The Little Green Statue

Posted by on Jul 27, 2017 in Writings

The Little Green Statue

As a midwife and a mother, I cannot help but contemplate my own birth when the Earth circumnavigates the sun and reaches the 22nd of July each year.

The little green statue is a little object which has always been a part of my life and has always stood either next to my mother’s bed, or balanced on her bed’s headboard, or stood on her dressing table, or was hidden in her cupboard. No matter where we lived, the little green bust of the African woman made of Verdite, was there, watching over our family.  Ever present and always there.

When I was 15, I travelled to Switzerland, the land of my birth, as an exchange student. As a parting gift, my mother pressed the little green statue into my hands.

She told me that it had been presented to her by a woman she had counselled in the late 70s. My mother was volunteering as a rape counsellor in Cape Town at the time and the woman showed her gratitude by presenting my mother with this gift.

My mother also told me that when she was pregnant with me in July of 1980 in Switzerland and was due to give birth, she took the little green statue with her as her birth companion. She was a single mother and had been booked for an induction at the fancy private hospital at Stefanshorn. In essence, the little green statue was her doula.

My mother had wanted and planned a home birth. She had been born at home, as had her mother and her grandmother before her. But the man of the house where she was renting a room banged his fist on the dining room table and made it quite clear that there was absolutely no way this African girl was going to squat down and give birth in his house.

The nearest birth centre was in the next Kanton and so a compromise was reached that she would birth at the private hospital at Stefanshorn.

‘My’ due date was the 29th of July but the doctor was going away on holiday during that time and so my mother was booked in a week earlier to be induced. Coincidentally, she was booked in on my father’s wife’s birthday, something his wife insisted was done on purpose to upset her (It wasn’t. Long story. Read here if you want more background info on this).

She was driven to the hospital by the sister of a friend and induced in the early hours of the following morning.

She laboured on her own, a monitor strapped to her, using the breathing techniques she had learned and practised from her natural birthing books. My father snuck calls from his family home in the UK, shouting breathing instructions at her. He probably considered himself to be a bit of an expert, being the father of three children already.

(Fucking mansplaining childbirth to a woman in labour! No wonder she hung up on him!)

In the end, my mother huffed and puffed and sweated and heaved whilst clutching the cool stone statue in her hands. She held it against her burning cheeks and sweaty forehead and it reminded her of home.

She said that in that cold and sterile hospital, the little green statue was her connection back to South Africa.

My mother birthed me fairly easily it seems. She never made a fuss of it when she told me about it. I do know that she did not tear and that I weighed 5kg (11lbs).

I was loved and breastfed and carried on her back and thanks to the Swiss maternity care system, even as a single income mother, she was able to take a year off work and devote her time to being with me. And once she returned to work, I attended a creche on the property where she worked and she was able to walk down to the creche and breastfeed me every 3 hours.

The little green statue accompanied me to Switzerland as a teen and stood next to my bed and cooled my tears when I was homesick for the dry and windy Cape Town summer whilst in the dark and cold of the Swiss winter months. She was my connection back home, back to South Africa.

When I returned home after six months away, I thanked my mother and the little green statue was returned to her rightful place in my mother’s bedroom. She returned to her post and watched over the family once more.

Ten years ago, in 2007, my mother, my stepfather and my 17-year-old sister Gypsy were all killed in a freak accident involving a truck whose badly packed load of Lucky Star Pilchards came crashing down on them as they passed by one another on windy Michell’s Pass, not far from our farm.

Nothing can ever describe the feeling of having three lives ripped from yours in an instant.

A week after they died, we buried them on the farm. In the field below the farmhouse.

It is a strange coincidence that it is also the field that my mother and stepfather first slept on when on the night they had signed the paperwork and owned the farm. There was nowhere to sleep as the farmhouse at the time was a crumbling ruin. So they huddled under the milky way and Gypsy was conceived that night too. A strange coincidence that the three of them are buried on that same field. Or possibly, quite simply, it is the cycle of life.

I like to imagine their eyes as the oh-so-bright stars of the milky way looking down on that field, and I like to think their souls are dancing in the wind of that isolated valley.

Five hundred or so people travelled the bumpy dirt road to bid their farewells. We all took turns digging into the clay coloured soil with spades and scattering them on the graves whilst a girl cousin played a lonely tune on a penny whistle.

 

Then we sang:

Assie Verlossers Huis Toe Gaan

Assie Verlossers Huis Toe Gaan

Ooh Here Help My Dat Ek Kan Samm Gaan

Assie Verlossers Huis Toe Gaan*

 

And as the wind picked up and people began to withdraw to the farmhouse to eat biryani and eat melktert **and sip coffee and tea, a few of us stayed behind absorbing this new loneliness.

And as we stood there, my youngest sister Jasmin, only 16 at the time, approached me from behind and pressed something small and cool into my hand.

It was the little green statue.

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So today, she stands, a little worse for wear but still very much present, watching over me, and my family.

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*When the Redeemers Return Home

When the Redeemers Return Home

Oh Lord Help Me That I May May Go With Them

When the Redeemers Return Home

 

** Milk tart

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