which my colleagues were familiar. They had been here for two previous deliveries and had been honoured guests for meals following those births. For me, however, it was a first-time experience — and one I shall never forget.
It was dark inside the house made from mud and straw. There was no electricity, so I was thankful that we had a torch to show us where to place our feet. It smelt of wood smoke from the small fire in a door-less room to our left, where water was boiling in a kettle — for tea or our hand-washing?
Another odour was to become familiar to me over the years — that of sheep kept indoors during the cold winter months, and the hay on which they fed.
Struggling with our suitcases we climbed up the mud steps, worn into strange shapes by feet and water spills over time. Definitely no running on these steps!
As my head came up through the hole cut in the floor to allow access to the single room upstairs, I spotted our client. She was in the corner, curled up on a threadbare rug, with a couple of blankets to ward off the chill.
She had the pretty, pale features of the women of the local Berber tribe. I knew that this home would be quite new to them — previously she and her family would have been nomads, living in tents and travelling with their flocks wherever water and grazing were to be found. They were now settled in this village so that their children could go to school.
The two ladies I had come with were already by her side unzipping cases, asking the usual orientating questions — When did your pains start? Is the baby moving? — and settling her comfortably for an examination.
I started to move across the floor of the room and had the weirdest sensation of my life! The floor moved as if it were made of water … and yet I could see it was baked mud.
Another step, another wave — and wobble! My face must have alerted the others, as they started giggling so uncontrollably that they were unable to speak and help me.
I was rooted to the spot, too surprised and (if I’m honest) too afraid to go on. Just then the husband came up behind me, grabbed the case from my hand and steered me around the edge of the room towards the ladies, my elbow firmly in his hand.
Then he also laughed and lifted the corner of a carpet in the centre of the floor — underneath was a ragged-edged hole through which I could see the ‘kitchen’ area downstairs. Bits of straw were poking through the edges, and a beam of wood lay exposed in the worn-through floor.
I had visions of what would have happened if I had carried on walking — not a very auspicious beginning to my relationship with this lovely family!
The rest of the evening passed with my colleagues delighting in sending me downstairs to ask for more rugs or water, or a bowl for washing their hands (just so they could see the timid way in which I crept around the room hugging the wall for safety!).
But it was worth it to witness their delight at the safe delivery of a healthy baby boy. It was with families like this that I felt most at home, though we also met some who were much better off and able to entertain us with five-course feasts.
In a poor home the meal might consist of mint tea and bread dipped in olive oil. In a well-to-do family there would be mounds of cookies with tea, before the tagine (stew) was brought in. I learnt not to eat too much as often there was a couscous to follow, as well as fruit, and then more cookies and tea.
What was striking was how easy it was to bring God into the conversation. Every expression of thanks, goodbye and good wishes included the name of Allah. So it was easy to discuss the Lord’s working in the world, and what the Bible said about our God.
Not so easy to bring the Saviour, Jesus Christ, to the forefront though. And yet — the hunger for acceptance, worth, love and restored relationships is very strong, especially among the women.
There is a wide open door for people who are willing to befriend these women, and to live lives that at times might be quite adventurous — at other times routine, but never dull! And of course, the greatest adventure of all is seeing the Lord Jesus transform lives!