Today I was given a language and culture lesson by Vivienne, one of the teachers from the orphanage. Vivienne has a 6 month old baby, carried around on her back in the traditional way in a piece of cloth wrapped around her body. It’s fascinating to see how a simple piece of cloth can be used as a back sling. The older babies have their arms free, while the younger ones are wrapped up to their necks. I sometimes wonder how comfortable it is for them, with their heads pushed backwards and their chins pressed against their mothers’ bodies. The women with babies on their backs seem to walk around and work quite normally, although it must be heavy and make them hot.
Vivienne said that the baby’s naming ceremony is one of the biggest celebrations, because by then you have survived the birth. Many mothers and babies don’t make it, which makes pregnancy a scary time. For this reason, pregnant women make sure they go to Church regularly. They also cover their bodies modestly because “some people don’t have good eyes.”
Giving birth in the hospital is expensive, so Vivienne said she had to save all her money towards the birth. Many mothers give birth in the hospital and can’t pay the bill, so they disappear, leaving their babies there. This is how babies end up in orphanages. The government hospital offers free care, but still some mothers abandon their babies because they can’t afford to look after them. Some of these babies are later adopted by couples who can’t have children. Vivienne showed me the public toilet at the local market where a woman had given birth in a toilet and left the baby there. Luckily another person heard the baby cry and the mother was tracked down and sent to jail.
After a birth, mother and baby stay inside for seven days. On the day of the ‘outdooring’, the baby is brought out early in the morning. Water is thrown onto the roof and drops back down onto the baby as a welcome. The pastor then prays for the baby and everyone eats, drinks and dances. A day is then set for the official naming.
On the naming day, the father brings the chosen name to the mother’s family. There is more eating, drinking and dancing and gifts are given to the baby. I asked Vivienne whether she had done this and she said no, because it takes money to have such a big party. Instead the naming was done with just the immediate family.
Stories like this make me realise just how difficult life can be in Ghana. An upcoming birth should be a joyous time, but here it’s a time when ordinary women must face their own mortality as well as confront stark financial realities.