Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Walk It Out

Three years ago, I traveled to Ethiopia to help work on a documentary film about young women suffering from an obscure childbirth ailment known as fistula. I'd known about the project from my previous work with Engel Entertainment, so for two weeks in the beginning of 2005, I helped a small crew of filmmakers, led by Mary Olive Smith and Amy Bucher, feel a little bit more at home in a country that, since I thought I knew it better than any of them, and since I knew a little bit about what it took to make a film, I could make them feel a bit more at home in.

But what happened in the process, as I made daily trips to the fistula hospital and sat with the doctors and nurses and grew closer with the patients, some of whom had traveled (often on foot) hundreds of kilometers to seek out treatment, was that I, who was supposed to be a kind of cultural liason and native informant, ended up learning more about Ethiopia than I'd ever known before. The doctors at the hospital and the young women who were treated there during my time will stay in my memory forever for their quiet dignity, grace, beauty, and resilience in the face of unimaginable suffering.

A Walk to Beautiful finally starts its run at the Quad Cinema (if you're reading this after February 8th, click the "Now Playing" tab on the site) and will be there as long as there are people in the area interested in seeing it. That means, if you're reading this now, and you live in New York, and especially if you're African or interested in Africa or in issues of public health or you're sick of watching "American Gladiator" or all of the above, you should break out your day planner and write "AWTB @ Quad" somewhere in the next couple weeks.

As the former head of the U.N. Kofi Annan famously put it, "If we want to save Africa, we must save Africa's women first." And part of that, undoubtedly, involves allowing their stories to be seen and heard. At Quad Cinemas, starting this Friday, don't miss your chance to do just that.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Will definately check it out. Thanks!

tobian said...

Went to see it with a couple of Kenyan friends yesterday.

I knew about fistula and the hospital in Addis ever since I was a kid. The movie still made me so sad, and then gave me hope. It was truly beautiful to see these women walk their lives back to their dignity which they lost out of our culture's pure ignorance, and our country's state of abject poverty.

At the end of the movie my friends and I all had one question : where are the traditional midwives? I'm pretty darn sure there's such a thing as an 'awalaj' in our culture.

The film pointed out that it will be a long journey before Ethiopia will be able to provide hospital care to the average Ethiopian citizen. Our transportation infrastructure (or lack of) alone can attest to that.

At some point in the movie the doctors pointed out two main reasons for the problem. One reason being that the women are giving birth while they are physically too small, either because they're malnourished or two young. The other reason is because the baby is mispositioned in the womb prior to delivery. At the risk of appearing too idealistic, I think one practical way to alleviate part of the problem will be to train midwives across the country in how to at least prevent some of the complications that occur at birth, such as a mispositioned baby.

Do you know if there are any groups that work with midwives? Or reasons why no group is working with midwives?

Mik A. said...

Tobian, thanks so much for checking this out, and for your excellent question about midwives. I do know that the Fistula Foundation, which is the fundraising branch of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, has recently opened up a midwifery school at the hospital, but beyond that I'm not sure. Great question though. I'd be incredibly interested in learning more about Ethiopian midwives, and if there's been anything written or reported on their influence in the country.