Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Despite an early morning torrent, the Atiak sand was mostly dried by the heat of the afternoon sun. I avoided the few puddles that remained on the road with a subtle push of the handle bars on the Yamaha DT125 I was riding. I was cruising pretty slowly, because I wasn’t rocking a helmet or gear and also I didn’t want to drop the bucket of placentas sitting between my legs. The container of maternal organs was the residue of a hectic set of days that were theoretically over. Their burial would mark a bit of chillness for the squad, who were headed to Gulu for a couple days of electricity and cold drinks. If we could fix the car.
I pulled up to the burial site and carefully dismounted the bike. This was the land on which the Earth Birth clinic would one day be built. It was bulldozed just a few days before and the dirt still bore the tracks of the ancient machine that leveled the earth. I met Louis, who was waiting for me, and we took the placentas and a poor quality hoe out to the edge of the land. I put on rubber gloves as he dug a small hole, then removed the top of the bucket and emptied its contents. Blood red membraneous flesh that had carried life for around 40 weeks slid onto the dirt.
It was just a few days before that I saw one of these up close for the first time. But such styles were a matter of basicness at the temporary compound, at which pregnant women rolled up for prenatal check ups and all out delivery. And because the only other spot for maternity care was the overstretched health unit, which was deeply understaffed, the Earth Birth squad and its affiliated native birth attendants constantly found themselves catching midnight babies. So the placenta bucket needed a lot of emptying.
I watched as Luis brought the earth down upon the umbilical status. It was a nutritious sacrifice to the soil and the remnant of human life that one could bury without grief or pain. It was like hitting two Invisible Children volunteers with one stone. Or birds or whatever. Luis said that he would stay on the land for a bit, rock a survey and add to his construction schemes. So I kick-started the yamaha and twisted the throttle. On the way back I breathed in some images of Atiak. People walking down the road holding jugs of well water, shovels and hoes, babies strapped to their backs. In an open field, barefoot school children played soccer. Women sat in front of huts selling okra, maize and ginger. In the church, a new parish priest from Tanzania sipped his beer. I waved at the police as I passed the checkpoint and parked the bike next to a dirty SUV with “peace in birth” printed across its back window. In just a little while, a mechanic would show up to get it in running order. We hoped.
On the way into the compound, I looked back at the bike I had borrowed. It had drum brakes. Next time, I would be sure to borrow a helmet.