Birth in a field and other memorable events

The Sisters from Zaffe Health Centre write:

Our health programme continues to be for us a forum for taking and giving, for learning and surprises. The surprise package par excellence was the day when one of our staff ran to Sister Maria and said, "There's a lady delivering a baby behind the clinic block!"

"Delivering what? How?" was Maria's reaction, as we have not yet setup delivery services at our health centre and mothers-to-be are referred to the town of Glazoué

But sure enough, when Maria went to look, there was a woman squatting in the field with the head of the baby already delivered. Midwife that Maria is, she quickly assisted the young mother, and soon baby Jean Marie was born, as the other women in the health centre removed their colourful wrappers and rushed to create a semiprivate labour ward in the middle of the field!

Three Sisters born in Nigeria, and one born in Tanzania,
make up our first all-African community of pioneers

In Zaffe, the people know how to celebrate, just as they know how to work hard. Soon after we arrived in Zaffe in the year 2000, the bricklayers arrived. We threw in our lot with all the workers, determined to see this project through to the end. Maria was constantly on the road to Lagos, Bohicon and Cotonou, trying to purchase quality building materials at reasonable prices. We recruited workers, tried to supervise the building and asked advice of every wise person!

We made mistakes that later had us 'in stitches' with laughter as we reflected on them. We also had some frustrating moments, as we tried to communicate what we wanted in a language we had far from mastered. We searched for funds and tried to make what was available stretch as far as possible. It was truly an exciting, challenging adventure and we learned a lot in the process.

We look back on 1 May 2002, the day we took advantage of the national public holiday and moved into our house. It was a dream come true. This was near-paradise compared to the temporary residence we had occupied for more than two years. Our joy was heightened by the fact that we had seen it grow brick by brick. The villagers also had witnessed the wasteland slowly become a habitable compound.

July 13 that year was set as the day for the blessing of the newly-constructed chapel at our house. We had decided to wait for Sister Radegunda to return from home leave and her Final Vows in Tanzania, so that we could all celebrate together. The day dawned bright and early and the excitement in the air was thick and contagious. The villagers were ready to burst! It was as much their feast as it was ours. The evidence of their joy and gratitude was a cow they had presented to us the day before to mark the event.

Mass was scheduled for 3 p.m. All morning and early afternoon, our compound was a beehive of activity. Women were cooking at different spots. Young men were tidying up the compound and building temporary sheds for the women. Young ladies were helping the Sisters to decorate the house and chapel and even the little children were not left out. They were tidying up the pathways and putting finishing touches to everything they could lay their hands on!

As 3 p.m. drew closer, the compound started filling up. Our visitors included our parish priest, Padre Sylvestre, and his assistant, Padre Claude, priests from nearby parishes and Sisters from around, and old friends like Padre Nzamujo, who had driven in from his famous farm-based development project at Songhai, four hours away. There were members of the village committee: Alfa, our Muslim friend; the French choir of Zaffe Station who had been groomed by Sister Nkeiru for the occasion, and of course, the villagers themselves.

MMMs from other parts of West Africa had made the long journey to witness this historical event and to lend us their support and encouragement. These included Sisters who were on home leave in Nigeria from our missions in other parts of the world.

At 3 p.m., the Bishop of Dassa-Zoume, Monsignor Antoine Ganye arrived, and the ceremony began. First he blessed the chapel, after which he led everybody into the building in a solemn procession. He blessed the sacred vessels and Mass was begun. During his homily, he especially welcomed Sister Radegunda, back from her home leave in Tanzania, and congratulated her on having made her Final Vows. He spoke of the beginnings and of how he, as a new Bishop, had invited the Medical Missionaries of Mary to his diocese, and how far from the beginnings we had now come.

He expressed his gratitude to the Congregation for its positive response and appreciated the presence of the Medical Missionaries of Mary in his diocese. He congratulated us on all that had been done in the area and especially for the difference that had been made in the lives of the people of Zaffe.

benin-y0302Towards the end of the Mass, he blessed the new tabernacle and installed the Blessed Sacrament. It was a significant moment. For the first time since we came to Zaffe, we had the Blessed Sacrament in our home. After Mass, the whole congregation processed to the house, for the blessing there. This was followed by a sumptuous meal and then the closing prayer, after which the compound slowly emptied.

That was not the end! Next day, after our usual Sunday morning Mass in the Station Church at Zaffe, the congregation escorted us home with plenty of dancing and drumming. We all processed first to the chapel where prayers were offered for the sick, and then to our house. The dancing and drumming continued for a few hours.

That evening, as we all sat around reminiscing, there was a sense of relief, wonder and gratitude. We had pulled it off with God's strength and might!