Le Souffle

“The white man can do anything. He can even go to the moon. But he doesn’t know the secret of the souffle. That is the secret of the Creator. He is the only one who knows the secret of the souffle, what makes me Marie. When the souffle decides to leave there is nothing we can do.”


This is what Maman Marie is telling me.


Maman Marie is the Congolese nurse on my outreach team. Souffle is French for breath, but maybe in this case she means the soul or the spirit.


She asks if I am religious and I tell her I am not.


She is telling me this because a woman has just died and I am devastated. We are in KasongoMwana, where we can barely arrive because often there is no road, like today. We were delayed for three hours while they put a bridge back "together" so we could pass. The workers asked me for cigarettes but I explained I couldn't condone smoking since I am a nurse.


The woman who has died has nine children. She was an older woman but she didn’t know her own age, only that she had nine children.She had a severe pneumonia and when we tried to give her antibiotics she died. There was nothing we could do for her. Her “souffle” was gone.


I couldn’t sleep because I felt somehow responsible. I couldn’t sleep because I could hear the people in the village singing for the funeral through the night.


Instead I thought of all the women of the Congo who have nine children and don’t know their own age. Maybe it’s not important to know your age, but it makes me think that maybe that means nobody celebrated her birthday, nobody celebrated her life. But they did celebrate her death.


Maybe she heard them. Maybe they sang her souffle" up to heaven, or at least to someplace peaceful where she can breathe again.


Thierry is doing better. He was outside when I went by the hosiptal. Like all little boys, he was unhappy because he was having a bath.