‘I have good news’, Moussa informed me by phone ‘the wife has given birth!’
That sure is good news, especially when both mom and child, a daughter in this case, are doing fine.
‘In previous times not everybody was happy with a daughter’, Ibrahim told me.
‘Parents would have to take care of her and by the time she had grown up, she would marry and move to her husband’s family courtyard, whereas a son would stay at the side of his parents, bring in a wife and take care of his parents when they would reach old age.’
‘Nowadays it is different’, he added ‘girls go to school, to university and even if they get married and move in with their husband’s family, they will still contribute to the well-being of their own parents by sending some money earned with their jobs.’
Luckily times have changed, and luckily Moussa is an open-minded man, feeling happy with the birth of his daughter, his first born. She’s a lovely one, combining the facial characteristics of both her Dogon dad and her Fulani mom.
‘So, to what group does she belong?’, I asked curiously.
‘Dogon’, Moussa stated immediately with a big smile on his face and sparkles in his eyes.
‘Fulani’, shouted the crowd of girls surrounding his fiancée.
‘But she’ll have my mother’s nom’, Moussa stated after all the laughter had ebbed away.
‘And her second name is going to be a Fulani name’, I suggested with a smiling face, knowing very well that in Mali it’s to the father to decide on the children’s names.
‘Well, maybe, we’ll see’, Moussa replied with a grin.
I am not too sure if he had already taken that option into consideration, but the name giving taking place during the baptismal ceremony he still has a couple of days to reflect on it.
Moussa and his wife being the first of my Ségou friends becoming parents, I started asking around after Moussa’s phonecall on what the customs are like in Mali. Do I visit now or wait till the baptismal ceremony? And if I do, what to take? The answers weren’t quite clear.
‘Well you can visit or wait till the ceremony, and you can bring something, like soap or baby clothes, or just do a benediction’, Ibrahim told me.
So there I was, still a bit puzzled on how to react on the situation. Moussa made it easy: he stepped by one afternoon telling me that he would come back later that day to pick me up to visit mother and daughter.
Amadou’s bright smile and spontaneous ‘That’s beautiful!’, when I showed him a baby outfit I had brought from The Netherlands, solved the question on what to take.
Only two days after having given birth Matouma was sitting on the edge of her bed, surrounded by a crowd of friends. After I sat down on a mattress on the floor the new born girl was instantly put on my lap. She didn’t even wake up and continued dreaming, gesturing with her hands and arms every now and then. I was impressed with the immense amount of hairs she already had.
‘All babies have that, even in your country’, Ibrahim stated later on. Well, not quite. A lot of babies are born bald. He obviously found it hard to believe me.
The visit was an experience I’ll not lightly forget, it being so entirely different from the way we are used to deal with it. The baby slept in pretty much everybody’s arms and there wasn’t a sound of her, not even when the girls started laughing out loud, joking and screaming. She just slept peacefully.
Only twice she woke up, making a tiny little sound to get her mom’s prompt attention. The first time was when she was in need of a clean diaper (a simple piece of cotton cloth she was lying on), the second time when she was hungry.
It was clear to me that Matouma was in pain and very tired, even though she tried hard not to show it, straightening her back every once in a while. Nobody else seemed to notice. A new mom being in need of some extra sleep and time by herself to recover from the pregnancy and the birth giving seems to be an occidental way of thinking.
I felt for her, and for all the other moms in Mali, as I told Ibrahim that evening.
‘But that’s the way it is, of course her body is in pain, that’s natural after having given birth’, he said ‘and therefore she will not have to work for 30 days. She will get her rest!’
Being surrounded by so many people almost around the clock is clearly not considered to be disturbing or tiring.
I honestly admit that I was pretty tired after the visit, with all those sounds and so many people in a small room.
It definitely made my respect for Malian moms grow even more!