I arrived in exotic Ghana puking my guts out. Not an auspicious beginning for a new expat life in West Africa. But don’t worry, this was some time ago. I remember this not-so-charming scene as the most memorable arrival in a foreign country I’ve experienced, and as you may know I’ve done a lot of arriving and departing.

So, my man and I found our luggage on the belt and stood in line at customs. Our turn arrived as I was busy making good use of the barf bag taken from the airplane, one of several I had filled on the miserable trip over.

The custom official took one look at me, and waved us through.

I was five months pregnant with our first child.

You may wonder what I was thinking going to live in Africa while pregnant. But it was on my Life Path, my Fate, whatever you want to call it, so I went.

Soon after arrival I acquired my first African doctor to guide me on my Pregnancy Journey. No, I do not mean a medicine man who kills white chickens and mixes up secret potions with its blood (a little saliva, some ashes, a dash of powdered bark–you get the idea). Please, get real. This man was a western-style physician, a gynecologist-obstetrician with an impressive string of initials behind his name, as well as the notation that he was a Fellow of the Royal College of Gynaecology and Obstetrics.

Dr. Azu (not his real name), then, had received his education in England and had an excellent reputation in the expatriate community. He was “approved” by the American embassy so there you have it. Not that I was American at the time, but it was good enough for me.

Our daughter was born in Doctor Azu’s shiny white clinic on a Tuesday morning. I remember it well. I remember Doctor Azu very well. For one thing, he was one of the blackest people I have ever seen – a deep, rich ebony black that made an impressive contrast with his white doctor’s coat. Only on this Tuesday morning he was not wearing his white coat.

Here I was, in the throes of labor and in he comes, wearing a white singlet, a white butcher’s apron and plain rubber boots. He was quite a sight, and not a sight I had witnessed before. However, since I was rather occupied, I had no time to contemplate his bizarre appearance.

I was not having a good time. This sacred birthing thing was not going according to the books I’d been reading, and sacred I was not feeling. (No soft music, no candle light, no crystals.) I’ll spare you the unholy details and make it short: My prince was taken out of the room, I was knocked out and the baby was born with the help of forceps. I try not to picture the procedure. The image of a man wearing a butcher apron and rubber boots, sitting between my spread-out legs holding a huge clamp in his hands is not spiritually inspiring. However, all went well, sacred or not.

They never gave our daughter a little identification bracelet. She was the only white baby among a group of about eight newborns in the nursery. Not only was she the only white one, she was the only bald one. Most black African babies are born with an enviable crop of hair. To tell you the truth, next to these brown beauties, my baby daughter, hairless and colorless, looked a bit pale and sick, which she wasn’t. Context is everything.

So that was the tale about the excellent African doctor and his butcher apron who pulled my baby into the world when Mother Nature did not want to cooperate.

Actually there is another little tale I’ll tell you here: Some time later, our nanny, the Ghanaian girl who helped take care of our baby, was in need of some medical attention for a minor problem of the female variety. She wanted time off to go to her village, which would take her away from my household for at least two or three days. I had a better idea: She could consult the eminent Doctor Azu and I would pay for the visit, which was worth it, since she would be back in a matter of hours rather than days.

Rose, however, did not see things the way I did. She wanted to spend hours on a rickety tro-tro lurching across rutted roads to go to her home village. The village boasted an American mission hospital staffed with white American physicians (one of whom was called Doctor Brown, I kid you not). She wanted an American doctor, not my excellent African physician to whom I had entrusted myself and my baby, the doctor “approved” by the American embassy, no less.

So, African Rose took off to her village, to see her white American Doctor Brown, and of course her many relatives.

And so it goes in the mind of women.

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Over to you: Have you had a baby abroad? Oh, do tell!

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A moment of inattentionJust one micro-second of inattention and you’re in trouble. One moment of not thinking and you manage to get yourself in a problem situation. Okay, that’s saying the same thing twice, but it just struck me one day how little it really takes. Because, well, here I was . . . stuck, barefoot and phone-less.

