A Little Bit of Writing

So I’m working on a story, which is exciting because I haven’t written a story in so, so, long!!! Also, I’ve never completed a story but this one I’m writing actually seems like it’s worth giving a damn about. I’m hoping that this will be the story I finish (and maybe publish – fingers crossed!!) but I’m far from being done yet ( I would even say far from beginning since I’ve been writing higgeldy-piggeldy and in no particular order.)

Plus I haven’t even got to the meat of the story yet, but it’s all here in my head and it’s itching to get out. This whole term I’ve carried around this weird feeling in my head that’s only relieved whenever I put pen to paper so I’ve finally given in and started writing. I had writer’s block a while back. It was horrible, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

Either way, I’ve developed the main characters and I’ve written some of their back stories, but I only just got through the beginning sequence of the story. I’ve written lots of other chapters but I had been avoiding the beginning because honestly, I had no idea how to begin. After giving it some thought, I decided to begin at the beginning because given the nature of the story, honestly, that’s the only logical place to begin. (and after you read it you will see why).

Anyway, enough of my rambling. Here is the beginning of the story. Please tell me what you think.

This beginning part doesn’t mention any of the main characters (even though some of them are very present there).

Here goes:


Chapter 1

Ogoli Amaka was having a baby. Beads of sweat shimmered on her forehead like the stars that littered the night sky above her. Her hands grasped the black ropes that hung down from a metal frame near the ceiling of the birthing tent and her jaw vibrated as she bit down on the wooden bar that the midwife had placed in her mouth to stifle her screams. Her legs ached, her pelvis was on fire, and the cold night breeze rocked the tent slightly as she squatted under the temporary shelter that had been put up by her husband for the birth the month before.

The old woman held up a lamp and wiped the sweat from the panting woman’s face. “It will come soon.” She said in her scratchy voice. “You young women have no stamina. Be brave! You must not scream or you will frighten away your baby’s chi, and then what will you do?” Hearing this Amaka bit the bar harder, willing the sound building within her to die in her throat. It was a chill harmattan night and she was cold and uncomfortable even though her skin had been rubbed thoroughly with palm oil. The thin cotton robe she wore did not provide much insulation against the breeze and although she was spared the worst of it by the huge yellow tent, the top still opened to the night sky and through that opening a small draught had found its way in to torment her.

Suddenly Amaka felt a heavy pressure in her pelvis and under the direction of the old midwife, she gritted her teeth and pushed. Reeling she gripped the ropes tighter to steady herself. She had almost lost her balance from the effort of the push and fallen from her squatting position to the floor. Her large protruding belly made balancing that much harder but she was determined to get the birth over with sooner rather than later.

Steadying herself she looked to the older woman for guidance. Seeing her nod, Amaka took a deep breath and heaved downwards again. This time the baby slid out into the waiting arms of the midwife. Laughing with relief and wincing in pain, Amaka let go of the ropes and thankfully collapsed backwards onto the pile of floor cushions behind her, but something was wrong. She felt a movement in her womb as the pain came again.

“Agida!” She called out in alarm, alerting the midwife to her distress. The old lady frowned and setting the now-swaddled child down in the baby bed, shuffled over to see what was wrong. “There’s something there!” Amaka said, her eyes large with fear.
-“Yes, that must be the placenta coming out.”
“No,” Amaka shook her head emphasizing that the woman was wrong. “there’s something big and it’s coming out.”
The agida sucked in a sharp breath. “It can’t be. It shouldn’t be.”

Quickly motioning for Amaka to squat again and hold onto the ropes, she produced a mirror from her nabi and slid it underneath Amaka, holding an oil lamp close so she could see. Sure enough, the head of a second baby could clearly be seen making its way out into the world.
“Push!” she ordered and Amaka gave a huge push, sending the second child out towards life.
Three minutes later two sets of cries pierced the stillness of the night.

******************************************************************************

Okolo heard Amaka’s sobs long before the tent came into view. Coming round the corner towards the orange glow of the lamps and the candles surrounding and within the birthing tent, the sounds of her grief drowned out the infant cries that he was straining so hard to hear and his heart sank into his stomach. He was sure the child was stillborn. They had married four years ago when she was only fourteen and he eighteen, and while all the other women of her age grade already had a retinue of children, their home was once again deprived of this joy.

“Oh Ani!” He whispered in prayer as the agida approached him, his wife’s screams in the background. The old woman’s face was grim and worn with so many lines she looked like she had ichi on her forehead.

“Nne anyi,” he addressed her with the honorific term of respect, ‘Our Mother’, clutching the folds of her dress. “Will my wife live?” The old lady nodded and Okolo’s shoulders sagged with relief, but his stomach was still a roiling pit of fear. “Nne anyi,” he whispered “is the child dead?”
The agida pulled herself to her full height, which wasn’t much and squared her shoulders.
“Worse,” she said almost inaudibly. “Ejima.”


