It’s late afternoon about 20 kilometres out of Phnom Penh. We’ve dropped past a small village to say hi. Among the many ‘Hellos’ from cheeky kids and a few adults is a familiar face – the local birth attendant smiles and greets us, happy at our return. “Have you been busy?” we ask.
The question is leading. Imagine your favourite female relative – kind and capable, everyone loves her. She’s humble not self-impressed, concerned not nosey, friendly not pushy, aware of life’s difficulties but not bothered by them.
She tells us of a baby she delivered that morning. No trouble, no complications and a kilo of rice is mentioned (I presume its payment). With a hint of irony she explains the family has no food so today she delivers a baby and then she delivers a meal.
Curiosity gets the better of us “Can we visit?” She leads us to the family home. We pass by an assortment of bamboo huts to find the father sitting on the timber steps that lead into his simple shelter. With the village midwife as our chaperone he invites us to come in.
It’s dark inside and quiet. Lying on the floor with a large piece of ice on her stomach is the baby’s mother. She quickly sits up and welcomes the strangers. She tells us she has no energy and little breast milk. With the rent due and only 10 days work out of the last thirty I ask the father how he feels about the birth of his son. “Cold” he replies with no expression “Hopeless” he says.
In spite of the absence of celebration a loving dad carefully cradles his baby boy from under the mosquito net for us to see. He’s sleeping peacefully. The glow from the candle outlines four faces in this family portrait – mum, dad, baby and a trusted friend, the village midwife.