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A drink of water (Josephine’s story)

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Josephine and Adriel in Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

I sit in the entry-way of a house raised by stilts. Nearly ten mothers sit behind me, breastfeeding their babies. More stand outside just below my feet and others stand under the main section of the house.

Josephine and Adriel's feet in Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

Twenty of us, gathered, plus our babies and small children. One man helps translate.

Adriel interviewing Josephine in Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

They listen intently as I interview Josephine and other women through two translators—English to Pigeon and then Pigeon to their local dialect—learning what life is like for them on the muddy banks of the Bamu River.

Bamio is a village of 500 on the Bamu River in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea. There is no clean water tank and no market store.

I notice the woman I had sat behind in church the day before – a large hole in her oversized t-shirt that spanned across her shoulders and back.

A woman from Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

Another woman – delightfully elderly in a land where many die young – wears a string of pearls against her dirty, ragged dress and smiles up at me from her tiny five-foot frame.

(Have I ever seen a woman so beautiful before?)

Elderly woman of Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

And yet another woman holds her son – the size of Judah – and tells me that he’s Levi’s age: over two years old.

Mother and child of Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

Josephine giggles nervously before telling me about losing her baby when he was a year old.

Josephine giggling in Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

He had been sick with a fever for a week before he died. They didn’t know what was wrong then; they still don’t.

I ask her if she’s afraid to have more children, for fear of losing another and she tells me yes.

“How can I feed them?” she asks me. “There isn’t even enough food for me and my husband. How can I take care of children?”

I realize her fear of going hungry is greater than her fear of sickness and disease.

She tells me about the way her husband beat her for crying about her dead baby, and how they later cried together once his anger settled.

“It’s normal,” she speaks of the beating. “Many men beat their wives here. They know it’s wrong, but they can’t help it.”

I ask her if the beating continues during pregnancy and she says no. “They do it before you get pregnant and after you have the baby, but not in between.”

Josephine may be afraid of having more children of her own, but–despite her lack of formal training–she helps other village mothers give birth in the small aid post where I can see our volunteers caring for patients next door.

Delivery room of Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

I recognize an orange plastic sheet – one of the hundreds we’ve folded for clean birth kits – crumpled at the foot of the blood-stained bed, thin boards tied together with twine.

Delivery room bed of Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

Clean birth kit sheet used in Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

I ask why she’s helped deliver over 20 babies so far. “Because I have these women in my heart,” she says, without missing a beat.

She doesn’t say it, but I see longing in her eyes.

Birth attendant Josephine of Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

There’s a resilience in these women of Bamio – who typically birth eight or nine babies and work all day chopping sago (a local root) to provide food for their families.

They amaze and inspire me as they hold their heads up high in worn-out clothes and bare, muddy feet.

Proud woman of Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

I want to talk about maternal and child mortality – to see how common it is in this area and find out how it’s affecting them.

But my attempts are met with more nervous giggles and smiles and women wanting to play with my long hair, pulled back in a pony tail.

“Take my photo,” one woman says, distracted by the novelty of my strange presence in their small community.

Laughing woman of Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

The mood lightens and I speak of my littles, taking afternoon naps on the ship.

I swipe through pictures of our children and I capture images of theirs, passing my camera around for mamas and grandmamas to inspect the small LCD screen, alight with familiar faces.

Child of Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

We smile a lot and become friends and hold hands, dreaming of how to make their home a better place.

Adriel and Josephine of Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

“A water tank,” they say.

At the end of it all, that is their greatest need and I can see that it’s true.

They need clothes and mosquito nets and education and nutritious food and health care and vaccinations and an end to the cycle of poverty and domestic violence.

But none of it matters if they continue to drink polluted water that carries intestinal worms and lethal disease.

I came wanting to help tell their story, and I left them still waiting for a clean drink of water.

There’s work to be done in Bamio – the village that’s captured my heart.

Family of Bamio, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

Dear friends, I don’t know how long I’ll be telling you stories from our time in Papua New Guinea. But right now, these stories are looking for a way out. I can’t tell you how upset it makes me that a village of 500 has no clean water source. What will we do to help?

 

p.s. I wrote this post while still on the ship in PNG… I’m just trying not to bombard you by posting my stories all at once. I also have to say that I’m so grateful to my friend Erin for making sure I came back with a few photos of our time with me in them. I love the ones she took of Josephine–my mama-loving sister–and I so much. They represent something deeper than I know how to describe. Thank you Erin. x

 

 

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24 Comments

  • Reply becca: exile fertility 24 September 2012 at 7:46 am

    firstly those women are so so beautiful. love those photos. I’ve heard a doctor very respected in terms of global healthcare say that the three foundational keys to mother and child healthcare in a community are clean water, sanitation and women’s literacy. the women of Bamio know that they need. sometimes it’s hard to really listen to people’s needs (or even their ‘felt’needs that might seem more superficial) when we know what we can ‘do’ – it’s awesome that you were able to listen. your trip with the ship sounds amazing and i’m so impressed by everything happening up your way. many blessings to you and your little family. xx b
    becca: exile fertility recently posted..a ‘brutiful’ day in the neighbourhoodMy Profile

    • Reply Adriel Booker 24 September 2012 at 3:36 pm

      yeah, they are so beautiful.

      you know how hard it is not to just rush in to FIX? (yes, you do.) everything in me wants to FIX and yet i know that is short-sighted. and yes, clean water/sanitation and education (especially of girls/women) is so critical… and so horribly lacking.
      Adriel Booker recently posted..bokoro’s story | giving birth in the mudMy Profile

  • Reply Tara 24 September 2012 at 9:56 am

    wow. This is just beautiful! I love it!! I LOVE this post! Can’t wait to hear more!!
    Tara recently posted..24 week bumpdate – September 15thMy Profile

  • Reply Mrs. Watto 24 September 2012 at 11:46 am

    Can’t read your entries without getting teary!