Important Background Information:

This story is set in the 9th century. At the time, and even up to the 1890s and early 1900s, it was common for Igbo girls to marry around the ages of 13, 14 and upwards (or a few years after menstruation began – whichever came first)

All Igbo people are divided into age grades. Life achievements are always compared against those of other members of the same age grade. Not really practised anymore in modern Igbo life.

Ogoli is an Igbo term used to refer to married women. It is and at the same time not equivalent to Mrs but it does serve the same function in pointing out that the woman addressed is indeed married. It can also be used on its own to mean Married Woman or Women (i.e. ANY married woman or women)

Ejima is the Igbo word for Twin or Twins (no plural)

Ichi are tribal marks that are worn only by Igbo men. They are a series of lines cut into the forehead in a slightly diagonal fashion. They aren’t worn by many Igbo men these days because of the general decline in the popularity of tribal marks.

Agida is an Igbo word I made up for midwife since the original word is lost to us. Nabi is another Igbo word I made up to refer specifically to a wrapper. As far as I know the word that refers specifically to wrapper and not its type (e.g. ankara, george, akwete, etc – “AKWA” refers to cloth. Any cloth no matter what length, colour, shape or size, as long as it is a fabric, and as such is a generic word for cloth/fabric/material) has been unrecoverable in the language. I REFUSE to accept that the Igbo word for wrapper is wrappa or even worse lappa. I absolutely REFUSE. Writers of horrible Igbo dictionaries, die and be damned. I fucking refuse.

I don’t know what childbirth is like so this is my imagined version of childbirth based on what I’ve heard and seen so far. If you have actually experienced childbirth and find my description off, please let me know so I can make it as accurate as possible.

Also, traditionally Igbo women are not supposed to give birth inside the house. They must give birth outside and then when the child is born and all the stuff is done, they must carry the child in their arms and step backwards into the house. If it was raining or harmattan or if there was likely to be any inclement weather during the birth, a tent would be used, but no inside-house births. Ever. Of course, the coming of the missionaries changed all that.

So, what do you think?




There are 18 comments

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  1. Marin

    This will be my first comment on your blog. Very nice beginning and lovely that you have thought the plot out. Like you guessed, I think the description of the delivery is not realistic. Of course there will be the 2% of women for whom it will be as easy as described, but believe me the description is not very realistic no teenager having twins.

  2. sugabelly

    @Marin: Could you please some pointers for a more realistic delivery scene? I had a lot of trouble writing that part because I had no idea what I was talking about (me being an only child and having never witnessed a live birth).

    I’m confused about the last part of what you said ‘no teenager having twins’.

    Are you saying that it is unrealistic for a teenager to have twins or that it is unrealistic for a teenager to be married and pregnant?

    Taking the setting into context (the fact that this is 9th century Igboland) Amaka being 18 and pregnant with twins is very realistic as well as historically accurate in my opinion. In fact, Amaka should have had her first child somewhere around 14 or 15 but she was having trouble getting pregnant and then having stillbirths.

    Either way, I’d like to know what would be realistic in a twin pregnancy please. Thanks for any advice!! 😀

  3. Lady X

    Very Well Written. I felt like I was there! And I assume this is also set during the time where twins were thought of as evil since the old woman said “Worse, Ejima”

  4. sugabelly

    @Lady X: Oh yes, definitely. Before 1900, twins were summarily executed upon birth and this story deals with that. Thanks!! Now, I just need to find out what a good birth description would be.

  5. Marin

    Sorry, typo- of course a teenager can have twins 😉
    Okay, first I think if she is that close to delivery, the pain would torment her more than the cold. When I had my baby apparently in order to apply the epidural, I was injected twice – I only know this because my husband who was in the room at the time told me afterwards – I have no recollection, such was the pain I was in at that moment – although the pain did come in waves so if you relaxed you had a bit of time to catch your breathe before the next wave.
    Then the pressure in the pelvis is constant, I guess you should rewrite that line like ‘ Suddenly Amaka felt a heavy pressure in her vagina.’ Also, one tends to internalise and withdraw into ones self, so her looking at the midwife for guidance is unlikely. I personally just finished screaming ‘I don’t have any strength left to push’ down the whole maternity ward when the baby plopped out. Maybe I’m just a softie ajebutter 🙂

    Also once the birth is in progress, you really have no say as to how long it goes, but you want it all to be over as quickly as possible. First time labour can take up to 24 hours and more even nowadays.

    You might want to think about the possibility of the twins being premature because most twin births are….

    Sorry about the long response, it really isn’t so bad…..you can watch videos of childbirths on you-tube to get a feel, although I never watched one and I’m not sure how realistic they are.

  6. leggy

    im reading this and commenting as someone who has no inkling of what giving birth is like….but i felt the story…i even pictured it on nolly wood screens..i swear. i even thought of that old yoruba woman..i forget her name playing the old woman and whispering ejima..immediately you said ejima i jut knew where you were going to as im igbo.anyway,i think this is going to be a really nice novel if you stick to it!!you should also paste some of the excerpts on her cos once i start a good novel i cant stop myself!!

