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July 5, 2009 IT’S A BOY!!!

My host mother, who I call Ama, has been pregnant for a loooong time now. I was the first person she told – even before her husband, and long before her far-distant sisters. :) I was sworn to secrecy for months, as Ama tried to keep the news quiet.

She’s a generously-shaped woman, and like most Berber women, she dresses in many-layered, bulky, shapeless clothing, so she could keep her growing lump hidden for a long time. She even gave up going to the hammam, preferring to bathe at home, just to prevent any sharp eyes from guessing her secret.

Eventually, maybe three months ago, she began sharing the news publicly. Ever since, I’ve been asked by friends and neighbors how she’s been doing. For the past month, the question has always been, “Is she still pregnant?”, which I guess is the Tamazight idiom for “Has she had the baby yet?”

I’ve been traveling a lot this past month, so I made Baba swear that he’d call me with the news, wherever I was. When Ama’s due date came and went, I started calling him. My vacation came to a close, and still no baby. I got back to site two days ago, and immediately went to see her. I told her of our plans to go out to the lake for the 4th, but reiterated that I’d have my phone with me – and there’s signal out at the lake, I’ve checked before – so as soon as anything happened, her husband could call me. “No, no,” she said, “You have your party.”

“NO!” I said as emphatically as I could without quite shouting. “Baba will call me, and I will come back. I paused, to make sure she was getting my seriousness. Fast.

“OK, OK,” she agreed with a smile.

But the 4th came and went, in all its celebratory fun, and still no mumu.

And then tonight, the evening of the 5th, I got the call just as I was settling down to watch a movie with my sister. I bolted to the sbitar (clinic/hospital) and discovered that the baby had already been born. Mother and child were both in good condition, lhumdulillah. I asked if there had been any problems – with a baby over two weeks overdue, I wanted reassurance – and was told both by my Berber lady friends (who were crowding the waiting room with me) and by the French-speaking doctor that there were no problems, no complications… It had been a difficult labor, but a harmonious one.

An hour or so later, we were finally allowed in to see her. Quick explanatory tangent: In Moroccan sbitars, childbirth is an activity for the laboring mother and the medical staff, and no one else. No husbands, no sisters, no friends, in the delivery room. I assume this is to keep out midwives and their “traditional birthing practices” that include things like standing on the womb to “push the baby out” and having the mother cut into the ground with a hand-held scythe to “cut the pain”. But the side effect is that everybody crowds the waiting room and the mother doesn’t have any friendly hands to hold. Ah, unintended consequences.

So anyway, we finally get in, and Ama is looking exhausted but happy, and the tiny baby is slow-broiling under the heat lamp, looking, yes, like Winston Churchill, and I’m so happy I’m crying.

Various friends and family women keep pouring in to give their congratulations. Some bring food – it’s Berber tradition for the new mother to drink fresh milk and eat soft-boiled eggs as soon as possible, so Ama choked them down.

Two or three hours after the delivery, we went home. Sbitars don’t require or even want the standard-in-America 24-hour watch. As soon as possible, you’re streeted. So two of the assembled women helped Ama to her husband’s waiting 4x4, which he eased through the dirt paths of our village. We then helped Ama onto a ponj in the prepared lying-in room, where she’ll be installed for the next week or so, greeting every woman in the village (more or less) and receiving gifts and well-wishes. She’s expected to stay sitting, reclining, or fully lying down for about a week, while all of the women in her family take care of entertaining the dozens or hundreds of visitors. (Excellent tradition, imho. New mommies *should* get to lie down for a week.)

Welcome to the world, baby brother! :D

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