A letter to my daughter, Sesi.

Sesi,

I hope you enjoyed the photo shoot at school today and not worried about your hair like you were, when you called last night. I love you.

On this day of the girl child, remember baby girl that the world is a better place because of you. Your tender heart and calm spirit, your soft and bold character, make us a better people. Your calmness reminds us to slow down.

Thank you nana.

Papa and I are obsessed with making our home peaceful, a place we long to come back to, after school and work. We desire to see you and your brothers yearning for the calmness of home. For its ability to allow you the freedom to be yourselves, an oasis to calm the noise and pressures of the world outside world.

We love you.

You were born here, Gaborone, Botswana. A country with a long history of peace. You were born in a country where your parents, grandparents and their parents before them, do not have living memories of war.

But I want you to always remember that, while we never knew war, or serious civil unrest, we, like all people everywhere, have differed many times, sometimes radically and strongly. Our views don’t always follow a linear and homogeneous pattern.  We differ, we argue, we allow ourselves the freedom to hold diverse views But never to the point of feeling the need to go to war over them. This has only enriched our relationship as a nation.

We inherited a culture that subscribes to unity, that while we may hold strong opposing views, it should not create animosity between us. Our forebears, passed to us a tradition, that embraces all contributions as worthy and permissible. Everybody is allowed to share their views so we can, in the end, choose the most agreeable.

This practise kept us away from wars and guns.

You live with people who don’t often agree with you, girlfriends you sometimes disagree with, it is normal. People disagree because they are different. We have different taste and likes. We were formed from different moulds, shaped through unique DNAs.

Never beat yourself too hard over a relationship gone sour. Some will rebound, others never. It’s life.

Also learn Sesi, that to differ with your friends shouldn’t mean the end of it. In life, friends, even family, disagree.

You inherited peace, guard it. You are an heir of great grand mothers and fathers, who protected this nation jealously. The baton is in your hand. You owe it to your mates to spread the peace. One is never too young to. Talk with your friends, help fighting friends reconcile, for example. Assist to ease tensions around you. Make this, a more peaceful world.

Seek peace all your days. Start where you are, with your heart. Continue embracing a peaceful and calm spirit. You can only give from what you have. Cultivate gratitude my baby. Be thankful even for the mundane, the air you breathe, for what God gave us freely, life.

Many girls in many countries did not live to your age. They died too early. Many who live, suffer unimaginable atrocities. Many are less fortunate and do not enjoy the luxuries you do.

Pause each day and silently thank God. In that moment also plead for the safety of girls around the world. Pray for the war to end and for violence on girls to stop.

Make peace with your surroundings, your siblings and when you can, talk about the importance of a peaceful world. Share your dreams on what a peaceful world would mean to girls your age.

Lastly baby girl, the world can be rough, for girls. You need to know these truths. We talk about them sometimes. You’ve asked questions about the violence on girls and women. Unfortunately, the world can be violent on girls. But we can change this if we all pull together, if we encourage and cultivate a non-violent culture. Because it takes those with an unwavering commitment, those who can go an extra mile. And when you can, where you are, choose to spread happiness. Choose love. The world needs it.

Mummy loves you a lot. I love mothering you. It’s such a pleasure. Thank you for your tender and soft spirit, it helps all of to slow down and be at peace. You are an amazing child.

Love,

Mum.

I met death, once upon a time

Thobo was born on the 16th September 2010 at Bokamoso Hospital. The cesarean section was some by Dr. Eishler, the German Gaenacologists, who later, together with his doctor wife, skipped the country under the cover of the night. They remain the best doctors I’ve ever met. All rounded best.

The story started when the anesthetic procedure knocked me out. We had agreed to a bottom half of the body ‘paralysis’. I wanted to participate in the birthing process. I had done that with the previous two.

That was not to be. This time I was out. Dead. Unaware of life.

When I came to, I had moved from the theatre to the hospital room. Thobo was in ICU, under strict observation. I learnt later that he had not cried immediately after birth – and all the usual tactics doctors often engage failed to produce a cry.