  7. lucidlilith

    Sugar besides getting the realism of the birthing process put together (i have no children so I can help you here), you have a unique earthy way of telling a story. You’re really good. Better than most I have read. Keep on writing. Focus on story-telling…then later do your fact checking to ensure things are tied up in a neat little bow.

  8. eccentricyoruba

    bravo! i really can’t wait to read the rest to be honest. and i love that it is a history lesson too. i must say one thing though, i’m watching a korean drama right now and could not help but notice several cultural similarities!

    the drama is also historical though i think it’s the 7th century. when a woman gave birth, she had to hold on to cloths suspended from the ceiling. furthermore in the drama, she gave birth to twins and originally, even in korea twins had to be sacrificed (along with the mother i believe).

    it may have been different because in the k-drama the twin birth affected the royal family and this was supposed to be a curse. if a queen gave birth to twins, the ‘sacred bone’ (i.e. pure royal) blood line would end. sorry i got carried away. just please don’t stop writing!!!!!!!!!

  9. Marin

    I hope you don’t misunderstand my previous constructive criticism. I think the text was exceptionally good and Iam eagerly looking forward to reading more- thats why I felt bold enough to offer my suggestions, because I thought it might be useful to you – after having followed your blogs for a few months, I think you pay a lot of attention to detail. Okay now, I’m off to sleep. lol

  10. sugabelly

    Thanks to everyone that liked my writing.

    @Marin: I didn’t misunderstand your criticism at all. Thanks for giving it. I am completely clueless about childbirth except for knowing that at some point somebody will scream push and you will push. That’s all I know.

    I think I am going to leave that birth scene for last. When the story is finished and I am satisfied with it, I will then return to that scene and deal with it.

    @everyone: like I said, my writing is all over the place, there’s a lot of disjointedness right now because I’m writing the parts that interest me the most first and then connecting.

    I will post another excerpt here over the weekend. Thanks for reviewing!!!

  11. The experiences of an achiever.......

    I enjoyed this, your language was brief and descriptive and I could almost see the stars myself…I have no experience with childbirth but you might want to read bimbylads blog (blogsville’s newest hilarious mummy) she has a post on her childbirthing experience.
    P.S – I so love Dinka’s logo!!! totally RAWKS!

  12. nenye

    first time commenting on your blog, although I’ve been following for a while and I share Loyola in common with you. I think you have the makings of a very good story teller. Notice the use of storyteller as opposed to writer. There are far too many writers these days who bore with words as opposed to tell a good story. I think I am going to enjoy you much like I enjoyed Buchi Emecheta. Here’s what I think you should do, tell the story first. Of course you will have to do some research later on to make the experiences real/relatable and the next time you go to Nigeria, you can ask for local midwives, that may help some. I have a question, I always thought that the killing of twins was common among our Efik and Ibibio brethren. I had no idea it was commonplace in 9th century ani-igbo (pardon my igbo i’m trying).
    totally unrelated, i’ve decided to go natural and i need serious guidance. mucho help needed.

  13. sugabelly

    @nenye: I’m surprised you didn’t know about twin killing among Igbos. That was the ONLY thing about Igbo history that was drummed into every child’s head in secondary school. Like it was the only piece of information they managed to salvage from the past.

    There is a lot of similarity between Efik, Ibibio and Igbo customs probably because before the fall (of our nation) there was Igbo cultural hegemony in the south and east – obviously due to sheer numbers)

    I’ll take your advice about just telling the story first. I won’t bother about getting everything perfectly right until I do a final edit.

    @Experiences: Thanks! I’ll check her blog out. And I’m glad you love Dinka’s logo. I love it too.

    If you need help with natural hair, check out

    http://www.bglhonline.com

    http://leaveinthekinks.blogspot.com

    http://www.youtube.com/user/RusticBeauty – she’s a Nigerian! 😀

  14. N.Z.G

    As I read the story, I felt like I was there. As in somewhere in the lower skies seeing the actions of the characters and watching the events unfold. You are indeed a very good story-teller.

    One thing though. You said:
    “All Igbo people are divided into age grades. Life achievements are always compared against those of other members of the same age grade. Not really practiced anymore in modern Igbo life”.
    – While the practice of dividing us (Igbo’s) into age-groups or cohorts is not practiced as extensively as it used to be … the practice is still in existence. My 1st cousin, the son of my favorite aunt (now deceased), is part of a cohort of young men in my village (all born within the same year) who were inducted into some age-group thing. It was a big ISSUE because my grand-parents, strong Catholics that they are) thought it was ritualistic and, I guess demonic or something. It is still practices in both my paternal and maternal ancestral homes … but folks just don’t talk about it in “polite Christian” circles. No one wants to admit that they know someone whose son or daughter is ‘Ndi-Ala” (not sure of the spelling).


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