Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A dumsor story[1]

It was Thursday, 12.30 in the afternoon. She had been driving around the university campus in her sleek, grey new BMW 5 series, looking a suitable place to park. It had to be a quiet place, away from the usual pedestrian traffic that characterized a campus as populated as this one. Quiet and shady. She needed urgently to express her milk.
So far she had tried three locations, one near the Catholic church (shady and quiet but the occasional curious worshiper passing too close), the university gardens (gardeners pruning hedge next  to her) and near the VC’s house (security guard looking suspiciously at parked car).
‘How did I get to this situation?’ she reflected.
The past three years have been the best in my life. I worked hard and success followed me. A Director before I became thirty, acknowledged and respected by my peers and my elders in the field of accounting and now on the fastrack to a PhD. Better still, married to the most adorable man on earth, John Paul. JP, as he is known to his closest friends, owns a large and successful consulting firm and is kind, loving and generous, ergo new sleek car. Life is good.
‘Except for this blasted urge to express my milk before my next class,’ she thought to herself in annoyance.
Pregnancy came within months of marriage, much to the pleasure of both mother and MIL[2]. But pregnancy coincided with admission into PhD program. Why should she choose when she can have it all? She took a long leave of absence from work and decided to have both the baby and the PhD. After all, women have been juggling career and domestic life since the 1950s. Look at Araba, who had twins whilst in medical school and still came top of her class or Michelle, who built her consulting business single-handedly whilst taking care of her three boys as her philandering husband chased everything in skirt! It has been done before and can be done again. Female power rocks!!
With determination and a Gucci handbag (wedding gift from girlfriends), she set off to the classroom.  In her mind, everything had been planned out for when the baby comes, six months into the semester. Buy breast pump, find dependable Nanny, express breast milk for baby at home , at school express breast milk at school enough to feed baby for the day.
But the devil is in the details, init? Thus her current drive around campus six weeks after baby Kay arrived. The College of Social Sciences was a difficult place to find a quiet place in which a female can calmly expose her mammary gland, attach a pump to it, pump it for between ten to fifteen minutes and repeat procedure on the other mammary gland without anyone interrupting. She had therefore resorted to expressing her milk in her car. Thanks to its tinted windows, she could do this quite discreetly without attracting too much attention. But on this particular day, the car park had been turned into fair grounds for the annual college week celebrations and she had to find another place.
She finally found a suitable location next to the examinations centre and with her car air condition turned on full blast and the car windows rolled up, she proceeded to express enough milk for Baby Kay. Whilst she expressed she reflected on how her well laid out plan for taking care of her baby had to be revised over and over again.
Her first Nanny quit without much notice after only one week, both grandmothers were too busy with respective business enterprises to be of much help and Baby Kay loved his milk. Baby Kay was born at 4.0 kg. which is very  big for a first child. And Baby Kay wanted his milk and wanted it NOW!! And always. So much for her plan to do exclusive breastfeeding. Having a baby mid semester meant also that she could not take the mandatory six weeks post natal leave to allow her to bond with her baby. She had to continue with lectures within weeks of giving birth. Thursdays were the worst days as she had back to back lectures from 7am to 4 pm with only an hour break. Thus she could not do the usual shuttle between school and home to breastfeed.  
After releasing the pent up pressure from milk, she efficiently stored the expressed milk in her thermos flask and put the flask back into her Gucci bag. Thank God for making large hand bags fashionable. That was a life saver. Not only had it been difficult for her to find a place to express her milk, but it was also more difficult to find a place to safely store the milk until she could get it home. She once tried leaving it in the car but temperatures had gone so high that day that the milk had curdled and had to be disposed of.  The solution now was to carry it with her to lectures. At least lectures took place in an air-conditioned room.
How is it that with a University this size, with more than twenty thousand students, at all levels of study, from undergrad to graduate level, the VC doesn’t think that there is the need for a nursing room or a nursery? How paternalistic of him! There is nowhere to safely take a six week old baby! Best university indeed!
But this dumsor kwraa was not helping, especially with storing Baby Kay’s milk at home until he is ready to eat. With this 24 hours of, 12 hours on electricity business, it meant she could not keep the expressed milk for more than only a few days. The generator could not power the fridge without causing damage. She had had to throw away milk on several occasions due to the erratic at best and non existent at worst power supply situation currently going on. One particular day, she expressed almost 12 ounces of milk, enough to last Baby Kay the whole day, very proud of herself. Only to have the milk curdle because the lights were off the entire weekend and the milk went bad by Monday morning. 
After being in labour for 12 hours, she had had to be rushed into emergency caesarean surgery. This was delayed because there was no money to buy fuel to power the hospital’s generator. John Paul had to volunteer to buy fuel for the generator before the Doctor could go ahead with the caesarean section. That was a close one. Thankfully, baby Kay didn’t need any intensive care support. She heard the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) had to be shut down because the incubators were at risk of damage from the erratic power supply.
So Baby Kay’s meals have to be supplemented by formula milk as and when his milk runs out. This also has consequences. The cost of the milk is the least of her problems. Afterall when she was working, she spent more on lunch than she spends on one tin of baby milk.  First, the public health nurses must never know of this during their regular monthly weighing sessions at the hospitals. All this exclusive breastfeeding mania that has taken over the country brouhaha. Second and most significantly, Baby Kay suffers from serious colicky sessions when he drinks the formula. It is such a sorry sight to see and hear a baby cry for hours on end suffering from gas. She and John Paul have changed the brand of formula a few times but with no significant results. Internet also says that it is not advisable to keep changing the baby brand of milk as it takes up to two weeks for a baby to get used to a specific brand of formula. Finally, she had to order a brand from  the US and had it delivered by courier.
She has heard other horrifying tales of how mothers and babies are suffering from the ongoing electricity load sharing exercise. From babies not sleeping well in the incessant heat to mothers losing their newborns as a result of equipment failure in hospitals. It is  scary to be pregnant and expecting in these times. These are really tumultuous times. We hear stories of midwives having to deliver babies with torchlight. Infact, now in Ghana, everyone has a dumsor story and there seem to be no end in sight.
It is no  longer an individual’s pet peeve but it has become a national issue. Ti is not just about the lights going on and off at irregular times but how electricity or the lack thereof, affects us all. Electricity is a key foundation of modern times. Without that form of energy, life will be difficult. Nii Lante lost his job at Fanmilk after a redundancy. His wife is also pregnant and not working. Nana Aba also had to close down her coldstore and literally gave out her stock for free because the lights had been off for almost a week. Not sure she would even break even. Poultry farmers are also losing out because the chicks are not putting on weight as fast as they should. Hmm, Ghana my motherland.
How does a middle income country survive without energy? How can we grow when our industries are suffering from lack of power? How do our children write their exams and pass when there is no lights for them to study at night before exams? thinking thoughts.

[1] Based on several true stories and true events with a dash of poetic licence
[2] Mother-in-law

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