Friday, August 30, 2013

Material Baby!

A friend in our village(a mom with several kids) was recently urging me to hurry up and have a baby. I hear this from people all the time. Most Gambians are horrified to hear that the Peace Corps does not allow their married volunteers to procreate during their service. My friend pointed out that caring for a baby in The Gambia is not expensive, like it is in the U.S., so there should be no problem. You don’t need anything for the first month, she assured me. Just some old faanoos (wrap skirts) to wrap the baby in and replace with clean ones if the baby makes a mess. Later on, some used clothes might be nice. I didn’t even want to try to explain to her the massive amount of equipment some parents in the U.S. tote around on a daily basis!
When you have a baby in The Gambia, people generally give you things like money, soap and fabric – not crazy plastic contraptions. Granted, people in the Gambia are not inundated with the marketing of baby products like we are in the U.S. If these products were available and people had the money to buy them, they might. It’s human nature to like new, shiny products. And for many Gambians, having Western material goods is a big status things…so who knows. Maybe I will someday be visiting a more developed Gambia of the future, where people are pushing name brand baby joggers down village streets and sterilizing baby bottles in their electric dishwashers.
So, here is my top ten list of the West African way vs. the American way
(United States prices are estimates based on searches – I know they are not completely accurate!)
1. sport stroller for jogging(150 - 600 $ USD ) , regular stroller for general use (40- 400 $ USD), expensive baby backpack contraption and/or front-carrier contraption and/or store-bought baby sling (15 – 150 $ USD) , stroller base for car seat infant carrier (100 $ USD)
vs. wrap skirt (“faanoo”) (2 meters of fabric)  for riding on mom’s back (1 - 2 $ USD)
2. expensive child safety seat for automobile travel (80 – 300 $ USD)
vs. potential death in accidents involving baby riding unprotected in mom’s lap on public bus/donkey cart/taxi (0 $ USD) (I don’t even want to think about it!)
3. breastfeeding (0 $ USD) (In the U.S. A.: 49%  at 6 months, 27% at one year, says the CDC) or formula (20 $ USD)
vs. exclusive breastfeeding (0 $ USD) – anytime, anywhere…and no one cares or complains that it is obscene (in The Gambia: pretty close to 100%, barring a few exceptional situations, says me with no scientific proof)
4. disposable diapers (20 $ for 75) or cloth diapers (1 $ USD each) with intricate snap pants in cool design (12 $ USD)
vs. semi-reusable triangle of plastic (0.05 $ USD)  and an old, not especially absorbant rag OR nothing (0 $ USD – though you need soap and water for cleanup)
5. baby wipes (13 $ USD for 350 “all natural” wipes), baby wipe warming device (25 $ USD)
vs. plastic kettle (“tasaloo”) of water (1 - 2 $ USD) (I also recommend soap for proper handwashing)
6. play pen (50 – 100 $ USD)
Vs. mat on the ground (3 $ USD)
7. baby bathtub (25 $ USD), baby bath chair (20 $ USD)
vs. plastic basin (4 $ USD)
8. crib (150 – 300 $ USD), crib mattress (60 $ USD),  apnea alarm mat (100 $ USD)
vs. old fabric (0 $ USD), sheet of old plastic (0 $ USD), mom’s foam mattress (25 $ USD)
9. Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Click N’ Learn Remote (12 $ USD), Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Smart Screen Laptop (16.25 $ USD), Baby Einstein World of Rhythm DVD (10 $ USD)
vs. mom’s cell phone (20 $ USD), large, not-so-sharp knife (3 $ USD), sticks (0$ USD), goat poop (0$ USD)
10. Bouncer swing with IPAD  plug (200 $ USD)
vs.   Riding on mom’s back while she does work (0 $ USD)

No one can argue that West Africa is a safer place for babies than the U.S. – the discrepancy in access to health care is just too large. Malaria, diarrhea and respiratory infections take many infants’ lives here…and countless more die for reasons no one investigates. In the U.S. we have access to clean water, medicine and amazing emergency services. We have eradicated malaria, successfully vaccinated our population against many deadly childhood diseases, educated the public on many child safety issues and found ingenious ways to make traffic accidents less deadly for kids. But we Americans also spend a lot of time, money and energy on things that have no discernable benefit to our childrens’ health and well-being.