  • Reply samantha 24 September 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Adriel- you captured my heart for PNG again. When I went in 2011 with YWAM I had a completely different experience, but this experience you’ve had has broken my heart. Thank you for sharing- and don’t feel like you’re bombarding. I’ve missed your writing!

    xox Sam
    samantha recently posted..The one you feedMy Profile

    • Reply Adriel Booker 24 September 2012 at 11:55 pm

      oh wow, that’s really amazing samantha. thanks for sharing. i’m so glad this story has stirred you. i have more… many. :)
      Adriel Booker recently posted..born againMy Profile

  • Reply Jenna 24 September 2012 at 11:44 pm

    Adriel, thank you for sharing these stories! I so look forward to your posts about your time in PNG and am excited about more to come. I agree with Samantha above, don’t feel like you’re bombarding with these stories! The world needs to hear them. Sometimes we live in such bubbles that we forget what really goes on in other parts of the world and reading your words brings that reality back to light. On a separate note, I’d love to hear about the ins and outs of doing ministry with littles around.

    • Reply Adriel Booker 24 September 2012 at 11:57 pm

      yes, it’s so easy to forget. we all need reminders, myself included. and yeah, i plan to write something about that. not exactly sure where i’ll post it yet, but most likely here. thanks for the encouragement.
      Adriel Booker recently posted..bokoro’s story | giving birth in the mudMy Profile

  • Reply Jessica 25 September 2012 at 12:36 am

    I loved reading this. Please share as much as you want, and bombard away -I am enjoying all of it. These women embody beauty that we could never hope to achieve here, with our makeup and curling irons and skin creams. It is the beauty of a hard life, of a survivor. (And, your awesome photography captured them wonderfully!)

    I too suffer from “just fix it!” and I know all too well that it doesn’t always work that way, but if a solution for clean water for this community comes up, I hope you’ll post about it or email me. I would love to support that effort!

    • Reply Adriel Booker 16 October 2012 at 9:35 pm

      thanks heaps jessica. i know there are many of us interested in seeing this village have clean water, so as things develop i might revisit it here on the blog. if not, i’ll try to let you know personally anyway. thanks for caring. xx
      Adriel Booker recently posted..umi’s story and project baby bilumMy Profile

  • Reply Megan @ the boho mama 25 September 2012 at 7:34 am

    I’m like you and Jessica – let’s DO SOMETHING!!! But also I know that it’s not always that simple. Or is it? I don’t know. But, I love to think about what this little blogging community of mamas could accomplish – hello thousands of birth kits…what’s a new well thrown in for good measure? Love to dream with you, my friend. Thanks for sharing these women with us. They’ve captured your heart but they’ve captured ours, too! xo
    Megan @ the boho mama recently posted..weekend walk in the woodsMy Profile

  • Reply Rachel 25 September 2012 at 2:01 pm

    This is an amazing story and honestly, it puts things in perspective for me…
    Rachel recently posted..Chuck E. Cheese, Where a kid can be a kid & a grown up can stab their eye out with a (plastic) fork.My Profile

  • Reply oh, my heart « The Mommyhood Memos 27 September 2012 at 9:34 pm

    […] and emotional and moving along so fast these last few months as we’ve been in my homeland and my heartland and I’ve been working late nights and long hours, perhaps a little more than I […]

  • Reply Laura G 2 October 2012 at 7:19 am

    Sometimes it can be so easy to turn our focus of the world inward, to keep sight of only what’s in our own daily lives. It’s easy to forget that there is a whole world of people out there who need our help, who need our prayers and attention. Thank you a million times over for posting about this! Please don’t feel like you’re bombarding us; your writing is moving and your photos are amazing.

    • Reply Adriel Booker 16 October 2012 at 9:33 pm

      it is easy to forget. even for me, it’s easy. and this is the work i’m involved with all the time. i think that’s why it’s so important for me to write and capture images. it helps seal it in my mind and heart.
      Adriel Booker recently posted..umi’s story and project baby bilumMy Profile

  • Reply Umi's story and Project Baby Bilim 8 October 2012 at 9:30 pm

    […] [Note, I've since shared Josephine's story. It can be found here: A drink of water.] […]

  • Reply hi guys, it's me. « The Mommyhood Memos 16 October 2012 at 11:33 pm

    […] my time in Papua New Guinea. I still think about the women I met there daily. I think about their struggles, their strength, their resilience, their precious babies… and I want to continue writing […]

  • Reply Headed to Papua New Guinea… again. (Can I get a whoop, whoop?!!) | the bookers down under 16 August 2013 at 8:46 am

    […] Bamu River area is where Baby Umi, Bokoro, and Josephine are from if you remember my stories from last year (Giving Birth in the Mud, Umi & Project Baby […]

  • Reply I Am From (A Synchroblog with SheLoves Magazine) | Adriel BookerAdriel Booker 1 October 2013 at 9:26 am

    […] josephine’s story (a drink of water) […]

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