I moved to Kenya in 2015 after my wedding. When my husband’s family came to visit us a few weeks later, one of my sister in laws had come with her youngest son who was around 18 months. When I served them soda from the fridge, she asked me to warm a cup for her son. It didn’t sound right to my ears so I asked again – she simply laughed at my expression and went to the kitchen to warm the soda in the microwave! I don’t know if I should call that culture shock but I was taken aback. I grew up licking frozen popsicles and running in the rain in Ethiopia so the obsession on giving only warm drinks to children and on top of that over dressing them with six jackets and pullovers (Okay, not six but you get my point) still makes me laugh at times. But that aside, there are a couple of good lessons I have learned while raising my daughter here and here are three.
It takes a village
I would say Africa shares this sentiment. Society is still entwined and children belong to the community. But I love the unity that a baby brings to a community. I am always touched with the overwhelming offer of help from our family, relatives, friends, and neighbors from the first day we brought our daughter home. My daughter has made a number of friends without uttering a word. I love the way they, along with their parents, call me ‘Mama Shiku!’
I also love the respect of boundaries most people have towards visiting a new baby. You have no control of guests flocking in to visit and hold the baby in Ethiopia. My daughter has so many aunties, uncles and cousins and she has brought us closer than I can imagine. I am thankful for all the pampering I received since my pregnancy.
Mama and baby cuisine
I didn’t like the taste of fermented Uji when I tried it for the first time. But after I had my daughter, and I was desperately waiting for my milk to start flowing, I gulped in Uji several times in a day. It worked so well that it became my drink for months after that.
Another important lessons I have taken with me is baby food. I would say Ethiopia is very limited in what is considered as baby food for the first year. Giving pumpkin to a baby is unheard of, we also don’t have arrow roots and the different variety of beans like Kenya. I will always be grateful to my second home and my sister in law who came to our place just to teach me how to make Uji for my daughter.
We didn’t buy diapers until our daughter turned four months. I was amazed when people made plans to come visit our daughter, they usually ask us which brand of diapers she uses. Almost every visitor came with a pack of diaper and that pushed us for a little over four months. It is a very helpful and kind gesture that I have adopted when I go visit a new baby.
From using cotton wool instead of wipes to how to carry a small baby on the back, from how to change diapers on my lap to how to breastfeed in public. I have learned quite a lot of tips from Kenyan mothers around me.
Each society has something to offer if one is willing to listen. And Kenya has given me a lot from families, neighbors and moms groups but above all I love my new title Kenya has given me, Mama Ciku. (My dear Ethiopian folks, that is read as Shiko, an equivalent of ‘Ye Mimi Enat’ but Shiko is my daughter’s nickname.)
(This first appeared in The Standard Sunday Newspaper in September, 2017)
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