whereas her home village of Loggu lay nineteen miles down a potholed
pretense of a road, and what woman in the throes of labor could travel
that distance on the back of a motorcycle, bouncing over rocks, skidding
through beds of sand, gritting her teeth around each contraction?
On the overcast afternoon I met her, Jamilla had been withdrawn,
looking inward in the way of women soon to give birth. Adrift on a sea
of hormones. For my part, I was incurious about her. People always had
relatives visiting for weeks or months at a time.
Ten days later, as our borrowed motorbike lurched and shuddered
out to Gurumbiele, Boris informed me that Jamilla’s delivery had not
gone well. They had taken her to the hospital, but even so, her child had
been born dead. That was all he said, and I did not pursue it because at
the first hint of concern, I knew Boris would present me with inflated
medical bills. He was shameless about this sort of thing, and he always
made the request appear so plausible. He would be waving a stack of official receipts, able to prove every small expense. (But the hospital bursar
was said to be a friend of his.)
I couldn’t fill Boris’s palm every time he held it out. What if someone
else was in need?
This was a persistent dilemma: people around me lived in absolute
poverty. They were ill. They were hungry. Their children were dying.
My resources were limited. Whom should I help? How to be fair?
And why worry about fairness when the global economic system ground
along oblivious of the suffering, acting as if half the earth’s population
was an expendable embarrassment?
Foreign aid was no panacea. It was a con job fobbed off as alms, sending textbooks to villages without schools, computers to places with no
electricity. International construction teams built schools, roads, and
hospitals and crippled local enterprise by robbing local contractors and
laborers of work. Donations of surplus agricultural production undercut
farm prices. Nothing was done to address the root causes of the imbalance between north and south, the centuries of plunder, exploitation,
and enslavement, the tariffs, the life-draining loans.
Back in town from Gurumbiele, bone sore and wearied from the six-hour trek, Boris and I stopped at Black Moses Spot for a couple of tepid
Over the second beer, Boris informed me that Jamilla’s husband
had renounced her, had gone to the hospital the day after her delivery,