Quick link: The Mouth of My Grave is Open

Today I’m writing at Brain Child about life and death and faith and childbirth and Djiboutian traditions, many of the things I learned about when pregnant and after I gave birth to Lucy here. I’m so thankful for the way our friends shared their beliefs and traditions and allowed us to incorporate our own into the celebrations of her birth. To me it will always be a beautiful image of peace that crosses potential divisions. And since she was born on 9/11 (2005) to a Christian family in a Muslim country, delivered by a Somali midwife, we gave her a Somali middle name and we can turn our 9/11 mourning into dancing. In this essay each of the people holds to our own faith convictions but we are joined by mutual affection and it made these moments of feasting and learning together some of my most precious memories.

Here is a photo of the feast I write about in the essay.


“The mouth of my grave is open.” This is what Djiboutian women say during pregnancy and the forty days following childbirth. “Qabrigayga afka ayaa furan yahay.” They mean that they could die, or the baby could die, at any time and they’re right. The infant and maternal mortality rates in Djibouti are among the highest in the world and aren’t helped by rampant female genital mutilation and limited access to quality healthcare.

I learned the phrase when I was pregnant with our youngest, Lucy Deeqsan, who was born in Djibouti. My friend Awo taught it to me and explained it as a request for prayers for protection and health.

Djiboutians had other ways of procuring protection during these vulnerable days like observing a mandatory rest period of forty days following childbirth during which mother and infant remained indoors. This sounded like paradise. Forty days to rest, bond, and recover.

“If you need to go outside before the forty days are over,” Awo said, “put a nail behind your ear. Or a knife like the one people put under their pillows at night. That way you can fight off the jinn who might attack.” Jinn are mischievous devils, or genies who wreak havoc on humans.

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