They were worried for his health, especially his lungs.

I think I was discharged two days later, pushed in a wheelchair. I had a throbbing headache that wouldn’t allow me to stand on my own. And when we got home I had to be supported from the car to the house.

My health deteriorated so fast the next morning I couldn’t see clearly. The world was blurry.

One of my sisters is a medical doctor – and we normally check things with her before seeking medical attention. She was in the US. They called her. She explained what could be the problem.

To ‘paralyse’ me the anesthetist had injected me on the spine, they call it epidural.

So my sister explained, from the US, that the small opening from the injection is supposed to close immediately after. But it would seem, in my case, it had not and as such I was losing pressure needed to keep me intact.

The thumping headache and the near blindness were a result of this pressure loss.

I was losing Cerebral Spinal Fluid and if not attended to, this structure called Oesi would collapse.

So when we rushed back to Bokamoso after the call, we had all the medical jargon and explanations; to the shock of the medical team.

I was quickly wheel-chaired in and drips inserted on every visible vein.

The headache had gone violent.

I was not sure whether I was crying or it was my head’s spontaneous response to this brutality. But tears poured uninhibited.

I was to spend the next 4 days in Bokamoso. The headache, the anesthetic doctor explained, needed to be treated with caffeine containing medication. But the ministry of health had not allowed that kind of medication into the country yet.

My near addiction to caffeine started here, I think.

In the four days I was at Bokamoso, the anesthetic doctor instructed that I get a glass of coke with each meal – and he was always by my bedside, ‘for control’, I guess.

I have a loving Father

I told lies. I broke tea cups and dinner plates and denied it. I played beyond the stipulated time and would arrive home late from school, then cook up a story of my delay.

I was a normal child.

I had my moments of sugar eating and condensed milk sucking. But I was never lost to being Rra Ewetse’s child. Often considering myself his favourite child. Why not? Probably my siblings also did. In fact I still believe I am his favourite.

The point is, although I was probably a naughty child, I never for once thought I didn’t deserve my father’s love. I never imagined him thinking differently of me because of my lying and breaking tea cups. Even when he would have scolded me hard. I never had reason to think he loved me any less.

I have a father, a doting father who had a firm hand on us. A hand that ensured we all turned out right.

My song of the week “He knows my name” got me thinking. If I have such confidence in my natural father; If I never lived with the guilt and condemnation from my faults and naughtiness, where did I learn to feel guilty in relation to God? If I had confidence that Rra Ewetse forgave and moved on, never to remind me again of my bad past, where did I learn to dwell on my sins, leading to guilt and self condemnation?

My natural father’s readily forgiving nature and abundant love, challenged my relationship with a God in heaven, this week. The God who formed my father.

And I asked God to forgive me for this error. The error of unconsciously trusting that the natural can be more capable than Him, a supernatural being. Maybe not in that overt kind of way. But this often feeling of guilt, I was, in a way saying to myself, I was not worthy because of what I would done or not done.

I refuse that. I will always refuse it. I dealt with guilt and condemnation this week.

Lessons from Rra Ewetse, fallible as all of us, pointed me to a God who forgives unconditionally. The God who forgets my faults, the God who deals with me on a clean plate each day.

The liberation came in the form of my natural father.

I confessed to never again carry the guilt and never again condemn myself. Not that I have arrived home, but because for those who have believed in God, there should be no condemnation. It’s a done deal.

I’m free from guilt and shame. I have fallen many times, and many times I have risen. Still I refuse guilt and condemnation. I choose to rise as many times as I fall. I choose peace over a heavy heart.

I’m loved beyond words. I therefore choose to be found immersed in this sea of love. Surrounded by, filled with and drunk in this love.

Come with me.

From my future

I am sitting at the balcony. It’s a beach house. The only sound is a faint laugh  from the couple sitting, with their feet in what I think is cold water. They have  been there since I got here in the wee hours.

It’s a chilly morning.

My kids are at graduate school and my husband has gone for a walk with a  group of men from the neighbourhood. They do this every fortnight. It’s a “men connect” , my husband would say when I beg him to stay in for a chat.

