The day does not start out well. The plan had been to hitch a ride on a UNAMA helicopter to Nili, the capital of Daykundi, but when we get to the airstrip, my name isn’t on the manifest. I’d been bumped. I look on as the chopper takes off, and wonder what on earth I’m going to do.
Then my eyes are drawn to the snow-capped mountains and the squealing kids playing near the airfield. There are definitely worse places to be stuck than Bamyan.
My local colleague Rahmatullah whisks me back to the office and quickly comes up with a Plan B. “We’re going to the Maternity Waiting Home,” he announces. The what?
Well, if you are a woman in Bamyan, chances are you live pretty far away from a hospital – there are only a handful of them. So if you are pregnant, and are having any kind of complications, then when your due date is approaching it’s good if you can go stay somewhere near a hospital – and that’s what the Bamyan Maternity Waiting Home is for.
Women who come here travel as long as two or three days on barely-existing roads – pretty tough when you’re heavily pregnant. The centre is run by the earnest and eminently dignified Dr Raihana. She’s a GP, specializing in reproductive health, and was key in founding the centre a year ago.
But even as she welcomes us to the centre, she tells us that all of the ladies who were in the centre this morning are now next door at the hospital having their babies, so we won’t be able to talk to any patients.
It’s obviously not my day. But I get to have a look around and see the rooms, with mattresses and cushions on the ground, where women wait. There’s a playroom in case they come with other kids, and an education room where Dr Raihana and her midwives teach basic maternal health skills. Unicef provides “newborn kits”, blankets and educational materials.
When the centre was founded, a big headache was how to organize meals for the women, and that’s when WFP was asked for help. Now, WFP provides wheat flour – which is made into bread by local bakers – and pulses, oil and salt, which is cooked as dhal.
Crucially, micronutrient tablets are also provided to make sure that mothers get the right vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy for their babies.
We’ll be back to see Dr Raihana and her patients later on this week.