It’s rather beautiful to watch the women and children criss-crossing the vast dusty expanses toward the tree or tukul you have set the clinic up under. Women’s posture is perfect – a lifetime of carrying firewood and water containers on their head has given them balance and deportment flawless enough to make Kate Middleton weep and turn in her tiara. The day these skillfully trained people decide to learn ballet is the day the whole of Covent Garden can hang up their pointe shoes in despair. The terrain underfoot here is a crazy-paving patchwork of mud plates that have cracked and fissured apart as the flooding from the wet season has receded. I gracelessly trip and traipse my way across, never able to take my eyes from the ground for more than a few seconds at a time, but even when bearing heavy loads, the women here walk erectly and evenly, almost gliding, their long bright sarongs fluttering around their legs.
And it’s not just food and fuel they carry on their heads – when I first got here I was at a loss to explain how women carried their very young babies here as I hadn’t seen any of the sarong slings across women’s backs that I had semi-expected, but even babies are carried largely hands free, balanced on their heads… No safety nets, no seat straps, no fancy carseats here!
The women weave long reed baskets with lids which they line with blankets and carry their babies inside. Balanced atop their heads I find it heart-stoppingly precarious. Their gait even with this precious cargo aboard is stately, unworried, unhurried. I’ve never once seen a woman trip on the rough ground, or even falter. Once they reach our vaccination station the baskets are lifted down and the lids untied - nestled inside you will find a newborn infant, or sometimes twins, lulled to sleep by the gentle swaying walk of their mothers below them. We vaccinate children under five only, but often if mom is busy you’ll get a shy and leggy nine-year-old walk up in lieu of her, trailing a reluctant chain of smaller siblings behind her all clutching their tattered vaccination cards.