“I need this, Oesi, I need some manpowerment”‘. And  he would give me that  ‘whatever’ look.

My husband is adamant that since I began writing this book, I had become too overprotective of words, even tensing up at their ‘careless’ use, or attempts at new creations.

I argue my case.

I am a student. I am learning to write through writing. And the best support, besides coffee, is the use of a proper language, using tried and tested words. We don’t seem to agree on this one.  We need to relax and enjoy life, he says. Work life made our lives too rigid, he argues. I agree, but not completely.

Yeah, here we are, waking  up to two of us and going to bed the same. We cannot always fight. So today I let it pass, “manpowerment”. I love you, please come back for a chat.
It’s a lonely life. The house is too silent, sometimes so disturbingly quiet I cannot even concentrate. We are back to when we first started.  No child, all grown up and gone. What remains are the walls and us. We try to make the best of it though. But some days are hard. There are moments I want my babies back in the house. I miss their unkept bedrooms and the upside down kitchen.

I miss telling them to clean up after themselves. I want to check their homework books and this time I promise I won’t give a disapproving look when they struggle with a simple sum. I miss you babies. I miss your frantic calls from the school office,

“Mama we have been waiting for a long time, nobody came to fetch us”.
I miss that you would trust me with your lives. That even after some discipline, you would still come back and call me “mama”. I miss your flocking into our bedroom in the mornings. I miss the insistent requests “mama may I please shower in your bathroom, please please mama.” When did you grow up?

My journey to ‘I do’: Part 2

We met at ‘The Nest’ in Francistown. No, I think before ‘The Nest’ we had lunch somewhere in town. He has waited at the bus rank – and the Land Cruiser, it would seem, had been cleaned for the occasion.

“The discussions we had before you left for the States…”

In my 4 hours bus drive earlier, I had tried to figure out how the conversation was going to start. We were “just good friends” just five weeks ago. ‘A man doesn’t call you from more than 400kms away so he could reiterate his “just good friends” position’, I thought. There had to have been some development in my absence.

“But how is he going to reintroduce the subject”, possibilities flooded my mind in that north bound bus that day.

“I am sorry for how I handled our discussion. My response…”

I had in the week leading to this meeting decided I wasn’t going to show any emotion. I didn’t want him to make any conclusion. In fact I wanted him to think I had moved on. Five weeks is a long time you know.

My journey to ‘I do’: Part 1

I remember love sneaking into my heart; perhaps in my second year at University. He was in his final year. Yes, I am a laggard in that area. It was only at the university that I became aware that a man could be loved that deep, so indescribable; you want him to sit with you forever, talking and laughing about nothing.

My prayers started, punctuated with “if it is your will Lord” to silence the nagging guilt of ‘praying with one eye open’.

Prayer, it seemed, didn’t do the magic.

He graduated and left for the faraway village, leaving me, secretly in love with him. We were good friends, at least when he was still at the university. But the distance added a difficult twist. Do I call him? And say what? I tried a few times but my heart would skip a bit and would decide ‘girl… restraint’.

Years passed with no activity. Once in a while I would get a call, or he’ll pass by when in town. Our conversations got shorter with time; we hardly had much to talk about. Our once in a while calls continued, although it meant me now rehearsing my lines prior.

“Dumelang. Lekang?” Uummm, does he know it’s me? What do I say next?

“Hello Oesi, how are you?”

I don’t remember much of what went on in those conversations. I however recall that while I often longed to talk to him, I would, at the same time, be anxious, wanting the call to end.

My first job was in an exciting environment of young creators, most of them fresh graduates like me –and most of them single with no children. I immersed myself into it, learning everything I could. When work was done, I would occasionally host colleagues for dinner – after work – during the week. Mine was a tripartite lifestyle; home- work-church. I would arrive home on Friday evening and only emerge on Sunday morning for church. The secret love had left my heart by then, or maybe just hibernated.

