Photo credit: Julie Cook
I accompanied the guest speaker to the Ladies' Missionary Society meeting at Aunt Gertrude's church near the Michigan-Ohio border. The meeting met my expectations--white haired ladies tying off quilts, conversation about funeral dinners, and a selection of jello salads.
The ladies invited Julie to speak about her recent experiences in Malawi, Africa. One of the perks, I discovered, of making the three hour drive was that I was included as an honored guest and invited to go first through the food line.
After the meeting I told Julie that I could do her talk about Malawi. If I just wore her glasses and we switched clothes most acquaintances wouldn't know the difference. But for a blog post, I don't even have to change my skirt. So I decided to write my version of my favorite story from Julie's time in Malawi.
The road seemed decent enough when they started on the trip from the town to the village. The passengers in the van --the missionary, the native teacher, Julie's teammate and Julie--planned to visit two villages to present chronological Bible studies. The farther they traveled from town, the more the road deteriorated until it was just a dirt path bordered with head-tall grass. The missionary gripped the steering wheel as he maneuvered the vehicle, avoiding most of the pot holes and all of the children, bicyclists and animals that wandered along the path.
They crossed a couple of bridges as the bounced along the route. But as they neared the village they came to a river where the bridge was washed out. Women crouched at the bank washing clothes. Naked children splashed in the cool water. The native teacher stuck his head out the window of the van and the missionary prayerfully edged the van toward the sandbags that had been stacked in the river to provide a crossing. "A little more that way, I think" the teacher said, pointing his finger to the left. Water splashed against the windshield and soon the van was climbing the sandy bank.
With silent prayers of thanks the group continued on the road that now consisted only of bumps and holes. After one particular jarring bump, Julie's teammate leaned over to her and said, "Julie can you imagine if you were in labor on this road?" Then she added, "Or if you really needed to go to the bathroom."
The bumps leveled as they approached a sandy creek. At one side a truck was stuck in the mud. The missionary and teacher consulted about the best route through the creek. The van pulled through the shallow water and up the steep bank. On the other side the wheels spun a bit in the soft sand but the van managed to inch to firm ground.
Without further incident the group reached the first village. Julie and her teammate watched as the men presented the Bible lesson to the villagers. After telling another story at the second village the group prepared to navigate the same road back toward the town. As is customary in places where transportation is limited, their group expanded to included villagers who needed a ride to town. Three women and a young child settled in the back seat of the van.
Julie and her teammate chatted in the middle seat as the van bounced along the path. But they soon heard groans from the back seat. Conversation slacked as it became obvious that one of the woman was distressed. "I think she's pregnant and in labor," Julie's teammate said.
The sounds from the backseat became more intense and so did the prayers. The missionary steered the van along the road it had traveled a few hours earlier--along the bumpy road, across the sandbags in the river. This time, however, the sun was setting and it was growing dark. After short conversation with the women in the backseat, the native teacher said, "Uh, do you think we could go a little faster."
Meanwhile Julie's teammate hunched beside Julie in the middle seat. Julie's teammate had failed to go to the bathroom at the last village. Now with a woman in the back who obviously needed to reach the hospital, she was reluctant to request a stop. Instead she suffered in misery.
The group passed private clinics along the way but the women in the backseat insisted they needed to reach the government hospital. The babble from the backseat needed no translating as the van reached the outskirts of the town. "We're almost there." "Hurry up!"
The missionary jerked the van to a stop at the hospital and he and the teacher ran to the doors calling for help. In the quiet, Julie and her teammate heard the wheeze and first cry of a tiny baby. The baby was born in the backseat of the missionary's van outside the hospital. The two men returned a few moments later. They had arrived at the wrong entrance. So they shifted the van into drive and headed for the maternity entrance.
Once again the two men left the vehicle in search of medical personnel. A nurse appeared in a few minutes. After a short conversation with the new mother the nurse helped the woman out of the van. The mother, bent over, waddled toward the hospital, her baby, with its cord still attached, in her arms. Her two friends and the child scrambled from the backseat to follow.
The next time the missionary visited the village he held the newborn in his arms while the baby's proud parents beamed at him. The missionary called the little one the Galimoto Baby since it was born in the galimoto (vehicle) en route to the hospital.