From Medical School in Dakar to the Maternity Clinic in Gao
Upon graduating from the medical school in Dakar in 1931, I found myself in Gao (northern Mali) towards the end of December. As soon as I was notified that I would be posted to this city, considered by Bamako residents to be another world, friends and relatives were upset. My father was advised to use his influence and connections to convince the head doctor of the French Soudan (Mali) to go back on his decision. That would not have been difficult because my father was well regarded in this milieu. He was well regarded by the chief doctor of the health service in spite of his impulsive nature and his frequent rebellion against injustice.
I am particularly grateful to the man who, given his era, was progressive in his way. Never having acted in my stead in critical circumstances, he discussed the question with me in the presence of Amadou Kéita, one of my older brothers who had just returned from Sokolo near Niono where he had been pursuing Koranic studies for fifteen years.
My determination was unwavering for two reasons: first, because I had confidence in myself and in the future, and then, because I felt drawn to this beautiful part of my country by some magical spell or some god. When I learned of the decision, I had no feeling of being sent too far away; on the contrary, I had the fortunate impression of now being available to the population of a second native city where I would discover a second family and make new friends. In a word, I was happy and proud to be able to put my modest expertise to the service of a population that had never known a mid-wife. I asked my father not to intervene and to let me assume the position in Gao.
Our discussion took place in front of my apartment, if that is what we can call the two square huts in adobe brick that measured three square meters. It formed a promontory in this large courtyard that composed the family compound. All the other huts, almost twenty-five of them, were constructed in roughly the same style, but grouped around one another so there was no compound wall. It was in early December, the tenth, if my memory is correct. The temperature was moderate, almost chilly for Bamako residents, but comfortable for those of Dakar residents of which now I was now. It was about eleven o’clock at night; all my visitors – and I had quite a few – had gone home. My fiancé, young doctor Daouda Diawara, was the last to leave. It was a true African night, the sky lit by a dazzling moon as bright as as the beacon of a lighthouse.
After several seconds of reflection my father spoke as if talking to himself, in any case, speaking more to my brother than to me. “I created an adventurer, let’s let her go to the limit, let’s pray to God for her success.”
Following this declaration he wished me good night in a clear voice whose tone I knew very well how to interpret. It was without reproach. I would say even affectionate and confident. Then he slowly made his way to my mother’s hut where she, spinning cotton by the light of an oil lamp, watched us in silence. This woman who was so sweet and affectionate towards all her children — four girls and a boy whom she dearly loved — was profoundly traditional. For her, the place for a young girl, a future wife, was at home not at school where the school experience might offend her moral code. Constancy personified everything she did, she was equally opposed to the departure of a young girl alone in a region as far away as Gao, which, in her view, was at the other end of the world. Very humbly, she asked her husband to give me in marriage as soon as possible, so as block everything. She had in mind a young relative who was a tailor by trade; my father, for his part, preferred a young doctor. A new discussion ensued which resulted in my departure for Gao three days later. My father comforted my mother and urged her to express her best wishes for my fulfillment.
This extract is translated from the French original: Aoua Kéita, Femme d’Afrique. La vie d’Aoua Kéita racontée par elle-même [African Woman. The life of Aoua Kéita as told in her own words] (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1975), pp. 27-8. Permission to reproduce this short extract in translation has been sought from the original publisher, Présence Africaine.