This morning we went to visit Rosa. Sunday evening at 5 past 11, she was delivered of a daughter. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Delivered of a… Pain in the butt. Toothache. Mother-in-law. Neighbour constantly whinging about your stereo. Daughter. No, there’s something wrong with English. Rosa was ecstatic. Grégoire also. A beautiful baby girl, called Jurrien. Yes, for those of you who speak Dutch: Jurrien. Boy’s name. Named after my brother in law, Jurrien Jongman, who is visiting us here in Benin for the third time in less than two years. He connected with Grégoire the first time, Grégoire being chauffeur and available all day for 15 euro. Or for friendship. Because it’s no longer about the 10.000 FCFA with Jurrien. They have gone on trips together: to Togo (twice), to Cotonou (I don’t know how many times), to Possotome, to wherever the day takes them. Right now they’re away somewhere watching a football game, and Jurrien’s evening meal has found a temporary home in a frying pan. We’ll see when he gets here. He’s happy as only Jurrien can be, communicating perfectly in his more than broken French, drinking more beer than he should, making contacts with everyone from the police commissioner to the barmaid at Oboube. He eats African, he showers and sleeps African (when he is with Grégoire), and he builds relationships African. Yes, he turned 60 several months before I did, and while I am energetic enough, he seems inexhaustible.
So this morning Marijke and I went to visit Rosa. We had no idea where Jurrien and Grégoire were, but we knew that Rosa would be at home. Delivered on Sunday evening, discharged Monday evening. She was already walking around and greeted us with a huge smile. She said something. No idea what it was, because she doesn’t speak French. But we were obviously welcome. Inside the red-dirt house little Jurrien was sleeping. A beautiful baby girl wrapped in a swaddling cloth. We hugged, admired, mimed our felicitations, and Marijke took out the presents, a shopping bag full of second-hand baby clothes. Rosa was very pleased. So was Sabine, Jurrien’s oldest sister. And her cousin, who joined us within a few minutes. And then what I suspect was one of Rosa’s brothers. Followed by three animated teenaged neighbour girls. Before we knew it, the room was packed. A lot of thank you's went round. Everyone was grateful, for some reason. The three teenaged neighbour girls, stunners if I may say so, turned out to be sisters, and they were able to translate for us. As long as we needed translating, because the subject soon turned to Jurrien. Senior. (By the way, he just walked in, an hour and a half after we finished supper.) They love him. And I’m not surprised. Jurrien has a gift. He loves people, whatever shape, colour, sex, age, nationality. One of them said, and that is the reason for this little blog: il est simple. My French is coming along nicely, but the expression is new to me. What I made of it is this: with Jurrien, what you see is what you get. He’s not simple, that’s for sure. He can be irritating. He can be oversensitive. He can be all kinds of things that would make living with him complicated. But I am glad he is my brother-in-law. Jurrien, salut! Long may you remain simple!
(Photos by Jurrien, Gregoire, and me)
Postscript: Not so long after I wrote this blog, my dear brother-in-law, while at a local football match with Gregoire, started experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack. He called us, and we very hurriedly packed some essentials and went to pick him up at the carrefour. The nearest hospital of any size is in Lokossa, 20 minutes away. Gregoire got us there in just over 10 minutes. There was someone waiting there for us who adminstered basic emergency cardiac medication; but more than that the hospital is not equipped to provide. We had the option of asking for ambulance transport to Cotonou (slow, unreliable, and equipped with nothing but a stretcher), or of using our own vehicle. Marijke, Gregoire and Jurrien were off like a shot; I had to go back to Dogbo for Jurrien's belongings. Night travel is out of the question, here, so for me that meant sleeping at home in Dogbo. Meanwhile, the others were within reach of Cotonou, two hours away, by nightfall. The cardiac unit at the university hospital - such as it is - was waiting fot Jurrien. Gregoire was sent off to buy medication (nothing, nothing is provided by the hospital) and by the time he returned the team was ready to adminster it. This was the start of an incredible rollercoaster which lasted until this morning. At 8 o'clock a German air ambulance with Jurrien and Marijke aboard took off from Cotonou airport. Gregoire and I, quite illegally, had bluffed our way on to the tarmac in the wake of the ambulance, so we enjoyed a very close view. I think both of us deserved that reward. And by now, Jurrien is no doubt making life difficult for the staff at Martini Hospital in Groningen, and Marijke is beginning to relax with her sisters at Oma Jongman's place. All's well that ends well. Simple. Thank you, Lord...