But I couldn’t run forever. It sneaked back, unnoticed and different. I was sure I was losing him. During the first installment I had vowed to wait for him; to remain single as long as he was a bachelor- and only throw in the towel the day he walked to the alter with another woman. My ‘one eye open’ prayers resumed but with a lot of doubt – and also emotionally draining. I was not growing young, you know. Neither was I living in an island. Suitors crossed my path, a number of them. But my heart lived in a faraway village.

My biggest fear was agreeing to marry another man only for ‘him’ to appear the next day, ready …

What does a woman do? Society has it etched on stone. She waits.

I started to interrogate my conviction. Doubt crept in, ‘Could it be that I am wasting my time with what might never be?’

Something needed to happen.

I picked the phone… dialed …it rang…I dropped….picked it again…it rang…I dropped…hmm

“Hello, do you have a moment?”

“Hi, how are you? Yes I do.” I was sure I heard some enthusiasm.

“I want us to talk”

Silence…

A gentleman in every way; he took the early Saturday morning bus just so he could hear out this woman – and was at my rented flat that afternoon, straight from the bus rank.

Where do we start? Now I wished I had not called.

“This is difficult, but I really think we should talk”

“What is it Oesi?”

My eyes went all over as if looking for an escape route. I was trying hard to look as calm as was possible, at the same time trying to remember the speech I had stored in my head. Soon after we agreed to meet, I had practiced what I was going to say and how. But his knock erased all my hard work. Beautifully constructed, well thought out sentences flew through the window. I went blank. Should I really go on with this?

The stubborn Oesi was pro-quitting. ‘Don’t embarrass yourself girl. Just let this go. Clear your mind and start afresh. If there was ever going to be anything, it could have been a long time ago’.

‘But we are here’. The kinder, more considerate side, rebutted. ‘This man travelled more than 400 kilometers for this talk. It is too late for some baseless fear. Besides I had wanted to do this for a long time. And for him to come all the way, he sure doesn’t treat this light”. A flicker of hope accompanied this thinking.

“Our friendship, can we talk about it”.

Our conversation was peppered with long moments of silence; of intense emotions and tensions. We struggled to answer many of our questions.

Where was this leading to?

“Oesi, I think we are just very good friends”.

My heart missed a bit. I couldn’t breathe.

Three to four hours later, we hugged and said our good byes. Goodbye sounded more like, that’s it, done. He held my hand a little longer, looked me in the eyes – and was gone.

I joined my colleagues for a braai that evening. My heart was at my rented flat, hanging helplessly to the last moments; the look in the eyes that I thought contradicted his last words “we are just good friends”.

7

Just as I was trying to thaw to the event, my phone beeped.

“Hello Oesi, I wanted to check how you are doing – and to also say goodbye”.

The next morning I was flying to Pasadena, California, just outside Los Angeles. I spent my five weeks holiday visiting gardens, relaxing and thinking about what just happened. I watched open theatre movies in Hollywood; visited age old homes in San Diego; walked on the replica ‘Via Dorolosa’ (way of sorrows) at the Trinity Broadcasting Network Headquarters Studios in Costa Mesa.

8

For a time, I immersed myself into America; bought memorabilia from their dollar shops; visited restaurants and all that could be visited – I walked on the wall of fame. I enjoyed time with my elder sister and her family. I don’t remember whether or not I shared the sad news. But I was slowly getting back to myself.

Five weeks later, end of August, the American Airlines Flight took me back to Africa. A week later September 11 happened, killing 2,996 people and injuring over 6,000 others. American Airlines Flight 11 was one of the flights used in the terrorist attack.

The call came the same week.

“How was America?”

“Do you have a moment?”

Eleven years later, it is still as vivid. My truth about the pain of ‘normal’ child birth

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Wawo ready to go home for the first time

My pregnancy was smooth. I had no extreme cravings like demanding freshly baked bread in the middle of the night, or begging for rain scented soil from an ant hill. I was ‘normal’. I followed a routine; a visit to my gynecologists once a month which went down to two weeks, then a week as the day got closer. I did regular physical and breathing exercises with a physiotherapist. The breathing lessons were to help ease labour and delivery pains. I was even taught belly flattening exercises for after the event.  I wish I had obeyed the latter.

