Sunday, June 22, 2008

The baby wait

I’m sitting behind the worn, paisley couch in the giant living room of this Lilongwe, Malawi house. It’s Bridgette’s house, though her husband might say otherwise and their landlord might too.

Bridgette is nine months and six days pregnant if you trust the midwife at the hospital down the road, which I don’t necessarily.

My goal was to follow a woman on the day she gave birth and I won’t bore you with the searching trips up and down this skinny country, or the phone calls to bureaucrats who gave me the phone numbers of other bureaucrats, or the two women who agreed to the project and then delivered before I could start rolling.

I’m here in Area 25 with Bridgette and have been for four days now.

It’s 9pm and she’s just gone to sleep, its Saturday night and her taxi driving husband said “I’m coming back” as he headed out the door just before dinner. Bridgette, her brother-in-law and I watched a music video show and the evening news as her three-year-old daughter Alice (pronounced Ah-yeec) slept on the couch. There’s one TV station in Malawi (“The Station for the Nation”) so DVDs are popular. We’ve watched a bunch these last days; from Lion King to *NSYNC to Rush Hour.

Following people for a day in their life has been a wonderful excuse to get to know them in a way a foreigner rarely can. But spending the better part of a week cloistered in this big, ragged house has been several standard deviations more so.

Like other Africans I’ve followed, Bridgette has an uncanny knack for ignoring the camera, so much so that I’ll sometimes gesture or joke with her and she won’t notice. When I speak from behind the lens she’ll turn as if she’s been startled by someone she didn’t see standing there with a giant camera. The fly-on-the-wall aspect is enhanced by not understanding what’s being said. I’ll have the Chichewa translated later; for now I just shoot as much as I can and hope there’s something interesting in there.

I think it’s relevant that I don’t know what they’re saying and they know I don’t. On the first two days I brought translators. The first was lazy and the second greedy and I decided I didn’t need them anyway. Bridgette speaks some English and with a translator here she felt compelled to entertain (or at least talk to) the visitor. “That woman likes to talk,” she said when the greedy translator left.

I’ve agreed to go to church with the family tomorrow, the service will be three hours and I’m trying not to fantasize too much about Bridgette going into labor mid-sermon. I’ll be happy whenever this little stakeout ends and our story has its conclusion. But on the other hand I’ll miss running around with Alice and watching TV and sitting down to dinner with a family.

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