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Daffiama, Ghana

By Lisa Kahn Schnell

There was a woman who died while I was in Daffiama; she was young and eight months pregnant. I didnít go to the funeral, but those who did said you could see the baby circling around inside of her, like a hand moving under a sheet. Later I felt bad that I hadnít gone to the funeral, but I was never sure if my motivation was guilt or disappointment over missing such a spectacle.

My own babies have died inside me twice now. The first one fell with the Twin Towers, and as the clots of blood dripped into the toilet, I said goodbye almost thankfully, glad not to bring a child into such a world. This one is taking its time, and I have nothing more than my intuition to tell me that itís gone.

I am haunted by this scene: the woman, the funeral, the baby circling around. They cut the baby out in order to bury her, but only after it had stopped circling and had died. I didnít go to the funeralómy fiancé was visiting, and I didnít know the woman. But I should have gone. I should have gone not just to support the family, and not just because you never know when itís going to be your turn to grieve or be grieved, but because knowing what I know now about my own life, I see that there are things I would have learned, maybe things I would have taken from that funeral if I had the courage.

This time nothing is falling: no blood, no towers, I just know. Something is different, something has changed, and I search my body for signs that my baby is still thereócheck my breasts, my belly, the fluid in the toilet, and back again to the breasts, wondering if the life inside me has died. Iím still not completely sure, so I survey again, trying to find the feeling that was once there, that still comes back in little wisps, but seems mostly gone. There is something about the way the breasts suddenly deflate, the way the body stops gurgling and humming, that lets me know I will continue to chase after the symptoms of another life in my body without ever finding what I am looking for.

I am the color brown. Not just any brown, but the kind you make with paint or too many layers of crayon when youíre a little kid. You mix all the colors togetheróthe good colors and the bad colors too, just to see what will happen, and you come up with a muddy, greenish, sickly version of the color brown, a sort of chaos and confusion of life and lifelessness all blended into one, never to be separated into sky blue, tangerine, and sea foam again. This brown, this color I am, it sucks in the colors of crocuses, bananas, my husbandís eyes, and it holds them tight, keeping them for its own but never changing, never brightening to a rich mahogany or surrendering to black. That is what color I am right now.

If I knew then what I know now, what would I have done? I would have gone to the funeral and made them cut the baby out while it was still alive, instead of after it had died. I would have taken the dead womanís baby for my own, as a guard against the possibility that either of us would ever be alone, as a stone thrown in the face of death, as protection against this circling, this looking for something we both need desperately that is no longer there.


Lisa Kahn Schnell was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana from 1998-2000. Her piece entitled "The Things I Gave Her" won the 2005 Moritz Thomsen Experience Award from Lisa lives in southeastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two daughters. She is currently working on a book about her experience in Ghana.

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Photo by Dinty W. Moore