(I wrote this story a couple of years ago, while living in Moldova. I now live in France.)

PANIC!

I’m living in a temporary rented service apartment because our expat house here in quiet, peaceful Moldova is severely soaked in water and we had to move out (see all about the flood tragedy here.)

It’s a sunny day and I decide to take my book onto the balcony and sit in the sun for fifteen minutes to get my dose of vitamin D3. You all know how you should do that, right? The sun in moderate amounts is your friend, especially for your bones.

I open the sliding glass doors and step onto the balcony. My feet are bare because I like the feel of a cool floor underfoot. Now, since I am generally of a save-energy-recycle-save-the-planet disposition if it’s not too much trouble, I close the sliding doors because the air-conditioner is on in the living room.

And that’s where I make the mistake.

I’m used to sliding glass doors in many places, including the USA, where you just close and open them at will from both sides. If you want to lock them, you can only lock them from the inside.

Not so here. You close them, you lock them. Only on the inside can you unlock them.

So, here I am, a barefoot Miss Footloose, locked out of the house, on an apartment balcony in the full summer sun. I take a deep breath and consider the situation:

1.  I have no phone; it’s inside.

2.  It will be at least four hours before my mate will come home.

3.  Four hours sitting in the sun is not good.

4.  The bathroom is on the other side of these doors. Also not good.

CONCLUSION: I have to get off the balcony!

The apartment building has 12 floors. But, thank the gods, I am in luck: We’re on the ground floor. To get off the balcony I have to climb over a low wall which has built-in flower boxes, newly filled with soil, and walk barefoot through a patch of soil not yet seeded or planted, to get onto the pavement. (They’re busy doing a massive landscaping overhaul around the building.) So I clamber over the wall.

Then I’m free, barefoot, phone-less but free. But I still can’t get into my apartment because the front door is locked from the inside. And I don’t know another soul in this building to call on and ask if I can hang out until my man comes home. Or even to ask to use their phone to call my husband, because . . . I don’t know his number! It’s in the phone and not in my head. I don’t know anybody’s phone number! Note to self: Memorize husband’s phone number.

I have a British friend who lives an eight-minute walk away, but if you’ve seen the sidewalks here you know that without shoes there is no way, no way, to get there without losing your feet. Besides she may not be home.

There is a security guard at the entrance of the compound, and I can get there on my bare feet. Maybe he has some idea of what to do. Or he can call the property management company. My active Romanian vocabulary is pathetic, but my predicament is easily explained with pantomime. Pointing at my bare feet ads to the drama. I do thank the gods I am in a place where showing bare feet (and bare legs) is not taboo or an invitation to sexual jollies (see my bare ankles? See my apartment? Wanna come with me?)

I prevail upon him to call the property management company. The man gets on the phone. Another man appears. They study our apartment, see that the bedroom window on the second floor (we have two floors) is open. Someone gets a ladder, but it’s not nearly tall enough. They talk on the phone some more. In the mean time my feet are burning from standing on the hot pavement stones and I’m jumping from one onto the other, looking all elegant and dignified.

A woman appears, smiling and talking to me, and making noises about a key. I don’t have a key. It’s probably the most fun they’ve had all day. There’s more messing around on the phone, talking and discussing in Russian and Romanian. I feel helpless and stupid. Then another woman appears. I’ve seen her around the building and know she’s on the housekeeping staff. Cleaning services are available here, although I don’t use them.

Praise be, she has a master key to the front door.

The End!

PS: And now I’m worrying about all these floors high up and the balcony doors that lock you out if you close them from the outside.

And, being a writer, I make up scenarios about mothers locked out and small children inside and . . . well, you can finish it for yourself, can’t you?

* * *
Have you ever been in trouble caused by a moment of not-thinking? Ever been locked out?

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