I had won a MacArthur Fellowship and wanted to focus on maternal mortality and why women die in childbirth. At that point, about 500,000 were dying every year in childbirth around the world. So I went to Sierra Leone because it was a country with a very high maternal death rate. The first hospital I went to in the provinces, it was the Magburaka, the government hospital. I went in and I met this woman, Mamma Sessay, and she had been pregnant with twins and delivered the first baby in the village. And the second baby wouldn’t come out. So she had to take a canoe across a river, and an ambulance for six hours across bumpy roads. I know the roads because I then took them back with her corpse.
We got to the hospital, and when she got to the hospital, that’s when I met her, and she was fine, totally coherent and in pain and tired. We talked at length about her life. She was studying, and her dad pulled her out of school to get pregnant. She finally delivered the second baby and started hemorrhaging. As she was bleeding, I kept saying to the midwives, “I thinks she’s bleeding too much,” and I’m shooting. I did a video of it as well, so you can hear my voice in the video saying, “She’s bleeding.” There was one doctor in the entire province and he was in surgery.
So at some point I got very uncomfortable, and I left and I went into the surgical ward, put on scrubs, went into surgery, and said to the doctor, “I think there’s a woman dying.” And he looked at me like, “Well great, I’m in surgery.” I went back to Mamma Sessay and encouraged the midwives to carry her to the doctor, and they literally brought her. She was barely conscious at this point. By the time the doctor came out of surgery, she passed. So then I followed her mother and sister back to the village with her, and that picture was the funeral.