Today we’ve planed three home visits, it’s the second time I meet these families.
Usually we try to visit mothers at least three times after birth. Once they leave the Health Centre, a few hours after birth, most of them do not see the midwife up to 6 weeks, when they go back for the first vaccination. I love postnatal home visits, it’s a special occasion to enter the homes, look around, explore the villages and laugh with the -very enlarged- families.
Botiu, my lovely translator, and I, arrive at the last home visit. I’ve met this mother and the women of her family when she gave birth. We seated in circle and we tried to communicate in some way because that day the translator wasn’t there.
The older sister of the women greets us with a confident smile. The woman lives in the back of a shop and her space consists of a large wooden deck surrounded by a pink mosquito net, a big colourful mat on the floor and beside her little girl under another small mosquito net. I sit down, and ask her how does she feel. I decided to check this little girl the following week at the first visit because the birth weight was only 2.2 kg.
She tells me she’s doing well. Like all Cambodian women after childbirth, she’s wearing a wool hat, a heavy sweatshirt, a turtleneck shirt , and she’s lying under a wool blanket. There are 35 degrees, and there is not a breath of air. The woman sweats a lot, but this practice is to keep the body warm and to not loose breast milk. Keep your body warm is derived from Chinese medicine. I ask if she’s hot , she says that she’s fine, but she kindly turn the fan on for me.
I ask her about breastfeeding, she answers “ my little girl eats a lot”. I ask if she has any pain, or any other problems, she says she’s feeling very good, no pain, no problems.
I ask her what does she eat normally, she replies that she eats pork or fish soup, rice and some vegetables. I had already recommended her to eat green leafy vegetables and at least one fruit per day. From what we have seen, in this area, after childbirth, women do not eat vegetables or fruit because they believe it is harmful to the baby; that’s why It is part of every visit to educate about nutrition. I check the eyes, the mucosa is pale. I tell her that fruits and vegetables are precious gifts from the earth, they are so rich in vitamins, minerals and iron, I suggest her and her family, specially kids to eat fruits and vegetables every day, because it helps to be strong and healthy and make nutritious breast milk. I explain that if you eat al least one fruit per day she and her family are more likely to get less sick. She smiles at me and says: “Laoooo” that means okay in Khmer.
I weigh the baby girl, she’s 1 week old and she weighs 2.4 kg. I’m extremely happy and amazed. Babies here barely lose weight after the birth, they gain it indeed. Mothers breastfeed amazingly well. Newborns are not supposed to cry in Cambodia. As soon as they wake up, hungry or not, they are feed and the whole women’s community encourage women to breastfeed and to do not ever let a baby cry.
I check the blood pressure, the uterus and losses. It’s all good
I greet and thank her, Botiu teaches me some Khmer words and I repeat them like an incapable parrot. I tell her she’s a good mother, the girl is growing really well and that she has a beautiful and supporting family.
During the visits, all the women in family and neighbours and all their children of course, are always involved. Occasionally someone step in to point out or remember something. It ‘ a pleasure and an opportunity to educate .
Sometimes when I finish I ask if anyone has any questions or problems. Some women, especially the older ones take the chance to ask for a blood pressure check. They all always have a bad headache . I recommend to drink plenty of water, they tell me that they drink at least 3 liters per day, then ask : “How many times do the pee ? ” Everyone goes like this ” 2-3 times per day.” I smile with my heart and in my mind I think they have a bizarre metric. I tell Botiu to tell them that they should definitely drink more, so they will not have more headaches .. I remind them that they should drink coconut water too because it’s extremely nutritious and clean. But they argue and declare that Cambodian people are allergic to coconut water.
Apart from the coconut water, that they just can not tolerate because of the invasive allergy in the whole population, they seem content and they listen with interest to what I say. Even if, me and the other volunteers have the impression that the translators sometimes translate up to their pleasure .. They talk for several minutes .. and laugh and argue; when I ask Botiu what do they said .. she replies with a few sentences or with a YES, OK, NO!! And I smile and she giggles .
I get out of the tent and I have a chat with the mother’s sister. She’s very friendly and kind. I ask about traditional Healers, those who prepare the belly necklaces and medicines for the local people. She smiles and tells me, embarrassed, that she does not know them.
On the street, I see a little boy with a necklace, similar to those to which I referred. I ask the mother where did she get it; the woman smiles again and replies she can’t tell me who has made it. But it seems she wants to say more…so I insist a bit. She responds that there’s a man in the village, a Healer, he lives not far from the house. I beg her to take me there, to get one of those belly necklaces. She tells me that I have to pay but she can goes with me.
Botiu is not coming with us, her father has advised her not to go and meet a Healer and she is also very scared and susceptible.
We walk across the village, to the house of the Healer. During the walk she tells me something, she shows me trees and fruits. We have a long chat, I speak in Italian, she speak in Khmer .. neither I nor her we care if one or the other understands what we are saying.
The village is green, we are in the rainy season and the landscapes are a bright green, the rice grows up, the canals are filled with brown muddy water. The trees are lush and occasionally there is some fruit. It’s full of different kind of leaves, bushes and banana trees, not many flowers though. Many people are cycling and walking here and there. Some women and kids join us during the walk.
At the end me and 10 other women arrive at the Healer’s house. He makes me sit and he sits down with me.He seems a nice and friendly men. He gives me a western green fluorescent packet of dried peas.
I eat peas, waiting for the man to ask me why I went to see him.