ON MOTHERHOOD

7/8

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I learn that village life offers Joana one more advantage besides fresh air and financial unburdening: raising her children in a community. A Nukini mother is rarely alone. In fact, no one here gets to be alone much. Homes are communal spaces, and there is no real privacy to speak of. Joana isn’t bothered by this. “I have my room,” she says, “If a neighbor comes calling when I want to be alone, I just keep my mouth shut and pretend I’m not home.”

The mothers I meet are not visibly stressed; a crying child is a rarity. No one is cooped up indoors. Instead, children run free, unsupervised, expending their energy, developing their independence. Older siblings take care of the younger ones. When the 14-year-old Rivaldo stays home alone for a few days, he not only cooks and cleans, but sets out the fishing nets and provides for himself.

One afternoon neighbor Paula invites me to lunch and cooks me a sublime river fish stew. While we pick out the bones, she inquires why at the old, old age of 32, I'm not a mother. I slurp the steaming broth and think it over. I always thought I’d simply been postponing the decision, but seeing children running around between families and forests, I finally realize it’s because I’m terrified of being a mother alone, in a concrete apartment on a block full of strangers. This realization is infinitely more depressing, and I peel a banana to distract myself from the idea.

I’m starting to see the appeal this community holds. One day, on the riverside, Joana tells me how much she loves her life here. Of course she misses her friends and family, but she always wanted a life away from the city, with a family and a man to love, and she found all that here. Bent over a tub of dirty laundry, she tells me, “It’s a dream come true,” just before she gets kicked in the head with a ball by the boys.

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