The clock stroke midnight on July 9 sparking an eruption into joyous madness as citizens of Juba broke into dance, song, horn honking, drum beats, blasts of the vuvuzela, and the ululations of women to celebrate the advent of South Sudan’s day of independence.
In the labor room of Juba University Teaching Hospital, Josephina, the mother of three other children was being encouraged: “A little more effort. Push!”
Seconds after, a baby boy was born. The midwife who would only be known by her first name Rose heaved a sign of relief. Certainly one of the very first citizens born into the newly-independent country of South Sudan was letting out his first cries.
The mom was in pain, but too proud and overjoyed to let it spoil the moment. The father came in shortly after birth, gave his wife a firm wrap around thank you hug and after whispering several minutes with into her ear, turned to Rose and said: “The boy’s name is Independent Day Moses”.
It was a special day. In another 12 hours, the formal declaration of independence of South Sudan would be made, the flag of the new country hoisted, the anthem played, the oath of office taken by the first ever president who would also sign the transition Constitution of the new republic.
Independent Day Moses was only the first of six children delivered in the maternity ward of the University Teaching Hospital before dawn. He was followed by four other boys and a girl.
Every single birth was natural, with no complications, no still births, and no mishaps. A sign, said Rose, that the Heavens have already blessed the birth of South Sudan.
The parents of the fifth boy born that morning named him Salva Kiir, paying homage to the man who would only hours later be sworn in as the first president of an independent South Sudan.
One of the children was born to a Ugandan mother, who considers the child Ugandan but would welcome double nationality. Her host nation of South Sudan has been extremely kind to her, she tells me, noting that it would be wrong to deny nationality to her son if offered.
Determining nationality for children born in South Sudan of foreign parents is one of many legal matters that the new country’s legislature still has to clarify in the weeks and months ahead.
Farida, the mother of the only girl born at the maternity before dawn on this historic day, had been planning on attending Independence Day celebrations. Having the baby was not on her mind. She had, therefore, not even given thought to the name she would like for her baby.
As I shot footage of the baby peacefully asleep beside the mother, I asked after the child’s name.
“Could you please name the baby for me?” she asked in a very soft voice.
At first I thought she was talking to the midwife, Rose. But, Rose nodded towards me.
I stopped filming, put down the camera and turned to the mother and asked: “Talking to me?”
“Yes, you, could you please”.
“Really?” I asked, taken aback by the honor.
“Yes, please,” she said. “You are our stranger. Karibu! Please, name her”.
I half-closed my eyes in meditation as the faces and names of the many dozens of women who have so dearly touched my life flashed through my mind’s dashboard.
“I would call the baby Bernadette, if it is okay with you,” I said after a few minutes of thought and a brief prayer. I was afraid the mom would find the name unfamiliar, unconnected to her lineage.
“Then her name is Bernadette,” said the mom, asking Rose to put it on the child’s birth certificate.
That historic morning of July 9, I walked out of Juba University Teaching Hospital – parts of which had been recently refurbished under the World Bank-administered MDTF - aware that through her extraordinary gesture of hospitality, Bernadette’s mom had connected me inseparably to the world’s youngest nation and its future symbolized by Bernadette. Like most Southern Sudanese, she had accepted me – a stranger - as a brother and showed me how all of us wherever we may be in the world owe a special responsibility to the children of South Sudan.
The young nation, begotten in decades of war and delivered through the most painful birth, deserves nothing less.