Nothing could prepare Julie for the experience of living and working in the heart of Africa.
This memoir takes you on Julie’s journey to Kalene Mission Hospital in Zambia, where she worked as a midwife for five months caring for African women and their babies at the most cherished time in their lives.
It is a story of joy and heartbreak, of courage and perseverance, and of an extraordinary adventure.
“A fascinating account of the author’s experience as a midwife in Zambia by Bargee”
I received this book from the author, Julie Watson, as an Advanced Review Copy in return for an honest review. I was sent it because of my connection with Africa, so I will admit I was already pre-disposed to enjoy it. However, I was more than just fascinated by this account of the author’s five months volunteering as a midwife at a remote mission hospital in Zambia. What an amazing experience and what a marvellous thing she and her husband did by going to Kalene hospital in northern Zambia as self-funded volunteers. I have huge respect for people who make this kind of commitment. It must have taken immense courage to step out of their comfort zone and into a situation where they had none of the trappings of ‘normal’ life and then had to cope with so many life and death situations.
The book covers the lead-up to their departure and all the bureaucratic issues involved with gaining the necessary permits to work in Zambia in the medical field. Julie Watson tells the story in a matter of fact way without exaggeration or drama, but the reader can feel the frustration involved. Keeping patience when faced with African ‘time’ is something I could relate to easily. Once the administration nightmares are over, the couple fly north to Kalene and I was immediately plunged into the world of hospital and volunteer life at the maternity department of this outlying mission hospital. With a team of dedicated doctors, midwifes, experienced native assistants and volunteers, the maternity ward deals with a constant stream of women and a daily battle with crises.
Women often arrive at the hospital ill and in danger and there are inevitable tragedies. Babies die with much more frequency than they do in a first world country where pregnant women receive such great care. However, apart from the places where I felt the author’s sorrow and pain over the deaths (which inevitably reminded her of her own loss), most would think she found it easy to adapt. But it must have been difficult, challenging and painful. Julie Watson’s writing style is quite formal, so it was only close to the end when I realised how much stress she’d been under throughout the whole five months. It’s just astonishing that she coped with it given all she had to face.
For anyone who has some medical knowledge and is interested in how women give birth and cope in rural Africa, it is a fascinating read and a testament to the courage of African women. There is quite a bit of medical terminology, which is explained in a glossary at the end of the book. There is also a lot of repetition, but that’s the nature of the job. However, there are some interesting glimpses of life in the surrounding villages and the couple’s social life as volunteers. That said, most of the book is focused on the women, babies and medical staff at the maternity ward.
After reading it, I am convinced this is a very important book as it records so much about what happens at a mission hospital and the conditions of pregnant women in Africa. I don’t personally know of another memoir that deals with this specific situation. Although it didn’t tell me as much about that part of Zambia as I’d hoped, it told me much more about the problems faced by the courageous, warm-hearted African women and the loving commitment of those who volunteer to help them. Hats off, Julie Watson. I wish you much success with this book and I am sure you will have it. It will be well deserved.