Shaken Blessings by Celeste Charlene
Celeste Charlene, author of Shaken Blessings, joins us on Roller Coaster Suspense to discuss her book. I had the pleasure of editing this great novel. Celeste has a colorful way of bringing hardships and blessings of living in the African bush to life.
Thank you, Celeste, for joining us today.
Q. Can you tell us an interesting fact about the story of Blessing?
A. Thirty years ago I wrote up the story of Blessing and sent it to a popular secular publisher. They returned it and said, “The Blessing story is fascinating and we enjoyed reading it, but it is too religious for our readers. Have you tried Christian publishers?”
Q. When we were editing the story, I was always amazed by the difficulties faced living in the African bush. I realize you lived there. Can you tell us a tidbit about your life there?
A. I wrote my daily adventures by hand with the aid of a kerosene lantern in the African bush. I have lots of interesting people and incidents to fictionalize for my novels.
Q. Was the character of Blessing based on a real baby?
I’ve attached a photo of the real Blessing. Many, many little girls are named Blessing, Happy, Comfort and Joy in Africa.
Q. You said you originally wrote a story about Blessing but it was rejected. How did you revise it to the story it is now?
A. When I joined ACFW four years ago I began studying writing craft. Using the original story of Blessing, I developed the plot for SHAKEN BLESSINGS.
Sandra Calbrin flies to Africa after a military coups to check on orphans and collect Shea nuts for beauty creams in her health spa.
While there she agrees to vaccinate infants but fails to convince the parents to abandon the dangerous practices that harm their children. To prove she can care for a child, Sandy takes in an abandoned baby and names her Blessing, hoping to break the curse.
Being unfamiliar with obscure customs and taboos, Sandy is accused of prostitution and having an illegitimate child.
Blessing’s father demands money in exchange for his daughter. Selling children is illegal, but returning the baby almost guarantees the infant’s death.
Military officers refuse to renew Sandy’s visa unless she consents to their unscrupulous ultimatums.
Blessing’s relatives and the police officers pursue Sandy like a pack of lions preying on a wildebeest. When rebel soldiers take up arms and gunfire erupts Sandy and her baby Blessing are in danger. So who will save Sandy and her baby Blessing?
She couldn’t escape with the infant, nor could she report them to the police for child abuse. It seemed normal for all mothers to feed their children in that despicable manner. No one would see it as cruelty. What should she do? And if mothers practiced handed-down dangerous traditions, it would be difficult teaching proper childcare. Ignorance and unfounded beliefs must have started the forms of mistreatment. She couldn’t do anything, but maybe the men could help. They were in charge of governments, villages, homes, women and children. With the baby in her arms, she ran to the house and into the sitting room to rouse the pastor. The mother stayed behind with the other three children.
The pastor was already awake. He slammed open the wooden shutters. Lightning illuminated the interior of the house. “Please do not be angry.” He found the box of matches, struck one, raised the glass globe and lit the wick of the lantern. “Please do not be annoyed we have no electricity.” “Pastor, I am not annoyed there is no electricity” “Please do not be annoyed we have no toilet.” “I am not annoyed there is no toilet.” “Please do not be annoyed there is no running water.” She grimaced and spoke in a severe tone. “Pastor, I am not annoyed there isn’t electricity, water or a toilet. I am annoyed because your wife is going to kill the children.” “Don’t speak such dreadful evil. She will not kill the children.”
The pastor’s wife brought a baby bottle, sat down on a stool and stuffed it in her child’s mouth. Sandy flinched at the little black exclamation points slithering inside the filthy bottle. The jug’s sour odor caused bile to rise in Sandy’s throat. She splayed her fingers out in a fan against her breastbone. “What are you doing?”
Sandy looked from the woman to the pastor who shrugged. “She is feeding the baby.”
The tension between Sandy’s shoulders returned. With a sudden movement she reached out and yanked the repulsive container away from the mother. “Look at this. Black mold and brown, squiggly worms are in this plastic. It is dangerous and will make your child sick.”
Did Sandy have the right to take the infected bottle away? If a woman held a gun to a child’s head Sandy would have snatched it away. “I’d like to keep this bottle for a while until I learn more about it.” She handed the baby to the pastor.
She had all she could take of Africa and its deep-rooted customs. Tears ran down Sandy’s face. She went into her room and packed her things. Control, like the slippery flies that she tried to kill, slid out of her fingers. She wished she’d stayed in the logical world. At least at the health spa, she had some authority.
At five in the morning a crowd of villagers arrived for prayer meeting.
The village chief spoke. “Please build us a hospital.”
How dare the people make such a request of her? “If you had a hospital, but continued to urinate in front of the house and passed excreta in the back of the house, the environment would be filled with dangerous germs which could bring diseases to your children.” Sandy swept her arms up and down and then whispered through her scratchy laryngitis. “You need a pit latrine and clean water more than you need a medical facility. At least dig a well and stop drinking water from the dirty streams. Boil the water for drinking.”
“These are our traditions. We’ve had them hundreds of years, and they will not hurt our children,” an elderly gentleman responded.
“When you wrap a child in blankets, who is already too hot, it may cause a convulsion. If you turn the child upside down and pour food down its throat, it can stop him from breathing. And if you give dirty water and food it will cause dysentery.” She lifted her hands in supplication. “Please stop doing these things to harm your children.”
Shrill terrifying screams filled the air, and Sandy rushed to the kitchen again. Her eyes widened at the shrieking child in the pot of hot water as steam rose from it. “Take that baby out of the boiling water.” She stepped closer to rescue the infant.
The tall, muscled mother shoved Sandy away. Built like a lumberjack most likely from chopping firewood and carrying one hundred-pound loads on her head, the mother blocked Sandy from the child. Sandy wanted to bash the woman on the side of the head, strangle her or toss her into the pot of boiling water, but she couldn’t fight a woman three times her size. Sandy ducked around the mother and lifted the screaming baby out of the pot.
Once the baby was out of the cooking vessel, the bubbles Sandy had taken for boiling stopped. It was then that she saw there was no fire under the pot. The bubbles were due to the frantic kicking of the baby to get out of the hot liquid. Sandy plunged her hand and arm into the water. Her limb was beet red. “The water is too hot.”
The mother yelled. “It is not too hot. I added a little river water and black soap to the boiling water before I bathed the baby.”
“Please stop boiling your child.”
Many villagers had crept into the kitchen as Sandy confronted the woman.
The mother snapped, “I am not boiling my children.”
An elderly man came forward. “Madam, she is not cooking her babies. We all bathe our children in the hottest water possible.”
“You are burning the child.”
“Hot water will kill the sicknesses.” The gentleman sighed. “The child will be very clean.”
Sandy shouted back, “The child will be very dead.”
A moment of silence and then several men in the crowd let out a loud gasp. They filled their lungs and growled. Other men shook their fists. Women shed tears while some jabbered. The pastor’s wife moaned and buried her face in her hands.