Like all the mothers-to-be I knew, I devoured all the pregnancy books and magazines I could lay my hands on. I was thus well equipped; book knowledge, exercises and information from forerunners.

I knew that the Expected Day of Delivery (EDD) was an approximation; the baby could arrive 2 weeks early or late? My child opted for the later.  Two weeks after the EDD, my gynecologists decided it was time we induced birth. In other words, start the labour artificially. Mid-morning Wednesday 2nd March 2005, I checked in at the Gaborone Private Hospital, hoping to be done in a few hours. But at evening fall, there was not much progress.  The following morning, Friday 3rd, a drip was inserted into my veins.

And everything changed.

Years before, I had heard about strange things expectant women do at the on- set of labour pains. Bothale’s story comes to mind. She shared the maternity room with another women, they were both in labour.  And one thing she still remembered, years later, was her roommate wearing a headscarf, which was not a problem until the pains hit. Labour pains usually come in intervals, they do some kind of hit (really hard) and run – give you time to recollect yourself then hit again. So when she felt them approaching,  Bothale would confront her roommate:

“…O rwaletseng tukwi wena? Rola, rola tukwi eo. Ka na ga o mo dithabing mma? Ija! …”;  to the amazement of the other women.

It was only after delivering the baby that Bothale reflected, with embarrassment the insanity of all this.

So I decided long before my day that I won’t do anything weird. Anyway I had breathing exercises to fall back on. How wrong I was. I totally forgot about my time with the physiotherapist. Shuu! I could not understand how a human being was supposed to go through that kind of pain and remain sane.  I remember thinking, about my gynecologists ‘how do you speak that slowly when I am in so much pain’.

“No, please just do cesarean. P-l-e-a-s-e take out the baby. I cannot handle this” I pleased for her mercy.

At one point I was holding onto her hand- and wouldn’t let go. I don’t know where the thought that a fast speaker would be tolerable came from. But suddenly I could not stand my doctor of 9 months – and never did even afterwards.  I changed both the doctor and the baby delivery methods immediately after.

My husband was torn between the doctor and the ‘wailing’ wife. I was grateful he was there, praying around the room and squeezing my hands to calm his groaning wife. I really do not wish this kind of pain on any person.

Friday late afternoon, I was too exhausted to do anything and apparently the baby was also too tired to make any further movements towards the outside world. The clock was ticking. Preparation for theatre complete, just when I was about to be wheeled out, Wawo descended; a perfect child. I loved him with my life.

I had wished to immediately  hold him tight to my chest so we could both derive the benefits of body contact. I had also wanted to breastfeed him as soon as he could suckle. But none of these happened.

Imagine the overwhelming sadness and guilt when on the second day a nurse inquired whether I had asked for my baby. I don’t remember what I had in mind when the first day ended and the second was almost over – and I had not seen Wawo. I just slept. May be I thought it was procedure. I don’t know. But the nurse’s question aroused a war of emotions.

I felt like I did not care for the child I so eagerly waited for and nurtured in the months I carried him. But I had planned it all during pregnancy, how I would mother him.  I had, for example, bought breast pumps, cups and everything to ensure strict breast milk for the first six months. The pIan was to pump and freeze excess milk; to strictly use a cup – no bottle – and so many other recommended things. So how could I fail before the race?

I asked for him; one and half days later, I held my first child for the first time. My eyes welled up and that became my common, especially when he cried.

Counselling sessions with a psychologist helped me deal with the trauma and the guilt. I forgave myself – and became the best mother I could be. I kick started what I had promised myself; strictly breast milk for the first six months.

I went on to have two more children. This time through  elective cesarean section . So I knew from the beginning, in fact we discussed, with the doctor, the delivery time and date for both children. There is comfort in having control.

Years later, I still have deep respect for women who delivered more than one child ‘normally’.  I respect their resilience. But I also wish all women were able to choose between ‘normal’ and elective cesarean. While I know of women who don’t experience labour pain at all, for most women, the pain is real and unbearable.