One sunny Saturday i went to the market to shop for not just a few things but a lot of stuff for the house. Usually that kind of foodstuff shopping will require hiring the services of people we call “Alabaru” ( Goods carrier) in Yoruba language.
Interestingly at the busy market you find mostly women carrying a big pan, while the men carry goods on a wheel barrow. When i have a lot of goods to carry i don’t like engaging the services of the elderly or pregnant women for that matter. So on this day i had this woman who was so heavily pregnant following me around insisting that she wanted to help me carry my goods even when i wasn’t done shopping. After a while i asked her if she could carry the goods and i had a lot! She pleaded with me so much that i had to give in. I helped to lift the goods unto her head, that effort in itself resulted into a lot of sweating. I almost changed my mind again but she bravely balanced the pan containing all my shopping items on her head. Then we began the walk to the car park. Usually i make sure i walk behind the person carrying my goods because you never know someone might just disappear with all your goods in such a busy market. But on this day, this heavily pregnant Alabaru woman moved at such a slow pace that i had to walk past her and wait a few times in order for her to catch up with me. The sun was high and hot plus she was sweating profusely. ” I kept asking her, are you sure you are ok?” Each time she would reply, “mummy mo wa paa” ( I am fine ma). Finally we got to the car park and i just couldn’t let her go without finding out a few things. I asked her about her husband and inquired into whether she had registered with any hospital. She said she had but was trying to raise money to buy her delivery items ( cotton wool, clamp cord, methylated spirit, baby’s first cloths etc) as required by the health centre. Her husband or should i say the man responsible for the pregnancy was not willing to support her. This woman must find a way to support herself.
I felt so sorry for her. Women like this Alabaru woman struggle with poverty and they bravely fend for themselves and the babies in their womb. Many women who are low income earners in Africa refuse to register for antenatal at the hospital. When they finally manage to do they end up giving birth in unsafe places/condition because they can not afford necessary delivery kits. Women like me didn’t share her experience. I was equipped with the knowledge of safe delivery and motherhood; i was equipped with the resources to register, even pay money for the delivery of my babies at probably a private hospital. I was lucky to have gone to school, to be educated and therefore armed with skills that puts me on a pedestal above poverty.
Many girls and women like this Alabaru comb our market places doing menial jobs and earn money that is just enough to get a meal or two for each day. Sometimes they have to go hungry. Added to that is their exposure to street men who take advantage of them sexually. A lot of times this results in pregnancy and the man would of course move unto other vulnerable girls and women. If only this pregnant Alabaru had the opportunity to go to school, to get an education,perhaps she would not be in the hot sun carrying my goods. I looked at her and wondered if she would not add up to the data of the maternal and child mortality rate we are so desperately trying to reduce. Poverty is a major contributor to maternal mortality.
I gave this woman my phone number and a sum of money ( though it was not enough for what she needed) hoping that she would use it to purchase what is needed and not spend it on food. As the car carrying i and my goods moved away from the market, i looked on in the mirror at the very pregnant Alabaru woman still standing in the sun helplessly. She buys a N5 sachet of cold water and pours it over her head to cool off the heat. I prayed and hoped in my heart that she and her baby would survive. My prayer was answered when a few weeks later i got a call from her saying that she had just delivered a beautiful baby girl. I did confirm this when some months later we met at the market again. She looked healthy, her baby was at an almost free day care centre within the market and she was still struggling to help shoppers carry their goods. It was a great relief to see that she was ok for now. The question now is – how long would she remain at that level? This Alabaru woman’s daughter may also not see the wall of a school if she can not afford the fees. Thus the circle of poverty may continue.
According to a UNFPA report, “A woman’s chance of dying or becoming disabled during pregnancy and childbirth is closely connected to her social and economic status. The Alabaru woman was lucky to have had a safe delivery but many other women struggling with poverty are not so lucky. Therefore the education level of more women particularly in the rural communities and at the grassroots needs to improve. My proffered solution to that is provision of a viable adult education programme and also ensuring that more girls go to school. I’d say catch them young. How do we achieve this? Government, communities, families, everyone need to invest in educating our girls. As we make these efforts then we can begin to see the ripple effect in improved social and economic status of women and eventually much less maternal and child mortality rates.
Photo 1 credit: www.nation.co.ke
Photo 2 credit: www.travelstart.com.ng
By Adebisi Adetunji