Field Notes

Who Dunnit?: A Murder Mystery

« Mon dieu! Une femme accouche derrière ! » Glienne rushes out of her office.

Well that makes absolutely no sense. You keep prying the lids off of vials and tossing them into the bucket. A second later, Agatt follows the pursuit. Not one to miss out on the excitement, you follow. At first you thought you had misheard Glienne, but lo-and-behold, there is a woman giving birth behind the health center. In fact, it was the same women who you gave an animation on nutrition to two days ago and the same one you just saw head towards the latrines earlier.

On scene is a whirlwind of activity surrounding the crouching woman who is silent and unmoving. Gilenne and Agatt keep asking why she, a current patient in the hospital, decided to give birth outside.  She remains silent.  A small crowd of women forms, a common reaction to any excitement. Why aren’t we moving her? You ask Glienne, she motions in response. You come closer and realize the form attached to the umbilical cord is lifeless.

Florence, the chef de centre, comes, wearing gloves. She picks up the baby to see if anything can be done. It is too late. She clamps the umbilical cord and cuts it, laying the corpse down on a nearby mat that another woman brought. Helping the woman up they head towards the maternity room for the afterbirth.

Maybe it was an accident? You notice the razor in the ground—this was intentional.

Inside, Florence is furious. “9 mois! C’est pour rien! 8ème accouchment!” she mutters while the placenta arrives.

You are unsure of what to do. Stop yelling at her—you want to say—We need to figure out why she did this, if we do not want this to happen again. Instead, you opt for seeing if the woman is okay. “Jam na? A yidi nyaamugo? A yidi yarugo?”

She is still preoccupied by the flurry of the fury of Florence who is now roughly washing her. Eventually, Florence leaves. It is just the two of you.

You pick up her skirt from the floor and fold it. “Jam na?” you inquire again.

“Jam,” she replies. It is as though nothing had happened. Cicero may have coined stoicism, but the Fulbé women live it everyday.

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Later you learn why: she was only planning on giving birth the same way her mother had and likely, the same way her mother’s mother had before.

Tradition. It can be deadly.


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